Thursday, October 1, 2009

Avoid the Subjunctive!

“We could do this.”
“We might have it ready on time.”
“Maybe we should contact the client.”

Those aren’t very inspiring words, are they? They don’t overwhelm you with confidence. If you were the client, would you want to hear that kind of talk? Probably not!

Those italicized sentences were written in the subjunctive mood (or mode). What does that mean? Well, all verbs have properties called tense, number, person, voice, and mood. When you use verbs, you must use the right tense (time). You must also make the verbs and the subjects agree in number (singular or plural) and in person (first, second or third person). And, you are well advised to prefer active voice verbs over passive voice verbs. Lastly, you must choose a mood.

This paper asks you to choose the indicative and imperative moods (or modes) over the subjunctive mood, especially in business writing. But, what are these moods?

Indicative mood makes a statement or asks a question. “We will deliver the report to the client next Friday”. Or,” Can we deliver the report by next Friday?” Imperative mood makes a command, a request or a suggestion. “Deliver the report by next Friday.” Or, “Please deliver the report by next Friday.” Or, “We will serve the client best when we deliver the report by next Friday.”

Indicative and imperative mood suggest confidence, and when coupled with active voice, as opposed to passive voice, the indicative and imperative moods create direct and clear language. For example, compare these two sentences:

1) “Forward this report to the client by this Friday.” (Imperative mood and active voice)

2)” It would be appreciated if you would forward this report to the client by Friday.” (Subjunctive mood and passive voice)

The latter sentence suggests indecision. We do not serve our clients well when we are indecisive in our business dealings. Therefore, avoid the subjunctive mood in your business writing. Avoid subjunctive mood by avoiding these helping verbs: should, would, could, and might. Instead, prefer will and must. For example, don’t write, “We should complete this report on time.” Instead, write, “We must (or will) complete this report on time.”

Our clients hire us to deliver business solutions. They want to feel confident in us at all times. While we recognize that many people, especially those from Asia, are predisposed to use could, would and should as terms of deference and politeness, we ask that you use subjunctive verbs sparingly and, instead, prefer indicative and imperative mood in your writing. We need not be arrogant or aggressive in our client relations. Quite the opposite, we must be assertive and respectful, and we can do that while we use the indicative and imperative moods.

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