Subjunctive or conditional mood in Russian

Russian verbs with the subjunctive, aka conditional mood designate an action someone would like to happen or something that would happen if certain circumstances had taken place.

How to form the subjunctive

To form the subjunctive mood in Russian, add the particle “бы” to the relevant past tense verb. “Бы” usually comes after the verb, and it is sometimes contracted to just “б” (but never after verbs that end in a consonant).

Subjunctive verbs agree with the subject in the sentence just like past tense verbs.

  • Я сам написал бы ему. = I would have written to him myself.
  • Это было бы хорошо. = That would be fine.
  • Вы могли б приехать около трёх? = Could you come around three?

Uses and meanings of the subjunctive

The subjunctive mood in Russian has many different uses that may refer to actions, real or unreal, that take place in the present, past, or future.

Conditional statements using “если”

The subjunctive mood with “если” denotes present or future actions that are or could be possible if some condition is met. The sentence structure is “If…would…,” wherein the subjunctive mood with "бы" is used in both clauses of the sentence.

  • Если бы у меня было достаточно денег, я бы купил машину. = If I had enough money, I would buy a car.
  • Если бы я занималась, то я бы сдала экзамен. = If I had studied, I would have passed the exam.
  • Если бы тебе нравился футбол, мы смотрели бы матч вместе. = If you like football, we would watch the match together.
  • Если я не был бы болен, я бы пошёл. = If I weren't sick I would go.
  • Если бы она попросила, Я не был бы против этого. = If she had asked, I would not mind.
  • Если бы вы надели пальто, вам не было бы холодно. = If you had put on a coat you wouldn't be cold.

Expressing a wish, desire, request, or command

Some common verbs used here are: хотеть (to want), просить (to ask), настаивать (to insist), желать (to wish), and смотреть (to watch, to see that).

Describing desired or possible actions

  • 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.

Polite requests

  • Я хотел бы стакан воды. = I would like a glass of water.
  • Ты мог бы мне помочь? = Could you help me?
  • Не могли бы вы принести мне эту книгу? = Could you bring me this book?
    • Please note, though, "не могли бы вы" is often seen as overpolite and is rarely ever used by native Russian speakers.

Subordinate clauses with “чтобы”

In subordinate clauses where the two predicates do not refer to the same subject, the particle бы is incorporated into чтобы + the past tense to convey the meaning "in order to" or "so that." (If the two predicates refer to the same subject, just use чтобы + the infinitive).

  • Я хочу, что бы ты признался мне во всём! = I want you to confess to me everything!
  • Я пришёл, чтобы вы рассказали мне об этом. = I came so that you would tell me about it.
  • Я не хочу, чтобы ты ходил туда без меня. = I don’t want you to go there without me.
  • Она попросила меня, чтобы я выгулял её собаку. = She asked me to walk her dog.
  • Она открыла окно, чтобы не было так жарко. = She opened the window so it wouldn't be so hot.

Suggestions and advice

The subjunctive can be used to offer suggestions or advice, similar to the English constructions “you’d better…" or “why don’t you…”

  • 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.
  • Вы бы не облокачивались на дверь, она может открыться. = You should not lean on the door, it can open.
  • Ты лучше бы делал уроки на завтра в школу. Иначе учитель поставит тебе плохую оценку. = You better do your homework for school tomorrow. Otherwise, the teacher will give you a bad grade.
  • Вы бы поспали немного после дороги. = You would sleep a little after the trip.
  • Вы бы отдохнули немного. = Why don't you rest for a while.
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