Why is the phrase "I hope this computer work" unacceptable? The word "hope" makes the phrase subjunctive, so why isn't it correct to use the infinitive verb form?

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    I hope it be right to say this is how English uses the subjunctive with "hope". Except we don't any more, because it's dialectal/archaic. Commented Apr 13, 2014 at 3:23
  • @FumbleFingers I wish it were right to say we ever did use the subjunctive with "hope". Except we don't seem to have done so...?
    – wwkudu
    Commented Apr 14, 2014 at 7:46
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    @wwkudu: I hope it be not presumptive of me to point out that Shakespeare used the subjunctive more than once with "hope" (and even more often with "think", as can be seen in that link). Commented Apr 14, 2014 at 12:03
  • @FumbleFingers It might have been (presumptive) were it not for the error of hyperbole into which I fell. By ever I could more helpfully have said hardly ever... and then the bard was one for pushing the envelope.
    – wwkudu
    Commented Apr 15, 2014 at 6:28
  • @FumbleFingers using “hope” with the subjunctive on Google NGrams opposed to the indicative seems to have been extremely rare historically. That “wish” seems to have shifted more and more to the indicative seems to be the product of the subjunctive dying out more and more, but “hope” has never used it historically when the subjunctive was still very much alive.
    – Zorf
    Commented Dec 20, 2020 at 13:25

7 Answers 7


Different languages have different verbs that require (with varying degrees of strictness) the use of the subjunctive. In English, we do not generally use the subjunctive with the verb hope. Compare the following, (using the verb to be, as it is more clearly distinguished in the subjunctive):

I hope the computer is working.
I wish the computer were working.

The answer to your question is: because.

More seriously, the subjunctive in English is largely a vestigial organ. There are no particularly hard and fast rules that regulate verb usage or tense in English in the way that a Romance language would require.

In other words, in effect there really is no true subjunctive in English, but rather several ways of approximating it.

If translating the subjunctive from a Romance language to English, instead of trying to make our verbs agree with a mood, we merely change things like word order, the verb itself, etc.

Consider one of the few subjunctive uses in English:

If I were ...

There is very little difference in meaning from:

If I was ...

A Romance language would require that this sentence be conjugated differently. But, English doesn't particularly care.

TL;DR You don't need to use the subjunctive in English because there really isn't one.

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    That's right. And this is the problem that talking about "the English subjunctive" as if it were real: innocent teachers and students believe that BS, and try to follow the rules. Note 'The word "hope" makes the phrase subjunctive'. This comes from describing the meaning instead of the grammar; people think any kind of supposition causes the phrase to be redefined as "subjunctive", which resets all the rules. Commented Apr 13, 2014 at 4:00
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    @JohnLawler I supposed I should have credited you in my answer. Some of your tirades against the notion of a subjunctive in English have forced me to do enough research of my own to be convinced of its near non-existence. The romantic in me considers it in the same way I consider that the dinosaurs are technically still alive in the form of modern day birds . . .
    – David M
    Commented Apr 13, 2014 at 4:04
  • It's more like they're still alive in the form of modern day dragons. Because dragons are imaginary mythology, arguably about dinosaurs, and that's pretty similar to zombie grammar. Commented Apr 13, 2014 at 4:13
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    We can only hope that the subjunctive be allowed to die naturally through lack of use. Commented Apr 13, 2014 at 7:41
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    @JohnLawler You give me hope for humanity. I can't even get through to people about prescriptivist grammar! Commented Apr 13, 2014 at 12:37

*I hope this computer work.

is ungrammatical (hence the asterisk, which marks ungrammatical sentences) because it is short for

  • I hope that this computer works.

which is grammatical.

The that complementizer introducing the tensed object complement clause

  • (that) this computer works

is optional, and may be deleted, as in the original example.

But this leaves a tensed clause, in the present tense,
and that means you have to add the 3rd Person Singular Present Tense suffix, -s, to the verb:

  • I hope this computer works.
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    This doesn't answer the question at all, as it doesn't explain why the subjunctive is not an option. Commented Apr 13, 2014 at 11:37
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    @ArlaudPierre But I think John's stance is that there's essentially no reason to even dream of it being a subjunctive in the first place, so that issue then disappears. Commented Apr 13, 2014 at 13:46
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    @NeilCoffey My point is, what you think John's stance actually is, is no where to be explicitely found in his answer. Commented Apr 13, 2014 at 15:14
  • @ArlaudPierre: I posted the answer above after having commented on DavidM's answer. My stance (more like a puzzled, disinterested slouch, actually) is fairly clear there. The "English subjunctive", like ye and thou and many other dead bits of English, is still around in lots of fixed phrases and idioms and rare constructions; but it certainly isn't a useful or helpful concept for learning English, or learning English grammar. So, , if you were in any doubt, I completely agree with Neil Coffey and David M. on the topic of the "English Subjunctive". Commented Apr 13, 2014 at 15:41
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    @JohnLawler Still, I'll be stubborn and say that, although I agree with you (I'm not saying the subjunctive is still alive in English), this doesn't appear in the answer: OP knows that there is an s in the 3rd Person singular of the present tense, but he was asking about subjunctive and you sort of found a way around the question. People shouldn't have to ask you in comments to extract your opinion or have to guess your stance. The discussion is closed. Commented Apr 13, 2014 at 16:13

I can imagine that in some languages to hope is connected with a subjunctive clause. But that is no general rule for all languages. English and German don't use a subjunctive after to hope.


Inasmuch as this question can really be answered, we can probably say:

  • There is no a priori guarantee that a particular verb will necessarily select a particular structure (be that whether it "takes the subjunctive", how many complements it allows, whether it selects a particular preposition etc), though there may be tendencies.
  • The "subjunctive" construction (actually probably more satisfactorily analysed as an infinitive[*]) generally serves to grammaticalise a non-assertion; different verbs are more or less clear cut as to whether what they are introducing is a non-assertion; "hope" is one of the less clear-cut cases, but errs slightly more on the side of "assertion" than "non-assertion"
  • The "subjunctive" construction is not the only structure available in English to grammaticalise a non-assertion; we observe that different verbs select different structures, so again, there's little a priori reason to assume that "hope" must select one particular structure
  • [Warning: Victorian grammarians may be offended by this next statement- look away now if you're of a nervous disposition...] Of those structures, the English "subjunctive" is probably the least consistently used. It may not even really be a "natural" feature of the language but more of a metalinguistic invention, making it more subject to arbitrary choices and convention.

To give a bit more of an explanation: there are certain clauses that represent archetypal "assertions", i.e. they can be confirmed/negated with a tag, can be reformulated with a 'direct speech' construction. Other cases clearly can't. And some verbs allow both the "assertion" and "non-assertion" variants, depending on a semantic difference.


I insist/suggest that Mary was sacked!

No, she wasn't!

Mary was sacked, I insist/suggest.


I insists/suggest that Mary be sacked!

*No, she won't.

Mary be sacked, I insist.

The verb "hope" does not fall completely into either pattern: it allows the 'direct speech' structure, but doesn't allow the "subjunctive" construction.

On the other hand, it's important to understand that the "subjunctive" construction is not the only means that English has for grammaticalising a non-assertion. A (probably more common) means is using an -ing form, e.g. "[Mary being sacked] was disappointing" or using an infinitive, typically with the complementiser "for": "[For Mary to be sacked] was disappointing". The verb "hope (for)" can be used with other structures to lend less assertive force: "I hoped for [all of the computers working] but only one worked".

[*] What we call a "subjunctive" in other languages is generally a conjugated verb, essentially with the similar syntax to any other conjugated verb. The English "subjunctive" is always identical in form to the infinitive and behaves syntactically like an infinitive (e.g. think about how they are negated compared to how "normal" conjugated verb forms are negated).

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    In the sentence "I wish I were you" - which is subjunctive - there also isn't a "prior reason". Commented Dec 26, 2016 at 22:58
  • Semantically one would expect it to. “to hope” has been studied as a curiosity where even in Middle English the subjunctive was not used when it was very much alive. One could argue that "hope" is very much irregular in that sense. “to desire”, “to wish”, “would like”, “favor”, and any other verb that expresses a desire or wish about something all govern the subjunctive in the subordinate clause. Even with an innovative construct such as “It would bejoy me that he survive his illness.” feels proper with the subjunctive, and “bejoy” is not a verb, but it feels as if it could be.
    – Zorf
    Commented Dec 18, 2020 at 23:01
  • There's a lot to unpack in the above two comments, but the essential problem is that "subjunctive" is being used in a very woolly, non-analytical sense. In its strictest sense, and the sense applied to many languages other than English, "subjunctive" is the grammaticalisation of a non-assertion-- and usually in the form of a verbal paradigm. In that sense, English doesn't actually have any "subjunctive" at all. (It has other ways of grammaticalising non-assertions, e.g. constructions such as "him leaving", just not subjunctives in the strictest sense.)... Commented Dec 20, 2020 at 4:16
  • ...Then, the notion conveyed by "hope" possibly sits somewhere closer to the threshold between introducing an 'assertion' vs a 'non-assertion' compared to many other verbs. Possibly for this reason, in various languages, there is variation in whether or not the equivalent of "hope" selects a subjunctive. Perhaps the nearest equivalent of this variation in English is "I hope he'll come"/"He'll come, I hope" vs "I hope for him to come". Commented Dec 20, 2020 at 4:21
  • @NeilCoffey why wouldn't it? the subjunctive is very much used in English for that as a verbal mood in other constructs such as “I insist he come with me.”; “He imparted onto me that I not let it consume me.”; “God bless us all.” and so forth — “hope” is simply irregular in that it demands the indicative for a non-assertive sense, and in this case it would never disambiguate, but “to suggest” is a verb that disambiguates viā the subjunctive on nonassertiveness: “I'm suggesting he's eating.” and “I'm suggesting he eat.” mean two very different things.
    – Zorf
    Commented Dec 20, 2020 at 13:09

In terms of common usage we do see "hope" used without the non-subjunctive mood. But if I want to stress that the "hope" isn't very likely, or that I intend to be sarcastic, the subjunctive mood seems to offer a good alternative where I don't need to go all the way to "wish" which suggests a very unlikely scenario.


I originally asserted in some comments here that “to hope” is irregular in that it does not use the subjunctive mood where one would expect it to, “simply because it doesn't”. — I am no longer all too sure of that.

I recently saw an exchange on the internet that went so:

What are your hopes for the 2nd season of Uzaki Chan's anime?

that it not be shit

This usage of the subjunctive mood seemed completely acceptable to me, and reminded me of this discussion. In fact, I find “I hope that the second season not be shit.” acceptable as well, though I would sooner use “won't be shit” instead.

I have the feeling that “hope”, when talking about future, currently uncertain events does govern the subjunctive, but it does not when talking about current events that are true or false.

My own Sprachgefühl certainly finds that:

*I hope he be fine right now.

*I hope the store still be open.

are all objectionable.


I hope he do well on his test tomorrow.

I hope he end up in a good place.

I hope he live a long life.

All don't really seem objectionable to me.

So I would say that “to hope” governs the indicative mood when it express a current event that is true or false and the speaker's hope that it is true, but governs the subjunctive mood when it express a future event, and the speakers hope that it come true.

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