Learn about the Subjunctive Mood in the Russian Language
Subjunctive mood is one of the three moods in Russian language along with the Indicative and Imperative moods.
How do we form it?
It is formed with the help of the past form of the verb and particle БЫ / Б. The variants БЫ / Б have no difference in the meaning but particle Б has some restrictions in collocations. It can't be used after a word with a final consonant: Я хотел бы (not б); знал бы (not б) ты, etc. But both variants are possible if the presiding word ends with vowel:
Я хотела б / бы; знала б / бы ты
The particle can be put before or after the verb or even be separated from the verb by one or more words:
Я бы хотел выучить русский язык (I would like to learn Russian).
Он поехал бы с нами на экскурсию, если бы не был так занят (He would go for excursion with us if he were not so busy).
Я бы с большим удовольствием сходил с вами в музей (I would go to the museum with you with great pleasure).
- Verbs in subjunctive mood have the same grammatical forms as the verbs in the Past Tense (masculine, feminine and neuter gender forms and plural form).
How do we use it?
Subjunctive mood in the Russian language can denote unreal action or condition, an action that is possible under certain conditions, desired action, polite request, and advice.
Subjunctive mood is used to denote an action that is/could be possible under certain conditions. It is similar to English's Second and Third Conditionals. So, it can refer to present or future events which are unlikely to happen. These are the situations of unreal future, as the probability that the condition will be met is extremely small.
Если бы у меня было достаточно денег, я бы купил машину (If I had enough money, I would buy a car). - The person wants to buy a car but doesn’t have the money for it and the probability that he will have a good sum is really small but still exists.
На твоём месте я бы приняла его приглашение (If I were you, I would accept his invitation). - The condition is absolutely unreal, as I will never be you.
Если бы я занималась, то я бы сдала экзамен вчера (If I had studied, I would have passed the exam). - The situation of unreal past. The exam was yesterday and I hadn’t studied. So nothing can be changed. Remember, that Subjunctive mood is used in both parts of the sentence.
Desired or possible action
This is the case similar to English "I wish…/ I would like to...". The action is desired and considered possible.
Я бы хотела купить это платье. Оно мне нравится. (I would like to buy this dress. I like it).
Я бы выучила русский язык, он красивый (I would study Russian, it’s beautiful language).
To denote polite request, we usually use Subjunctive of the verb мочь (Can) with infinitive of an action verb. Both positive and negative forms of the verb are possible in this case.
Ты мог бы мне помочь? (Could you help me?)
Не могли бы вы принести мне эту книгу? (Could you bring me this book?)
Remember, that when you address to a person who is older than you, higher in social position or just unknown, you should use plural form of the verb могли.
Using БЫ /Б we can also express advice. This case is similar to English structure "You’d better...":
Сходил бы ты к врачу (You’d better see your doctor).
Надел бы ты тёплую куртку. Очень холодно (You’d better put on a warm jacket. It’s cold).
In this situation the verb in Subjunctive mood together with particle бы is usually placed in the beginning of the sentence.