Is «чтобы» used where «что» would be used in English, in cases where the conditional or subjunctive is used?

For example of an indicative sentence where I would assume one would use «что»:

”What is it that you want?”

subjunctive with «чтобы»:

”I suggest that you go over there.”

conditional with «чтобы»:

”If it were that you were on time, then we could have already eaten.”

Are these example sentences correct? What other types of rules are there for using «что» «чтобы»? Are there any other forms of «что» that are used to define other grammatical moods?

  • 4
    The last example sentence is wrong, there's если бы and not чтобы in it in Russian. Conditional sentences should have если, когда, not чтобы. Also, чтобы is often used when in English "in order to" is implied, with "in order" often left out: Чтобы закрыть окно, нажмите «Esc»Press "Esc" [in order] to close the window – no English conditional or subjunctive here. Generally speaking, the way your question is asked is unproductive and ungrammatical. What do you mean by “where «что» would be used in English”? Would “что” be ever used in English? Consider rewriting it.
    – Yellow Sky
    Aug 14, 2020 at 1:02
  • Thank you for your input. When I ask how it would be used in English, I mean that knowing «что» is often translated as “that” in English. I would also appreciate not being so impatiently told to “consider rewriting it”. Aug 14, 2020 at 1:14
  • 2
    @MorellaAlmånd: It's hard to figure out what exactly is that you're asking about. You are asking one question in the title (the answer to which is a "no") and then three completely unrelated questions in the body, all of them being off-topic here. Could you please rewrite your post, staying focused on one question? It has to be answerable, suitable for the SE format and about Russian language. Thanks!
    – Quassnoi
    Aug 14, 2020 at 13:52

2 Answers 2


First, about your examples. Grammar terms do not coincide in different languages, i.e. what can be called subjunctive or conditional in English is sometimes called otherwise in Russian.

What is it that you want?”— Чего ты хочешь?

”I suggest that you go over there.”— Предлагаю, (что?) чтобы ты туда поехал / туда поехать. (Complement clause, indicative)

”If it were that you were on time, then we could have already eaten.”— Надо было раньше поесть, ( с какой целью?) чтобы ты не опоздал. ( complex sentence , purpose clause).

I hope you know that there are "что бы " and "чтобы" written separately and in one word.

Что бы is a combination of a pronoun and a particle.


Что бы вы хотели себе на завтрак?— What would you like for breakfast?

Что бы вы делали без меня? — What would you do without me?

Что бы ещё нам взять с собой в поездку? — What should we take with us for that journey?

The interrogative pronoun что is used with бы (a particle). The particle can be moved to another place in the sentence without changing sense

Что вы хотели бы себе на завтрак?

More examples:

Что бы ни предлагали мне, а я никуда не поеду завтра. — I am not going anywhere, whatever they suggested.( concessive clause)

Не могу понять, что бы могло их так надолго задержать.— I don't understand what could have caused the delay.( complement clause)

You can move бы as well.

Что ни предлагали бы мне, а я никуда не поеду завтра.

Не могу понять, что могло бы их так надолго задержать.

Чтобы can function in the sentence as a conjunction and a particle


Она спешит (с какой целью?), чтобы успеть на поезд. ( a purpose clause) — She is in a hurry (in order) to catch the train.

Он просит напомнить (о чём?), чтобы все собрались к двенадцати часам.(complement clause) — He asks to remind that everybody should come at 12 sharp.

Следует написать письмо так (каким образом?), чтобы никто не отказался от этого поручения.(adverbial clause of manner). — The letter should be written the way nobody could neglect the errand.

In colloquial speech чтобы is a particle expressing a wish, a command or doubt

Чтобы к десяти часам был уже дома! (order)

Чтобы я отпустила тебя так поздно одну? (doubt) More:

Чтобы все экзамены были сданы!

Чтобы сегодня все было готово!

Чтобы больше это не повторялось, смотри мне.

And this is just for fun. Can you see the difference?

Надо поискать, чтобы поесть. Надо поискать, что бы поесть.


Would it be correct to say that «чтобы» is simply the subjunctive and conditional form of «что»?

No. I'm not a native Russian speaker, but your question brings to mind a joke told me by my Russian teacher. Here's my translation of the joke into English:

Sir Raven is perched on a lofty tree and Sir Hare is passing by. Sir Hare asks, "How do you do, Sir Raven? What are you doing?" Sir Raven replies, "I'm very well and doing absolutely nothing." Sir Hare exclaims, "Wow, can I sit down and do nothing, like you?" Sir Raven replies, "Sure, go ahead." Sir Hare sits down at the tree and relaxes to quietly enjoy the good weather. A few minutes pass by and then Sir Fox jumps out of the bush and eats Sir Hare alive. Sir Raven thinks, "Oh, I forgot to tell Sir Hare one thing. Чтобы ничего не делать, надо высоко сидеть."

Here we have чтобы in the key phrase of the joke, and the phrase translates as:

To do nothing, you need to sit high.

The implication is that you can relax and do nothing for a while only if you sit high in the organization you work for. At any rate, чтобы isn't used here as a kind of что at all, and this joke illustrates perhaps the most common usage of чтобы in Russian.

I've just made a search in Google and found an authentic Russian text of the joke.

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