I have seen "mood" a lot in linguistics articles, have read about it a few times, but it never seems to click.

Wikipedia links to Linguistic modality. I have come across Modal Logic which basically adds to Propositional Logic:

possibility ("Possibly, p", "It is possible that p"), necessity ("Necessarily, p", "It is necessary that p"), and impossibility ("Impossibly, p", "It is impossible that p"), ... modalities of time (notably, "It was the case that p", "It has always been that p", "It will be that p", "It will always be that p"), deontic modalities (notably, "It is obligatory that p", and "It is permissible that p"), epistemic modalities, or modalities of knowledge ("It is known that p") and doxastic modalities, or modalities of belief ("It is believed that p").

I sort of understand that, but don't have a firm grasp yet.

Wikipedia says about mood:

In linguistics, grammatical mood (also mode) is a grammatical feature of verbs, used for signaling modality. That is, it is the use of verbal inflections that allow speakers to express their attitude toward what they are saying (e.g. a statement of fact, of desire, of command, etc.). The term is also used more broadly to describe the syntactic expression of modality, that is, the use of verb phrases that do not involve inflexion of the verb itself.

The concepts are little over my head though, and so wondering if one could explain mood in simpler terms. When I hear "mood" I think of mood, an emotional state. Like I am happy or angry or something. So when I hear grammatical mood I think of somehow expressing that you are happy with something, but it doesn't seem that that is accurate.

I see stuff like this:

-tu(q): indicative third-person singular (in fact a nominal form)

And Wikipedia says:

The indicative mood, or evidential mood, is used for factual statements and positive beliefs. It is the mood of reality. The indicative mood is the most commonly used mood and is found in all languages. Example: "Paul is eating an apple" or "John eats apples". All intentions that a particular language does not categorize as another mood are classified as indicative.

It is the mood of reality doesn't make sense to me with the ingrained interpretation of mood being an emotional state. I don't see how you can say "I am feeling reality today, quite reality.". So I have a hard time (1) interpreting what that actually means (what the indicative mood is), and (2) how to apply it (to understanding where mood is used in sentences).

Wondering if one could explain what mood is, and what the range of moods are, in laymen terms.

  • 3
    I think your question is pretty much answered here: linguistics.stackexchange.com/questions/11648/…
    – fdb
    Commented Sep 26, 2018 at 11:28
  • 1
    Forget emotions, "mood" just means "mode". It's how the speaker feels about what it's being said, how sure they are, or what are their intentions; it expresses the speaker's mind. Compare with other verbal features: tense (time) doesn't depend on how the speaker feels, an action is simply in the present or the past etc. Aspect also doesn't depend on the speaker's thoughts; an action is finished, or ongoing etc. But with mood, it's like "[I think] this is true" (indicative) or "[I feel] this would happen" (subjunctive, hypothesis) or "[I want us to go]=let's go" (cohortative/invitation), etc. Commented Sep 26, 2018 at 11:32
  • (the "mood of reality" just means that the speaker is expressing that they feel something to be true; it's a form of commitment. it contrasts with moods like subjunctive, hypothetical etc. where they don't commit to the claim that it's a fact. It's not "I feel reality today" but "I do believe this statement to be a fact, yessir".) Commented Sep 26, 2018 at 11:35
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    As explained in the linked string, grammatical "mood/mode" and emotional "mood" are two different unrelated words. @boiko.
    – fdb
    Commented Sep 26, 2018 at 11:45
  • @fdb: Er, I don't get the pragmatics here; you phrase it as if we disagreed, but I agree with you? That's exactly why I said "forget emotions" and "it just means 'mode'". But we also have to explain what sort of "mode" is it about, since "mode" is a very generic word. Now if you go to the linked answer and follow the reference to "Linguistic modality", the definition explains that it expresses "the speaker's general intentions as well as their commitment to how actual, believable, obligatory, desirable [etc.] the expressed proposition is", which is why I tried to detail in layperson terms. Commented Sep 26, 2018 at 12:10

1 Answer 1


First, a bit of background: "mood" in this sense is borrowed from *modus*, the Latin word used in certain ancient grammars. But then *modus* was also borrowed as "mode" via French, and now the two are used interchangeably. There's no relation to "mood" as in emotion, which comes from Germanic. You'd think the scientists studying language would be some of the most precise in their terminology, but that's not the case; we're stuck with both of them now. I'll use "mode" here to reduce confusion.

At its simplest, grammatical mode indicates what the speaker intends by their statement. Is this a statement of fact (indicative/telling mode)? Is it something that they wish would happen (optative/wishing mode)? A direct command, telling the listener to do something (imperative/commanding mode)? Perhaps it describes something that's likely to happen but isn't actually fact (tentative/potential mode)?

Most of these modes have complicated Latinate names—again, borrowed from the Latin grammarians. The English translations like "wishing" are simpler but also unfortunately less common.

In English, we tend to use auxiliary (aka "modal"—this is where the name comes from!) verbs to indicate these. For example, "I eat" is indicative, while "I should eat" is optative, and "I could eat" is potential. Whether or not these actually count as distinct modes is debatable; some linguists only use the term "mode" with languages like Ancient Greek, where the forms are morphologically distinct (indicative édō "I eat", optative édoimi "I should eat"). But the meaning is the same, it just comes down to different formal definitions.

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