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An native English speaker said the correct grammar should be ... 'she speak,' rather than ...'she speaks.' What is the grammar rule?

marked as duplicate by RegDwigнt Aug 28 '14 at 22:02

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  • There are those who prefer the plain form mandative subjunctive here. There are even those who say the use of the present tense here is wrong. But Pullum says that plenty of Standard English speakers do use the present tense. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 28 '14 at 21:40

The sentence is parsed, Her uncle prefers..."that she speak..."

"that she speak" is a subjunctive clause, not an indicative clause. That's why it's "conjugated" differently. And that's true even in the English language.


Although "She speak" is correct, so is "She speaks", depending on what is meant. On a particular issue, the uncle may prefer that she speak to him personally, but for all issues, the uncle prefers that she speaks with him personally. It's a matter of number agreement, but the sentence as given doesn't indicate number except in the word "speaks" or "speak" "Regarding Sylvia's request through John for more money, her uncle prefers she speak with him personally." "Her uncle prefers that she speaks without mumbling."

This also works with "speak to" which is a one way conversation. When a specific conversation or issue is being referred to, use "speak", as in: "I would like you to speak to your son about his behavior." When multiple issues are spoken about, use speak: "In her novels, Sylvia speaks to the need for companionship."

  • 2
    This question has nothing to do with subject/verb number agreement. "... that she speak ..." is subjunctive; see the other answer. And your second paragraph is comparing an infinitive ("to speak") with a verb conjugated in the present tense ("Sylvia speaks"). These are apples and oranges. – Scott Aug 28 '14 at 20:36
  • You're thinking of habitual versus particular, not number agreement. – SevenSidedDie Aug 28 '14 at 21:35
  • This answer really makes no sense at all. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 28 '14 at 23:08

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