Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Three Common Faults, and How You Can Make Them Work For You

Today I'm going to look at three common faults - sentence fragments, monotonous structure and comma splices. Yes, you need to know about these things, and most of the time you need to avoid them. Most of the time.

There are, however, situations in which each of these things can be made to work for you. Let's take them one by one.

Sentence Fragments

Look back at the end of my opening paragraph. Do you see what I did there? It's a sentence fragment, and it is bad grammar. A well-formed English sentence must have at the very minimum a subject and a verb.

When people are actually talking, however, they use sentence fragments all the time. The average conversation between ordinary people is full of them. If you listen to educated people discussing some intellectual topic, there will be fewer fragments - but there will still be some. That's just how we humans roll.

In written English, sentence fragments have traditionally been seen as a grave fault. However, written English was traditionally far more formal than is always the case today. A hundred years ago, there was no email, no Facebook, no IMS. A good case can be made for shifting the distinction away from whether the English in question is written or spoken, towards the nature of the writing. Chat sessions, for example, have far more in common with a telephone conversation than with an exchange of letters. There is the synchronicity, the short length of information packets, the immediacy of the whole thing. 

A blog post arguably falls between the stools of formal prose and conversation. It is more like giving a talk, and therefore a greater degree of laxity is allowable. I'm quite sure that if you go through a number of my blog posts, you'll see many more sentence fragments than the one I deliberately inserted above, and I don't feel there is anything wrong with that; it gives a casual, conversational tone to what, after all, should be an easy read. Of course, given my usual subject matter, I do hold myself to a higher grammatical standard than I would expect from someone writing about, say, dogs, or fashion, but it doesn't have to be perfect English grammar all the time.

Monotonous Sentence Structure

This is a terrible flaw indeed. Consider the following passage:

Rover was on the hill. The hill was covered with grass. The weather was cold and wet. The wind was chilly. Rover was hungry.

It's like a litany, isn't it? You can almost hear the droning tones of someone reading it out, lifeless, completely without expression. 

It's truly awful, yes. But what if you wanted to evoke that feeling in your reader? That sense of unrelieved monotony? That complete lack of interest? Consider:

We went up the hill. We went down the hill. We carried empty buckets up. We carried full buckets down. We had lunch. We carried more buckets. By the time the day finally ended, I was ready to shoot myself. Was this going to be my life from now on?

The first six sentences in the above passage are about as monotonous as they can be. When you read the last two sentences, you can see why. The speaker is ready to shoot himself from the monotony of the day, the very monotony that I have conveyed in the mere repetitive structure of the foregoing sentences. The ability to manipulate your style like this gives you a whole new set of tools to get more meaning across to the reader, without using extra words. 

Comma Splices

I received severe criticism from one reviewer for using comma splices in two of my books. He was right, too. There are many, many comma splices in Dance of Chaos and Gift of Continence, and there will be plenty in the third book in the trilogy, too, when I get it finished. 
Plenty of comma
splices in this book

You do know what a comma splice is, right? Just in case you don't, it is when you use a comma where a semicolon would normally be called for. Here is an example from Gift of Continence:

I wished the whole business was over, it had been nothing but dramas ever since we'd decided to get married. No, actually, that wasn't fair, the hassles started when we told my mother.

And in this one, too.
They enhance
rather than detract.
In perfect English, the comma after 'over' would be a semicolon, and so would that after 'fair', because in each case the two parts that are joined are both capable of being well-formed sentences. When a comma is used instead, it is called a 'comma splice', because we have used a comma to 'splice' two sentences together.

Now, why did I, the person who blocks people on Facebook for using 'lay' intransitively, and has a generally low tolerance for mangling our language, deliberately do this, you ask. I did it to underscore the nature of my protagonist.

You'll have noticed in the passage quoted, even if you haven't read Gift of Continence, that it is first person, and it is that fact that allowed me to use the comma splices the way I did. My intention was to underscore in the narrative, which of course in first person doubles as the protagonist's internal thought stream, the nature of my protagonist. She's flighty and a complete dimwit. She rambles on, and daydreams a lot, and I used the comma splices to mimic the rambling monologue of a self-centred person. How successful I was, my readers may judge. There's a happy medium with this sort of thing; as with any gimmick, if you overdo it the reader will start to notice, and it won't be long after that before he will become irritated, then intensely irritated. But, as with other little writers' tricks, if you use it sparingly it can be extremely powerful.

There - three faults, but also three opportunities. Go and do good with them.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Write What You Know - What it Really Means

I see a lot of nonsense talked around this subject. "How," cry the wannabe authors, "could anyone write about dragons, if they only stuck to what they knew? Or vampires? There'd be no fantasy literature at all."

'Write What You Know' does not mean this. Or rather, it sort of does - sorta kinda - it is the meaning of 'what you know' that is frequently misunderstood. Let's unpack this.

First of all, it is important to recognise that 'know' in this sense relates to kennen, not wissen; connaitre, not savoir. It is rare that English lets us down, but in this we are poorer than French and German speakers, for we have only the one verb 'to know' to represent two very different concepts. 

What does it actually mean, then, to know a thing, in the sense that is meant? For us to know something, it is not necessary that that something have a real, material existence in the world, either now or at any previous time. It only needs to have a notional existence. Let's say you are going to write about dragons. There is no reason you shouldn't. As dragons do not exist, you, the writer, will create them as you see fit. Provided you create your own, and don't crib from Tolkien, Lackey et al, you will be as a god; yours the decision about how many legs they have, whether they can talk, fly, do magic... it's all yours.

They're your dragons, you see. Who knows them better than you, their creator? So it is with any fantasy creature, and with alien races and so on, too.

You are not, of course, perfectly free in this respect. You will need to ensure your work is internally consistent. But that would be the case whatever you wrote about. This is not what 'write what you know' means. 

Where this slogan comes into its own is in the realm of the mundane. You can write all you like about elves or space bunnies, but when you turn your keyboard to things that really exist, you had better be damn careful. The world is full of people who know all about police procedure, about mental illness, about ballroom dancing. They will mock you, some publicly, but worse, they will probably not finish reading your book. And good luck expecting someone who couldn't even finish your book ever to consider reading anything of yours again, ever. 

I can write about dog shows because I go to lots of them.

But many romance writers come a cropper when they try to write about ballroom dancing

This is the true meaning of 'write what you know'. And there's another aspect to it, too. Suppose you write about one of these things that you know nothing about, and somehow by a miracle you avoid making a total prat of yourself, what you write will still not be of the same quality as what you could write about something you do know about. It won't have the depth, the texture, the grace notes. Trust me on this, or better yet, try it out for yourself. Try writing a short piece set in a familiar location (say a hair salon if you're a hairdresser, or a cockpit if you're a pilot, or whatever). Then write the same piece, but this time set it in a place or situation you have never experienced. I am very, very sure that you will see a marked difference in quality between the two pieces.

To write effectively about a thing, you should experience it if at all possible

What if you Don't Have a Choice?

Okay, I'll grant that. Sometimes your plot absolutely requires a particular situation. For example, something I wrote last year required a woman to discover she had cancer and have an operation for it. The story absolutely required this; it could not exist without it. And I know nothing, less than nothing about anything medical. I know even less than the average non-medical lay person, because whenever anyone talks about it, I deliberately tune them out. I hate that shit.

Make no mistake, it is far, far better not to be in this situation, for it's fraught with peril, as we have discussed supra. Therefore, the first thing I would suggest you do if you are contemplating writing about something with which you're completely unfamiliar is to have a long think about how committed you really are to writing this story. In my case, I really, really was; for personal reasons which I shan't go into here, it meant a great deal to me to write this particular story and no other.

If you, too, decide this, then you at least know that it means a lot to you, and it is therefore worth a considerable effort. You will need to put in a great deal of research. It's time consuming and not always fun. Of course, if it is something you can possibly experience for yourself, like dog shows or ballroom dancing, then do so! Sign up for some ballroom lessons. Set aside a couple of weekends to hang out at dog shows. Allow plenty of time for this. It is this time spent in the field that is going to add the authenticity and grainy texture to your writing.

There will, of course, be some things you just cannot experience for yourself. In my own case, I could hardly go and get operated on for a tumour I did not have. I did, however, have to have some surgery, and I put off writing the story until after my operation. My experience did give me some insights as to what it is actually like, for instance, waking up in recovery with your guts all rearranged and sewn together. 

The second thing you will need to do is to line up some real experts. Partly so that you can pick their brains before you start writing, but also, and more importantly, so they can save you from embarrassing yourself. I had two vets, two nurses and two doctors read my story after I finished it. I was completely taken by surprise at the results. The vets and the doctors both schooled me righteously. The location of the tumour, it turned out, was completely incompatible with the symptoms I had described.  This means that I am going to have to rewrite huge chunks of the story. But I don't complain. That was the point of the whole exercise. The medical types I consulted have had a good laugh at my ignorance, but that's okay, they're my friends. Hey, I make people laugh for a living. But that is not the kind of laughter I want to see from the reading public, no indeed. 

There is no skipping this step, or even skimping on it. No gain without some pain, runs the proverb, and there are few things truer in life. But you'll be a better writer, and you'll have broadened your life experience and met interesting new people. What's not to like?

The Hardest Thing of All

That's enough about situations. There is another aspect to 'write what you know' that is even more vital, if possible. Whatever your story is 'about', in the final analysis, stories are about people. And the varieties of human experience cannot be faked, nor can they be invented, nor are they particularly accessible at second hand. For example, if you have never grieved for the death of someone whom you dearly loved, you cannot write about it. If you have never experienced birth, whether childbirth by you or your spouse, or participating at the birth of kittens or puppies, you are not equipped to write about it. Sure, the physical aspects of it can be got at by talking to a dog breeder or maternity nurse, but the interior life of it has to be experienced. Love, jealousy, shame, remorse, fear, triumph, hunger - these great absolutes must be experienced at first hand. 

This is one reason the writing of the very young is often facile, shallow and second-rate. They are attempting to write about areas of life where they have never set foot. Don't be that guy. Even if you are very young indeed, even if you are still a child at school, you have experienced life in your own ways. Perhaps you've been bullied. Perhaps you've been treated unfairly by a parent or teacher, or not believed when you were telling the truth. There have been plenty of times when you experienced life very intensely, whether good or bad, and these are the things you are equipped to write about.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

If you're actually a writer, you have heard this question more times than you would have liked. It occurs with roughly the frequency of people comparing your Deerhound to a horse.

Any working writer knows that ideas are not the problem. It is like asking a person in the middle of autumn where he gets his dead leaves.

Nevertheless, there can be times when one really is stuck for an idea. For example, you want to submit to an anthology or contest, but nothing you have fits the theme. 

With that in mind, I thought I'd share the origins of some of my own work. There's bound to be something that will work for you. Here, organised according to frequency, are the origins of those of my stories that did not spring fully formed from my head, like Athena. I'm leaving out those works where the idea was spontaneous; they are not relevant. These are the things whose origin I can definitely name.

16 - What If
11 - Elements
6 - From a dream
3 - From a picture
3 - From anecdotes told to me     
2 - From a news story.     

How It's Done

What If

Sometimes a hypothesis is all you need

I don't have to explain about the What If, do I? It is the What If style of thinking that, more than anything in my opinion, causes a person to become a writer.


This is my absolute favourite technique for story generation. I use it a great deal, because one gets such surprising results. 

I first encountered the notion of elements when I was entering my first short story competition. The contest organiser had provided three elements, all of which had to appear in the story. The elements were: a sudden, unexpected hailstorm, a magnifying glass, and a bag of cement. From those elements I got my story Excuse Of The Day. And I won a prize! 

A few weeks later, the same man announced another contest. This time, the elements to be used were: a page torn out of a calendar, towering jealousy, and a passage from Collins' The Moonstone. Because of some banter in the bulletin board associated with the contest, I announced that I would also include rubber pants as a fourth element, for bonus marks. That collection of items gave me Sophie's Revenge, and incidentally gave birth to Sophie Green, a character I have used again and again.

I was so taken with the ease of generating a story using these elements, and the really off-the-wall things that sprang from them, that I turned my mind to how I could do it for myself. It seemed to me that the elements needed to be provided by a third party, but I hate to rely on other people for my work. I didn't want to be one of those whiny people one sees in writers' groups.

I created a spreadsheet. Down the first column I listed all kinds of random things. Not just basic things like a prince, a dragon, and so on, but all kinds of stuff. A letter to the editor, a trading opportunity, a foul smell, sunshine on water, jurisdiction. Using the RAND function, I could then generate random elements to be combined into stories. Three was, I found, the ideal number. From this came The Dragon of Butter, Nigel's Holiday, No Such Thing, Sophie and the Frog, and a number of things that are still in progress. 

I can't say enough about this method. If I had to limit myself to a single means of creating story ideas, this is the one I'd go with.


When I first heard that Stephanie Myers was claiming to have received the whole of the Twilight series in a dream, I dismissed it as pretentious rubbish, like the maunderings of those people who claim their characters are talking to them. I've had to revise my opinion. In fact, I've had totally to recant it; I now believe it could be the literal truth. If you're a fairly intense dreamer, as I am and, I suppose, as Ms Myers is, dreams don't just encompass their own events; they often come with a set of memories and backstory. One day, I awoke from a frightening, horrible dream. I was drenched in sweat and my heartrate was elevated. I found my thoughts returning to the dream throughout the day, and I realised that it could be written as a story with very little work. That dream is now available as Authorised Staff Only. 

With the new respect I'd gained for the dreaming state, I took to checking, whenever I awoke from a dream, whether it was a 'useful' dream (one that could be a story). I've never again received a complete story, but often I've got the story concept and a substantial part of the story. I've taken to keeping a notebook in my bedside drawer, so that I can get as much of it down as possible. If I go back to sleep without writing stuff down, it's gone in the morning. Of my published work, Danse Macabre, Operation Tomcat (which has spawned a whole series) came from dreams, and so did a pile of other stories, some of which are in progress and more of which exist only as notes. They are my little stash for the future, a writer's nest egg, saved against the winter of barren invention.


Years and years ago, in one of the Facebook groups for Irish Wolfhound fanciers, someone posted a photograph so strange and haunting in its beauty that it wouldn't leave my mind. There was, I felt, a story behind that photograph of an elderly man sitting in a kitchen chair on a lakeside pontoon, with a massive wolfhound lying by his side. I downloaded the photograph and made it my desktop background, and for two years I would sit and stare at it from time to time, wondering. Finally, I started to see the glimmerings of the story, and The Real Winner was written. I tracked down the photographer, and he graciously gave permission for me to use the photo, so you can see it here. Of all the things I've written, this is my favourite. This edition is dedicated to the memory of Drosten, my friend's hound.

The photograph is by Truls Bakken

Pictures aren't my favourite method, but this one was really special. I've generated a couple of other stories from pictures, too - one because it spoke to me, as the picture above did, and one for an anthology that never came to anything; we were all supposed to write stories from the same picture, and it was going to showcase the variety of writers.

If you think this method is for you, there is a Facebook group that may interest you. It's called W.A.P.A.T. (short for Write A Paragraph About This). The members post pictures to be used as story prompts, and the main thrust of the group is to write off-the-cuff flash fiction, but you can always take the picture and work on it to produce an actual story. In any case, it's a great way to warm up before you tackle your day's work, or a new project.


Occasionally on hearing that I'm a writer, people will kindly gift me with their 'ideas' for things I might write. We're harking back to my opening paragraph - the fact is that lay people just do not understand that ideas are the least of a writer's worries. However, occasionally someone will relate an anecdote. Thrice I have liked these anecdotes well enough to write stories based on them. Two are complete but as yet unpublished, and one is still in the planning stage. 

I don't really think this is a fertile enough field to spend a lot of time on, but it never hurts to keep one's ears open and carry a notebook.

News Stories

Sometimes there will be a news story that just catches the imagination. Operation Camilla came about in that way; the crime was based around the Ashley Madison affair. I've also got one short story now in revisions that was based on one of those 'awww' stories on the internet - probably Upworthy or Huffington Post. Again, it's not my favourite technique, and it can be expensive in terms of the time you could waste surfing around, but it doesn't hurt to be looking out for things that may be useful, and of course you always have your notebook ready, don't you?

Friday, 24 February 2017

Possession and Other Dangers


 You thought I was going to talk about demonic possession, didn't you? Well, I'm not. William Blatty and Joss Whedon have, I feel, said all that needs to be said (remarkably little) about that.

Not this kind of possession, either.
The kind of possession of which I speak is grammatical. You knew that was coming, didn't you?

There is a disturbing trend nowadays among many Americans - I hope it is limited to America, I haven't seen it anywhere else - completely to ignore possessive case, and to say things like "I am Mary personal assistant". I am not sure where this comes from, but suspect it originated in some gutter dialect. Be that as it may, it won't do, people. It won't do at all.

Forming the Possessive

Forming the possessive of a noun is not difficult.


1 's' (not always required)
1 apostrophe


1. Place the apostrophe at the end of the word of which you want to form the possessive.
2. Now examine your root word. Look at the last letter. Is it an 's'? If it is, then you've finished.
3. If it is any other letter, place an 's' after the apostrophe.

Example 1: Mary
1. Mary'
2. no, it's not an 's'
3. Mary's

Example 2: dogs
1. dogs'
2. yes, it is an 's'
3. you don't need to do anything else.

Now, don't jump all over me for being overly simplistic and patronising. Many of the things I have been writing about in this blog are things that no ordinary adult needs to be told. But be assured, I don't waste my time writing about a thing unless I have seen many, many people getting it wrong. So if you're not the one who needs to be told this, just enjoy the LOLCATs and be glad your parents gave you a decent education. 


There are simple but finite rules to terminating sentences.

Every sentence must end with a terminal punctuation mark. This is ordinarily a period (.), but can also be a question mark, exclamation point or ellipsis (...). Note that commas, colons and semicolons are not terminal punctuation; they can only be used within a sentence, not to close it. 

Every punctuation mark should be followed by a space, unless it is immediately followed by end quotes. An ellipsis is not an exception to this.

EVERY speech must end with some form of punctuation before the end quotes. This can be a period, comma, dash (to show a sudden interruption), ellipsis (to show the speaker trailing off), question mark or exclamation point. There MUST always be something.

When a speech stands alone (not enclosed within another sentence), it is punctuated as a normal sentence would be, except for being enclosed in quotes.

EG: “OK, Dad, I will try to stop being such a loser.” 

However, when the speech is enclosed within a sentence, its punctuation changes slightly. If the sentence continues after the end of the speech, the terminal period in the speech becomes a comma:
“OK, Dad, I will try to stop being such a loser,” said Joe.

This is because the speech is the object of the speech verb. 
If the speech is enclosed in a sentence which goes on after the end of the speech DO NOT EVER use a period: 
WRONG: “OK, Dad, I will try to stop being such a loser.” Said Joe. 
Do not do this.


Another thing I frequently see in the work of incompetent writers is random words given initial capitals. 

There are two places where the initial letter of a word must be capitalised: a) when it is the first word in a sentence, and b) when the word is a name, or is being used in place of a name (as Mum, Dad &c), or is a title (e.g. The Greatest Show On Earth). There is a third way, when words are capitalised ironically, to reveal something about the speaker's attitude ('The butler made his displeasure felt. Monkeys in the Drawing Room were Not What He Had Been Accustomed To.') but it is rather old-fashioned and one rarely sees it nowadays.

In no other case should you capitalise initial letters of a word. You may capitalise the entire word to show shouting in dialogue, but initial capitals are used ONLY as mentioned above. 

That's all I'm going to say about capitalisation. I spoke about this at some length in Six Common Errors in Punctuation, on 21 February, so if you want more detail, you can go there.


The indefinite article is 'a', but when it precedes a word that starts with a vowel, it is 'an'. This is an ease of use thing, rather like the way that Italian speakers, uncomfortable with two consonants colliding, tend to insert an 'a' in between. It just makes it easier to say.

Unlike the pleasantly exotic sound of an Italian accent, though, saying things like 'I love being a author' - and yes, I have actually seen this very sentence used on more than one occasion - is vile, cringeworthy, and roughly equivalent to having 'hopeless wannabe' tattoed on one's forehead.

A cat
An cat
An elephant
A elephant
A question
An question
An answer
A answer


Thursday, 23 February 2017

Mass Nouns and Count Nouns

Let's go on Monday, says your friend. There'll be less people there. And you cringe.

Few things distinguish the educated person from the rest of humanity like failure to understand the difference between mass nouns and count nouns. And yet, the difference is so simple.

Count Noun, What

Beloved of Count Von Count, Count Nouns (no, Virginia, they were not named after him) are nouns denoting discrete items. Why does the Count love them so? Because they can be COUNTED.

How many sheep, we say. How many cookies? How many cats/ racing car drivers/ scandals involving Federal politicians? A count noun is a noun of which such a question can be asked, and which can be enumerated. Ten thousand head of sheep. A dozen cookies. Four cats, three racing car drivers... you get the picture? However many of something there are, things of this kind can be counted. Even if it takes a long, long time.

Mass Noun, What

Not all nouns denote things that can be counted. Consider, for example, water. Or milk, or pinot grigio. You can't really say 'how many water'. Not if you're an English speaker, that is; it may well be possible in some languages, but it is English with which we are concerned today. You might, in colloquial usage, say 'how many pinot grigio', but a moment's thought will reveal that this is actually a kind of shorthand for 'how many bottles/glasses/barrels of pinot grigio'.

How do we refer to quantity with these non-countable nouns? We use measures of quantity rather than number. How much water? we ask. The answer will differ in form, too. Instead of a simple number, we must answer with a number and a unit. For example, ten gallons. Forty bottles. Nouns of this kind are known as Mass Nouns.

The Difference At A Glance

It's easier than anything to tell which kind of noun is which. All you need to ask yourself is which question you would ask in relation to it - how much (mass noun) or how many (count noun)?

But Wait - There's More! 

There is indeed more - and the other thing, too. Let's consider 'more' first, for it is very simple. Whether we are counting (bubbles) or measuring (champagne), the comparative 'more' is the same. One glass has more bubbles than the other. One glass has more champagne than the other. No problems there, right? Right.

The Other Side of the Coin

Where we start to run into problems is when we use a comparative that describes a smaller quantity or amount, for here the same word cannot be used in all cases. 

Mass nouns are the only ones that correctly take the comparative 'less'. You can have more or less water, more or less oxygen, more or less intelligence.
Count nouns, on the other hand, take the comparative 'fewer'. More people, fewer people. There are fewer pencils on my desk than there were yesterday.

One Word More

This seems a good place to note that 'more' and 'less' are also the comparatives used with adjectives, where those adjectives do not form their own comparatives. In this way, adjectives are a kind of cousin to the mass noun.


Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Moods - a Brief Introduction

The Three Moods

As well as tense (past, present, future and so on), and voice (active and passive) verbs have different moods. There are three moods: Indicative, Imperative and Subjunctive.

1. Indicative Mood.

Indicative mood

This is the mood that we use nearly all the time. Whenever we talk about something that is happening, or something that exists, or what we did on Friday night, or what we think is wrong with the next door people’s dog, anything at all really, we use the indicative mood. It’s called that because we are indicating stuff when we use it.

For example:

The cat sat on the mat.

The tense is past tense (“sat”), because we are talking about something that has already happened. The mood is indicative; we are speaking of something we know to have happened.

The cat is sitting on the mat.

Here we are speaking of something that is happening now. It is still indicative, because we are making an observation of a fact. However, it is now present tense (“is sitting”).

The cat will sit on the mat.

Here we are speaking of something that we know or believe will happen in the future (“will sit”). Of course it isn’t observed fact, but it’s still indicative mood, because it’s not dependent on anything - it’s a flatly declarative statement.

2. Imperative Mood.

Imperative Mood, second person

Imperative Mood is the one we use when we give orders, make requests and so on. Prayer, too, is imperative. Any time you express a direct request it is imperative. It is more common than you may realise; most recipes and technical instructions are in imperative mood.

Most technical instructions are in imperative mood

For example:

“Please close the door.”
This sentence is in Imperative Mood, as it makes a request.

The Imperative Mood is only used in the present tense. It is generally used in second person, but may occasionally be used in the first person:

“Let’s go shopping.”
"May I be struck down if I lie."

Or, more rarely nowadays, in the third person:

Imperative mood, third person.
Your uncle, may he rot in hell, forgot to put out the milk bottles again.

Your aunts, may they live forever, are saintly women.

Or, perhaps most famously, Let There Be Light.

4. Subjunctive Mood.

"What if I told you"

The Subjunctive Mood is used to talk about states of affairs that don’t actually exist. Hypothetical statements, for instance, are often made in the subjunctive.
For example:

“If that dog were really well trained, he would come when he was called.”

See how instead of “was”, the second person singular becomes “were” in the subjunctive. Nowadays, people often say “if he was”, however this is incorrect grammar and should not be contemplated. Notice, also, how the conditional part of the sentence (“he would come when he was called”) goes into the past tense, even though we are talking about a present situation.

In the past tense, the subjunctive looks like this:

“If that dog had been really well trained, he would have come when he was called.”

Here again, notice how the verbs appear to be one tense back from the one we are in (“had been”, “would “have”). In the subjunctive mood, the inflexion of the verb 'to be' is quite easy, because we always use 'were' in the present tense and 'had been' in the past tense.

With other verbs, again the tense appears as if it had dropped back one slot:

"If I liked radishes, I would order some for myself." (present tense)

"If he had known about the curfew, he would have come home early." (past tense)

Subjunctive mood is also used with certain verbs that denote requests, advice, recommendations, and that kind of thing. Sentences where 'should' is appropriate tend to indicate the use of the subjunctive in this situation. The 'should' is optional, and may be used or admitted in sentences such as:

1. The president suggested that Mexico (should) pay for the wall

2. It is imperative that you bring him to the clinic as quickly as possible.

3. The decorator recommended that I (should) paint everything white.

Note that although the main verbs in sentences 1 and 3 are in the past tense, the subjunctive indirect objects appear to be in present tense. This will always be the case, no matter what the tense of the main verb.