In both English and Russian the Subjunctive Mood expresses a hypothetical, unreal action. In Russian, there is only one form: the past form of the verb + the particle бы: Я хотел бы пойти туда. (In informal speech, though, the verb can be omitted, with only the particle expressing the hypothetical action: Чайку бы! Sometimes the Russian subjunctive form can be reduced to the conjunction чтобы only.) In English, unlike Russian, there are many verb forms to express the subjunctive mood: synthetic forms be/do, were/did; analytical forms should/would, do/have done, might/could do/have done, may/can do, had done, which is a challenge for a fledgling translator.
Usage of the English subjunctive forms depends on the clause structure and semantics of the main verb. Thus, adverbial clauses of condition presuppose the usage of the were/ did or had done forms: Если бы я только знала… - If only I knew (had known), nominative (object, subject, attributive, predicative, that is, nominal part of the predicate) clauses predetermine the usage of (should) do forms: Предлагаю, чтобы он это сделал. – I suggest that he (should) do it. On the other hand, clauses of the same syntactic function vary depending on the meaning of the main verb. For example, in object clauses that depend on the verb wish, the were/did form can be used (I wish it were summer), as well as had done forms (I wish he had not discussed it with you yesterday.) In clauses depending on information verbs and expressing proposition the (should) do form is used (In the year 325 A.D. it was decreed that Easter fall on the first Sunday after the full moon following the first day of spring.). If a clause depends on the verb denoting anxiety, the can (could) / may (might) forms are used: I am afraid that he could forget it.
The Russian subjunctive mood form does not indicate time relations, there being only one verb form. In English a speaker shows time distinctions by the verb forms: If I had known it yesterday and if I knew it now… I wish I could help you (now). I wish I could have helped you in that accident. To render in Russian the meaning of the English sentence one has to compensate the English verb form by some modifier indicating time: If she were in New York, she would certainly call you. – Если бы она сейчас была в Нью-Йорке, она бы, конечно, позвонила вам. If you had followed your father’s advice and gone into the army, you would probably be a colonel by now. – Если бы ты тогда послушал совета своего отца и пошел бы в армию, сейчас ты, возможно, был бы уже полковником. If the meaning of time is clear from the context, a zero transformation is employed in Russian: The demonstration would have passed off quite peacefully, had the organizers taken a few elementary precautions. – Если бы организаторы предусмотрели элементарные меры безопасности, демонстрация прошла бы вполне мирно.
To render some structures, the “problematic condition” in particular, it is necessary to substitute the subjunctive mood by the future tense form of the indicative mood, compensating lexically the specific construction meaning: Should I not be promoted, I'm going to have to go out and look for a better-paying job. – Если все жеменя не повысят в должности, я буду вынужден уехать в поисках лучше оплачиваемой работы.
Constructions with the ‘wish’-clauses often require antonymous translation: I wish she were here. – Жаль, что ее здесь нет. I wish you had not said it to him. – Жаль, что ты ему это сказал.
It is not infrequent that English and Russian sentences differ in degree of certainty or uncertainty expressed by the mood construction. An English sentence shows more vividly the speaker’s attitude to the situation, whether s/he considers the situation real or unreal. Cf. It looks as if he were sick. (I am not sure). – It looks as if he is sick. (He really is but I wouldn’t like to sound categorical.) In Russian this subtle difference in meaning is lost: Кажется, он болен.