Sentences are composed by a subject, a verb, and complementary information (if necessary). Verbs convey the subject’s action (1) or the subject’s state (2). For example:
(1) Phileas Fogg travelled the world.
Subject: Phileas Fogg
Action: to travel
Complementary information: the world
(2) Phileas Fogg was intelligent.
Subject: Phileas Fogg
State: to be
Complementary information: intelligent
Everything we say relates to a subject that does something or is in a certain state. The action/state that the verb conveys has to be in accordance with the subject, the context or intention, the complementary information, the way the information is presented, the time it occurred, and how long it lasted (duration of the action, if the action is completed or not, if the action is repeated over time).
The indicative mood includes verb tenses that convey reality (as oppose to hypothesis, desires, etc.). Basically speaking, reality is divided into three time periods: present, past, and future. When the action is situated can be conveyed through adverbs (today, yesterday, tomorrow), for example. Verbs also play a part in this matter, but they can also show additional information such as if the action started in the past and lingers in the present, for example. Or, you can situate an action using a verb tense from a different “time period” (for example, sometimes you can use present to refer to a future action).
The conditional and the subjunctive mood aim to convey the perception of subject about a certain situation. It is opposed to “reality” because they are talking about things that might be, things that could have been, things the subject wishes to be (or had been), possibilities, feelings, the level of importance that the subject attributes to that situation. It is not objective, hence their use is subjective, depends on the way the situation is presented.
When using the verb tenses in our mother tongue, we do not need to know too much about these distinctions, it comes out naturally. Then, when we are learning a foreign language, we tend to find a match between “our” verb tenses and the verb tenses of the other language… and it might get confusing. Plus, each language can have different ways to convey the same message (although the use of each one is, in reality, subtly different). Therefore, we need to know the situations that each verb tense applies to and then match such situations.
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