For my conlang, which is just a proto language so far, I want a realis-irrealis grammatical mood system because other than the verbs, it's pretty analytical, so it would make sense to use more separate words for more meaning. I've watched Artifexian's videos on mood and modality and even saw him make a system in his own conlang, but I still don't understand the concepts completely.

So far, I have a separate word for a speculative mood " /feŋ/ ", so the sentence meaning "She might be dead" reads as

" /eŋ:ai/ /i:pe/ /feŋ/ /a:bi/ "

( dead she possibly be.PRES.PERF )

I guess feŋ functions as a modifier to the verb here (my language doesn't have a distinction between adjectives and adverbs), so I guess I could coin more adjectives but there's a lot of other modality to cover though. Should I just coin new words? Because I don't want to create a relex of English and that seems to be it's strategy, and to my knowledge the only other language I'm familiar with outside of an Indo-European one is Japanese and I don't really want a system like that (my language has a lot more tenses and aspects, for example). I'm totally open to revising even the speculative so far, but I just feel a little overwhelmed. How do you approach this in your conlang, and do you use a realis-irrealis system? Thanks!

  • 1
    So to make sure I'm understanding, tense and aspect are marked morphologically, and you want mood to be marked syntactically instead?
    – Draconis
    Commented Apr 12 at 2:36
  • That doesn't seem like a bad system, can you explain more why you think it's bad?
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Apr 13 at 0:44

1 Answer 1


What is one approach alternative to simply making up a new adverb every time I encountered some verb mood or mood-like construction?

In short,

  • derive yourself a set of must-have, basic moods
  • give them twists/advanced cases to make additional moods
  • if you find a mood-like nuance with no relation to any of your basics, maybe it's not a big deal and a phrase can express it or maybe it's pointing to how you can improve your basics
  • make up example and counter-example sentences to make sure your moods are distinct and useable

In long,

Mood was trickier than most grammatical problems for me because it was harder to pin down both what all shades of meaning does "mood" encompass, as well as how can I tell whether I have a sufficient set. To me, your question on how to navigate realis (one set of moods) and irrealis (another set) considers the same.

For example, I analyzed the formal moods listed for the languages I know and I also looked at lists of moods in resources online. But then months later I'd hear a normal construction that hadn't come into my analysis. "We happened to meet your ex at the restaurant," say, and I'd think like, "Wait, that 'happened to' seems to give epistemic information about why something occurred... epistemic verb nuances might be modal...? Causation is worth indicating clearly, so is this happenstance/With No Known Causation thing worth making a mood out of?" For reasons based in how the rest of my grammar worked, that I could not tell how many such nuances I'd run into or want to keep in the end proved to be a challenge.

Over time I wound up with

  • the plain old indicative mood is indicated by lack of other mood marking
  • six "basic" moods which are pretty straightforward each on their own
  • pairs of the "basic" moods make 14 more moods I liked over time
  • the meaning of each pair is more or less sensible as the sum of basic concepts
  • one pairing is not currently used: for not meeting both the two criteria above

For an example, one "basic" mood is the Non-committal and another is the Controlling. Paired, Non-Committal+Controlling make the Happenstantial mood, as in "we happened to meet your ex at the restaurant." So read a little literally it sounds a bit like "by no particular command, we met your ex at the restaurant." For me, surely I did not expect more notable, "advanced" moods than the number of pairs the (eventually) six basics created, and since there is usually more than one possible way to interpret the sum of two basics, it gave me wiggle room to revise what the combinations meant over time until a strong total set had evolved. So I got my answer on how to tell what was enough in that way.

Perhaps you would like to do your own analysis, so at the I am giving just the one example of what I did. I'm open to discuss my lot, though; I looked for a while for how to get feedback on a set of moods without success.

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