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Subjunctive clause:

He insists that she go to the store

instead of "that she goes"

but we don't say

He insists that she be crazy

we would normally say "that she is crazy".

Which is the correct usage and why?

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  • The sentence "he insists that she goes to the store" seems to make sense to me... – Artemisia Mar 1 '17 at 16:34
  • @Artemisia But that means something completely different. It’s asserting the speakers belief that some person really does go to the store habitually. The subjunctive version is a demand that it must be done. – tchrist Mar 1 '17 at 16:56
  • I think that most people in real life would use the indicative in both cases. The subjunctive seems to be dying a slow death. In BrE it's quite common to hear phrases like 'If I was you'. – Chris M Mar 1 '17 at 22:00
  • But then again, you also hear people saying 'you was ...' so perhaps it's just general ignorance as opposed to subjunctive death. – Chris M Mar 1 '17 at 22:09
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    @Sumetic: in everyday speech you will hear it all the time. – Chris M Mar 3 '17 at 6:41
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The insistence of the first sentence is qualitatively different from the second.

In the first, he is insisting that something should happen in the future. This requires the form of the verb which can conveniently be called the subjunctive.

In the second, he is insisting that something is true in the present. This requires the normal indicative form, which is why we say "He insists that she is crazy."

To say "He insists that she be crazy" is to insist that, while not crazy now, it is necessary for her to be crazy in the future. It's highly unusual for someone to have to go crazy.

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    so the usage 'He insists that she be crazy' is correct in a subjunctive sense?? 'He insists she be on the team' . So to confirm something that has to be true in the future also qualifies as subjunctive. – user1869714 Mar 1 '17 at 17:07
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    Yes, but it's ridiculous. You can insist that someone should go to a store; it's unreasonable to force them to be crazy. I'll edit my answer. – Andrew Leach Mar 1 '17 at 17:09
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    Yes, "he insists that she be crazy" is perfectly fine grammatically even if contexts for it might be unlikely. "He has asked them to send him a mail-order wife, and he insists that she be crazy." However, you'll find ample contexts for it if you consider "be" in passive phrases: "The public insists that the criminals be locked up." – Luke Sawczak Mar 1 '17 at 17:16
  • @AndrewLeach's summary is good, and if you want to do more technical reading on it, check out realis/irrealis on Wikipedia. It also accounts for the parallel difference between sentences like "If he were at school right now, he'd be crying" (subjunctive/irrealis: he is not at school) and "If he was at school at 3 p.m., he must have made it home by now" (indicative/realis: he was indeed at school and some reasoning is being built on that fact). Note that you can replace "if" with "since" in the second case. – Luke Sawczak Mar 1 '17 at 17:19
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    How about, "Before his research can be published, Roger would like to test his treatment on one more female patient, but he insists that she be crazy, since he already has enough results from neuro-typical patients." – BradC Mar 1 '17 at 22:02

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