Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

This question already has an answer here:

"It is imperative that he writes a letter to his sister as soon as possible."

In this case, is the correct form write? If so, why?

share|improve this question

marked as duplicate by FumbleFingers, Kristina Lopez, tchrist, phenry, choster Jul 2 '13 at 21:19

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

1 Answer 1

up vote 4 down vote accepted

If it's necessary to use that construction, I would write

It is imperative that he write a letter ...

and then I would stray past the notice which reads "Here be dragons" and say that that use of write is not the infinitive mood of the verb but what may be conveniently called the subjunctive. Some decry calling it subjunctive because it's not exactly the same as the Latin subjunctive; but we're not discussing Latin.

Perhaps it's safest to say that write is uninflected.

Barrie England's answer to a previous question is rather good and explains the subjunctive.

Let’s take as an example the sentence We demand that he resign. It is used here as part of a mandative construction, that is, one that, in Huddleston and Pullum’s words ‘includes a component of meaning comparable to that expressed by the modal verb must’. Subjunctive resign is identical to the form of the verb used as the infinitive and as the present tense in all persons except the third person singular. However, in such sentences the indicative is also available and many native speakers, particularly native speakers of British English, will choose it and say, in all but the most formal contexts, We demand that he resigns. In truth, the subjunctive is rare in contemporary English, and may well disappear altogether over the next 50 to 100 years.

[I would probably say writes in that sentence, or resigns in Barrie's, because speech tends to be less careful. Or less pedantic.]

share|improve this answer
    
Thanks for your answer Andrew. So "write" is preferred in American colloquial English while "writes", in British English or a written text? –  Maximus S Jul 2 '13 at 8:59
    
Holy subjunctive Batman - I would correct someone not using writes or resigns - this is stuff from the "tense drills" I had on a summer course at a known British college... –  mplungjan Jul 2 '13 at 9:00
1  
Ah. A summer course there (I saw your unedited version :-) Yes, I would rather use write and might say that, but because speech tends to be less careful I would probably end up with writes. I believe the uninflected form is more common in AmE. –  Andrew Leach Jul 2 '13 at 9:13
    
There's another alternative: "it is imperative that he should write a letter". The advantage of this form is that if you use it, neither Brits nor Americans will try to correct your grammar. –  Peter Shor Jul 2 '13 at 12:24
1  
If you want to call an uninflected form in a that complement a "subjunctive", that's fine with me. As long as one doesn't imply that naming it a "subjunctive" is an explanation. It's name magic, that's all. –  John Lawler Jul 2 '13 at 14:03

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.