I was recently criticized for the way I worded myself in the following exchange. (Condensed a bit for the sake of brevity.)

Stranger: We can see you edited the episode to make it sound like that.
Me: What did you want? That he contact the creators and have them custom animate, voice-record, etc.?
Stranger: Can you speak English please?? Your sentence had 2 errors: 1: "What did you want?" It should be "What do you want?" 2: "That he contact" it should be "For him to contact".
Me: For #1, I used past tense on purpose. Another way of putting what I said is "what would you have wanted him to do?"
Me: For #2, it's an uncommon construct, possibly even archaic, but not invalid. "What did you want? That he go up there and make a fool of himself?"
Stranger: "That he go up". Are you serious?? I am reading your comments and I see that you know English exceptionally well. So why are you using English that is under your language level?

Is the Stranger correct? Or am I? Am I completely out of my depth here? I'd rather not dig myself a deeper hole, and I have therefore come here to see if you think I should stand my ground or if I should go eat humble pie.


For (1), I don't think there's anything wrong with using the past tense.

For (2), the Stranger is correct.

I think you are trying to use the mandative subjunctive. This occurs in sentences like:

I recommend that he go up there and make a fool of himself.

But you cannot say

*I want that he go up there and make a fool of himself,

because want does not take the mandative subjunctive.

It's also wrong to say:

*I want that he goes up there and makes a fool of himself.

But that doesn't sound like you're mangling the English language because you're trying to be pretentious and use the mandative subjunctive even though you don't know what you're doing; it sounds like you made a slip of the tongue. So to me it doesn't sound anywhere near as bad.

You have to say

I want him to go up there and make a fool of himself.

In this way, American English is kind of like French and Spanish1: there are some verbs where we use the mandative subjunctive, some verbs where we optionally use the mandative subjunctive, and some verbs where we never use the mandative subjunctive. And you can't really tell which is which just by going on the meaning of the verb.

Thus, these slightly altered sentences are fine:

"What would you recommend? That he go up there and make a fool of himself?"

But you have to say

"What did you want? Him to go up there and make a fool of himself?"

And as an aside—the mandative subjunctive is by no means obsolete in American English. I regularly meet people (and not just university professors) who use it. But not with want.

1 Although in French and Spanish, want takes the subjunctive. So for a native speaker of these languages, it's a natural mistake.

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