The Subjunctive. Unreal Uses of Past Tenses.

This is exercise about how to use the subjunctive mood with past tenses in English grammar is part of a complete lesson on the subjunctive and unreal conditionals in our free Advanced English course.

The Subjunctive & Unreal Past tenses.

When we talk about imaginary or hypothetical actions and states, either in the past, present or future, we are using what is called the subjunctive mood.

Although it sounds complicated, there is a simple trick to the subjunctive in English.

How to Form Subjunctive Phrases with Past Tenses.

When we talk about imaginary things, we often shift the tense of the verb backwards. So, for example, if we are talking about an imaginary present, we would talk in what looks like the past tense.

Look at these shoes here! If they were cheaper, I’d buy them!

You have some exams soon. It’s time you started revising.

If we are talking about an imaginary past situation, we use what appears to be the past perfect.

I could have done something sooner. I wish you had told me that you needed help.

Common Phrases to Introduce the Subjunctive

We often “invoke” or move into the subjunctive mood by using expressions like

If only

If only I had more time to finish this project! It needs to be presented tomorrow and it still isn’t right.


I wish I had more money. I can’t do anything this weekend.

For other uses of wish (annoyances / synonym of want), check out this exercise.

It’s time / it’s high time

It’s high time you started doing your own washing! I can’t believe that a man of your age needs his mom to wash his clothes.


Now check your understanding of this grammar with this interactive exercise.

Fill in the gaps with the correct form of the verb in brackets.

When you have answered all the questions, click “Finish Test” to see your results. Press “view questions” to see your answers and the solutions.