I was wondering if anyone knows of a published reference for a subjunctive of this form:

It is not possible that Alice have raised her hand that day and the prisoner be still alive.

I have been told that this is an example of a subjunctive present perfect, and even managed to find an example on wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=English_subjunctive&oldid=740284437#Compound_forms.2C_auxiliaries_and_modals:

Occasionally, a present perfect subjunctive is seen, as in `It is important that he have completed two years of Spanish before graduation'.

but I have been unable to find a published example using a that-clause and the present perfect. Any ideas?

  • 1
    We don't put subjunctives after it is not possible; we use indicative. "It is not possible that Alice raised her hand that day and the prisoner is still alive." Although I think we'd be more likely to say "It is not possible for Alice to have raised her hand that day and the prisoner to still be alive." Sep 22, 2016 at 11:33

1 Answer 1


Generally, Americans (who nowadays use the subjunctive more than other English speakers) use the indicative with present perfect, even with constructions that require the subjunctive mood. Very occasionally, you can find a present perfect subjunctive. For example, from The New York Times in 1967,

The requirements are that the member be at least 25 years old, that he have been a citizen for seven years, and that he inhabit the state in which he was elected.

I would guess that the writer used it here (not necessarily that he thought about it) because the other two verbs in the sentence were also in the subjunctive.

We do not use the subjunctive mood with "it is not possible" (even though other languages do, and we may have done so several centuries ago) so your example sentence is ungrammatical.

  • How on earth did you find that example? I tried searching for "he have been" but all the hits were questions (e.g. "Should he have been convicted?")
    – TonyK
    Sep 22, 2016 at 13:24
  • Dear @PeterShor I disagree my sentence is outright ungrammatical, indeed do you have a reference to back up your assertion? ;). As it happens a sentence very much like it appears in a philosophy book I am reading, written by an American author. I agree though it is archaic. I should add I tried consulting a couple of Oxford Guides to English grammar were I found examples using other tenses. I was hoping someone on the forum might know of other sources on the subjunctive in english, if not no worries!
    – demodave
    Sep 22, 2016 at 13:51
  • I have already been docked several units of reputation for believing that English has a subjunctive mood. But I was taught that the following is an example of the "mandative subjunctive:" It is required that the applicant BE 18 years old and that he POSSESS a valid license." What about "supposition contrary to fact:" "I I WERE you...":"I dreamed I WERE a fireman in my Maidenform bra." "Subj. of indefinite future:" "There to be hanged by the neck until you BE dead.?" In defense of English teachers, I suspect I was mistaught in Latin class, because most all I know about grammar I learned there.
    – Airymouse
    Sep 22, 2016 at 15:18
  • @demodave: From a British book about grammar, Usage and Abusage, through Google Books: " 'Is it possible that he be such a fool?' is intolerably archaic, and 'It is impossible that he be such a fool' is almost intolerable." Sep 22, 2016 at 18:22
  • The NYT sentence is grammatically correct, but the tense is not present perfect but rather just present subjunctive.
    – user231780
    Sep 28, 2017 at 12:02

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