I can say "Jerry's been a bad pussycat this morning" or "Hey, Jerry, you be a good pussycat now" or "Jerry's been active all morning so he's being a good pussycat now". All these involve the use of the verb be.

Now if I said "if Jerry bes a bad pussycat, put him in the laundry," I'll sound ungrammatical. How else can you say this without being specific about the verb? I understand the future tense of to be is is but then it sounds like present tense rather than future tense.

I don't want to say "if Jerry behaves badly" because it's too complex. And I don't want to say "if Jerry is bad" because that implies current state rather than future state.

Should it be "if Jerry would be bad..." or "if Jerry should be bad" perhaps?

  • Hi Lisa, and welcome to EL&U! Is it possible for you to take out some of the peeving in your question, so that it fits better with our FAQ? It will help other users answer your question. – simchona Aug 3 '11 at 1:23
  • I'm not sure how to change it. I'm more than happy for you to edit it though. – Lisa Aug 3 '11 at 1:28
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    I just changed a little formatting--your first line was the one I was referring to. So, to get a better idea about your question, you're asking for a future tense version of "If Jerry is bad, then put him in the laundry"? – simchona Aug 3 '11 at 1:31
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    Lisa, I made a few edits as well. You can roll them back if you object. – Kit Z. Fox Aug 3 '11 at 2:10
  • How about If Jerry gets bad… or If Jerry becomes bad… or If Jerry does not stay good…? – Synetech Dec 14 '11 at 21:21

Use the subjunctive mood here. In order to form the future subjunctive mood for to be in clauses in which there is doubt, you would use if I/he/she/it, etc. were to be as follows:

Were Jerry to be bad, put him in the laundry.

If Jerry were to be bad, put him in the laundry.

or you could say:

Should Jerry be bad, put him in the laundry.

The last choice sounds best to my ear.

The subjunctive mood is to be used when talking about events that somebody imagines.

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    Note that if Jerry be's bad (or bees bad) is grammatical in some dialects of English, or for some speakers. Some examples are discussed in this paper on agentive and habitual be (PDF). If a particular dialect feature is or isn't grammatical for you, it doesn't mean we can infer anything about your intelligence :) – aedia λ Aug 3 '11 at 2:24
  • Good comment. I'd say the subjunctive mood is largely unused in American English at least. +1 – Spare Oom Aug 3 '11 at 2:34
  • Marking as answer because I like it the best. Hellion's answer quite valid too. All three of these sound nice to my ear. Thank you for pointing out this is the subjunctive mood. – Lisa Aug 3 '11 at 7:46

While the subjunctive that Spare Oom gives may be grammatically correct, it will still sound very strange to most people (though his third choice is definitely the least uncommon of them). What I would recommend as "everyday English" is:

If Jerry starts being bad, put him in the laundry.

P.s. The future tense of "to be" is not "is", it's "will be", as in He was bad, he is bad, he will be bad.

  • That "everyday English" suggestion is fine, but use of the present tense ("is") is also fine in a conditional sentence in everyday English. Using another verb, an example: If he crys, try rocking him. Similarly, if Jerry is bad, put him in the laundry would be widely acceptable. – mgkrebbs Aug 3 '11 at 4:34
  • How do you explain "he has been bad", "he's being bad" and "he is going to be bad". Are these not past, present and future as well? How can you know something will happen if it's in the future. It might not?? – Lisa Aug 3 '11 at 11:41

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