This is the pretext of the oath of office of the President of the United States. I wondered why they use the structure 'he' plus infinitive and not 'he' plus -s as it is usually used. I've already figured out that it could be a usage of the subjunctive mood, but I don't know why it should be used in this situation.

1 Answer 1


"Before he enter on the execution of his office........."

A subjunctive it is, and, correct. It does sound unusual today, but only because we rarely use the subjunctive as we once did.

"He" has not yet entered the office, is not yet President. So, the subjunctive was used as his holding the office was counterfactual until some performance was met. Unless we English speakers use subjunctives in other languages, we tend not to use them much in English. My experience is "if I was President" is heard no less than "if I were President" these days, and that sort of subjunctive is a more common one now. Far less used is something like: "If he score four more points the match is his".

It is quite possible that if the line in question were written today, it might read "Before entering his office".

  • Subjunctives tend to be replaced with modals, like "Before he can/shall/may/should ...."
    – tchrist
    Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 0:26

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