I've seen and heard this kind of construction several times now and it always bugs me. When someone recommends something, surely the verb used in the subclause should be infinitive, so:

He recommended that they be separated.

... instead of:

He recommended that they are separated.

Is there any grammatical legitimacy to the latter expression, or is it just a kind of grammatical misunderstanding that is unfortunately coming to be used commonly?

And, could the latter expression have any possibile alternative meaning or is it just incorrect?

  • I assumed this was missing a should - "they should be separated" and hence the usage of "they be". Good question – JoseK Sep 12 '11 at 12:00
  • Shouldn't it be "He recommended they be separated." That they are the two words which confuse me in this sentence. – user43394 Apr 29 '13 at 3:58

In that construct, the subjunctive mood should be used, which happen to be “be” for to be. No, let me say that again: the present subjunctive of the verb be at the third person of the plural is “that they be”.

The distinction between subjunctive and indicative moods, however blurred it may appear to be in Modern English, is still retained in both the spoken and written word. So, “that they are separated” is simply a mistake.

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    No it is not a mistake. It is a variant more common in Britain than the US. – Colin Fine Sep 23 '11 at 10:41
  • 'The distinction between subjunctive and indicative moods is still retained in both the spoken and written word.' I won't argue with that. But you've forgotten the necessary qualifier: 'but many people do not maintain this distinction, and far from all grammarians claim that the use of the indicative where some would want the subjunctive is incorrect'. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 17 '14 at 20:13

"Recommend that they are" has been occurring increasingly since 1950, but is still far less common than "Recommend that they be":

See this ngram:


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    Looking at the British/American breakdown of the Ngram, "that they are" seems far more common in the U.K. – Peter Shor Sep 12 '11 at 12:05
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    "That they are" has plenty of legitimate usage - "Believe/think/know that they are" for example. – Random832 Sep 12 '11 at 13:15
  • @Peter Shor: you're right. British usage tends to be more relaxed about this, as with singular/plural concord for collective nouns. – Colin Fine Sep 12 '11 at 14:37
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    @Random832: of course it has, but the ngram I linked to was specifically for "recommend that they are/be", a construction that traditionally requires a subjunctive. – Colin Fine Sep 12 '11 at 14:38
  • That's what I get for not actually following the link. – Random832 Sep 12 '11 at 17:47

Declarative sentences are often sentences which state something more than actually declare anything, but I'm inferring that your example sentence is quite the declaration. In an instance like that, I tend to prefer, "He recommended that they separate."

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  • Transitive and intransitive uses do not convey the same meaning. – Kris Apr 29 '13 at 5:54

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