I have read in a book sentence: "operation first requires that a permit be obtained"

As I understand this sentence is a passive voice in the infinitive form but why here "be" is used without "to"?


  • Nice question - I learned something from your question and rjpond's answer
    – Stefan
    Aug 20 '17 at 19:45

There are times when infinitives lack a 'to'. These are called bare infinitives.

However, what you see in the phrase "operation first requires that a permit be obtained" is not an infinitive but a subjunctive. (It is true that the sentence would also make sense with an infinitive: "...requires a permit to be obtained". Here you would need to include the "to" and exclude the "that".)

Usually the present subjunctive is identical to the present indicative (in the case of the 1st person singular, 2nd personal singular, and all the persons in the plural) but differs in the 3rd person singular by the lack of terminal "s". E.g. "I asked that she sing".

However, for the verb "to be", the form "be" is the present subjunctive for all persons.

See also https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/grammar/when-to-use-the-subjunctive

  • 2
    That's a rather unnecessarily complicated way of describing the form of the subjunctive. Much easier to just say that the present subjunctive is always identical to the infinitive (and the past subjunctive always identical to the plural forms of the past indicative). That always holds, with no exceptions or further qualifications required. Aug 20 '17 at 20:20
  • 1
    Even in Latin, the subjunctive is merely the infinitive with personal endings: amaretis, ambulavissent, and so on. Janus's explanation is the superior in this case. Aug 21 '17 at 0:03
  • I like that definition, if one has to have a definition for English subjunctive at all. It does always work, as long as one can tell in the first place whether a given verb "is subjunctive". Because the definition only works one way, and most verbs that would be marked "subjunctive" are identical in form to the indicative and therefore not counted as subjunctive. Personally, I don't like it because it uses a (vague and indistinct) semantic category to characterize a grammatical construction, which is always a bad move. Aug 21 '17 at 2:33

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