5 Subjunctive Mood Examples from Famous Works of Literature

Are you curious about the subjunctive mood examples in English grammar? Learn more about what this means below!

The English language is filled with changes in tense and mood. All of them are used to express different emotions in different circumstances. One example is the subjunctive mood. The subjunctive is an indicative mood about how the individual feels about a situation.

The use of the subjunctive mood can be in the first-person or third-person. After the initial statement, the following sentences explore how the speaker feels. This could involve hypothetical situations or something happening right in front of the person. The present subjunctive verb can also be used to express wishes and desires. 

This grammatical form can be confusing, but it might be helpful to look at a few examples. 

1. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

Subjunctive mood examples

A Clockwork Orange is one of the most well-known books of all time. Published in 1962 by Anthony Burgess, the book is set in the near future in a society with extreme violence. It is a dystopian, satirical black comedy book that makes important points about society still relevant to his day. Since 1981, the book has sold more than 650,000 copies. Below is an example of subjunctive mood from the book:

“It may not be nice to be good, little 6655321. It may be horrible to be good. And when I say that to you I realize how self-contradictory that sounds. I know I shall have many sleepless nights about this. What does God want? Does God want goodness or the choice of goodness? Is a man who chooses the bad perhaps in some way better than a man who has the good imposed upon him? Deep and hard questions, little 6655321.”

Anthony Burgess

In A Clockwork Orange, the author employs the subjunctive mood through the main character. In this quote, the author is exploring whether a man who chooses the “bad” path is better than a man who has had “good” forcibly imposed upon him. He acknowledges the difficulty of these questions while talking to little 6655321.

A Clockwork Orange
  • Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange, paperback
  • Burgess, Anthony (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 213 Pages - 04/17/1995 (Publication Date) - W. W. Norton & Company (Publisher)

2. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Many people know Heart of Darkness because it formed the foundation for a famous movie, Apocalypse Now. A novella by Joseph Conrad, the story focuses on Charles Marlow, who is sent on a mission into the interior of Africa. The book was published in 1899, and it takes a deep look into the human psyche. Here is an example of subjunctive mood from the book:

“It seems to me I am trying to tell you a dream–making a vain attempt, because no relation of a dream can convey the dream-sensation, that commingling of absurdity, surprise, and bewilderment in a tremor of struggling revolt, that notion of being captured by the incredible which is of the very essence of dreams…No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one’s existence–that which makes its truth, its meaning–its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream-alone…”

Joseph Conrad

In Heart of Darkness, the author places himself in a hypothetical dream before exploring the implications of that dream. He employs the subjunctive mood by creating a hypothetical situation where absurdity, surprise, and bewilderment come together, leading to a revolt, before acknowledging that this type of situation is impossible.

Heart of Darkness
  • Conrad, Joseph (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 106 Pages - 12/09/2019 (Publication Date) - Independently published (Publisher)

3. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut, is a science-fiction novel with deep anti-war themes. Also called The Children’s Crusade, the book was published in 1969. The book is a semi-autobiographical account of the bombing of Dresden in 1945. The firebombing of Dresden by German, British, and American soldiers had an adverse effect on the families living there, and the story focuses on the destructive nature of war. Here is an example of the subjunctive mood from the book:

“You were just babies then!”, she said.
“What?” I said.
“You were just babies in the war – like the ones upstairs!”
I nodded that this was true. We had been foolish virgins in the war, right at the end of childhood.
“But you’re not going to write it that way, are you.” This wasn’t a question. It was an accusation.
“I-I don’t know”, I said.
“Well, I know,” she said. “You’ll pretend you were men instead of babies, and you’ll be played in the movies by Frank Sinatra and John Wayne or some of those other glamorous, war-loving, dirty old men. And war will look just wonderful, so we’ll have a lot more of them. And they’ll be fought by babies like the babies upstairs.”

Kurt Vonnegut

In Slaughterhouse FIve, this is an example of the subjunctive mood because the speaker is creating a hypothetical situation where the main character places his audience in a hypothetical situation where the other characters are playing war-loving, dirty old men in a movie.

Slaughterhouse-Five (Turtleback School & Library Binding Edition)
  • Kurt Vonnegut (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 224 Pages - 01/01/1991 (Publication Date) - Turtleback Books (Publisher)

4. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Many people know Frankenstein from TV shows and movies, and all of this is based on Frankenstein, a book by Mary Shelley. The book tells the sale of a Swiss student named Victor Frankenstein, who creates an artificial human being from numerous corpses. The monster just wants to be loved, but only finds loathing from those who come across him. The book was published in 1818. Here is an example of the subjunctive mood:

“I do know that for the sympathy of one living being, I would make peace with all. I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.”

Mary Shelley

This is an example of the subjunctive mood from Frankenstein because the speaker is saying “I would make peace with all” given a certain situation. Then, if the speaker “cannot satisfy the one,” the speaker will take the other path.

Frankenstein: The 1818 Text (Penguin Classics)
  • Shelley, Mary (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 288 Pages - 01/16/2018 (Publication Date) - Penguin Classics (Publisher)

5. A Farewell To Arms by Ernest Hemingway

Subjunctive Mood Examples
Ernest Hemingway wrote a novel about the Italian campaign in World War 1

A Farewell to Arms is a novel written by Ernest Hemingway about the Italian campaign in World War 1. The work was published in 1929, and it is a first-person account of a lieutenant who serves as an ambulance man in the Italian army. The book focuses on love, masculinity, and death. There are two polar opposites constantly put in conflict with one another during the story. The book sold more than 100,000 copies in its first 12 months. Here is an example of the subjunctive mood from the book:

“When you love you wish to do things for. You wish to sacrifice for. You wish to serve.”

Ernest Hemingway

In A Farewell to Arms, the author uses the subjunctive mood by saying, “when you love someone,” which is a potentially hypothetical situation, “you wish to sacrifice.” In this passage, the author places the audience in the shoes of one of the characters.

A Farewell To Arms
  • Hemingway, Ernest (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 332 Pages - 06/01/1995 (Publication Date) - Scribner (Publisher)

Final Word on Subjunctive Mood Examples

These are just a few of many examples of subjunctive mood found in literature. This is a common literary device that is used to describe how the speaker, sometimes the author, feels about a situation.

Even though it can be confusing to understand the differences between moods, they are important for understanding the main themes of numerous works. Keep an eye out for more examples of the subjunctive mood in books.

FAQs About Subjunctive Mood Examples

Is the subjunctive form past tense?

Examples of the subjunctive mood do not necessarily have to be in the past tense or present tense. The form of a verb in the main clause can be past tense, present tense, or future tense. All verb tenses can be used, including past perfect tense.

Does Modern English Avoid The Subjunctive Grammatical Mood?

There is a push to avoid complex sentences, but set phrases involving the subjunctive form of the verb can still be used in books today. It can be a powerful literary tool.


  • Bryan Collins is the owner of Become a Writer Today. He's an author from Ireland who helps writers build authority and earn a living from their creative work. He's also a former Forbes columnist and his work has appeared in publications like Lifehacker and Fast Company.