The BBC tweeted the following:

The Trump-Kim summit is in doubt. North Korea says it may pull out if the US insists it gives up nuclear weapons https://bbc.in/2L3X0zr

A version of the sentence is seen in the article itself:

North Korea has said it may pull out of a summit with US President Donald Trump if the US insists it gives up its nuclear weapons.

And I'm perplexed by the part ...insists it gives up its nuclear weapons. Shouldn't it be it give up? Given the context, it would only make sense to me if the verb were in the subjunctive form or accompanied by an auxiliary like should/would/must, but AFAIK gives can only be indicative.

Is this specifically a journalistic use of language? Or perhaps a British one? Or is it a universally acceptable sentence?

marked as duplicate by Edwin Ashworth, lbf, sumelic, JJJ, AmE speaker May 17 '18 at 0:26

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  • 2
    The use of the subjunctive in English is no longer de rigueur. Some people never use it, though for the sake of more elegant English, many of us still adhere to it. Personally I find it a disgrace that the BBC, whose very name has always been associated with good English, seem to have abandoned it in this instance. It used to be a complement to be told that you spoke "BBC English". – WS2 May 16 '18 at 16:11
  • Honestly, I had no idea what you thought was wrong with that sentence until you said "subjunctive." It's pretty dead ... – Azor Ahai May 16 '18 at 23:06
  • The question isn't even close to a duplicate to either one listed, and the answers are not remotely applicable. The first is not mandative, and the second is a passive voice subjunctive. As a minimum, I think a dup would need to include a zero-that clause in an active mandative subjunctive construction, preferably triggered by insist. Voting to reopen. – Phil Sweet May 17 '18 at 3:25
  • 1
    @PhilSweet: Where is the passive voice in sentences like "It is necessary that he do something" and "It's necessary that he uses that pen", and why is it relevant? I'm willing to cast a re-open vote if I've made a mistake, but I don't see from your comment why Shoe's answer to the second linked question is insufficient. – sumelic May 17 '18 at 4:07
  • @WS2 The more common situation of alternate universe subjunctive ("If I were a rich man... na na na na na na na") has almost entirely dropped from modern standard English. But the mandative is still alive "We demand that he do it" is about as common as with 'does'. – Mitch May 17 '18 at 16:36

The 3rd edition of The Complete Plain Words essentially agrees with you:

Thirty years ago one would have said that the subjunctive was dying, being superseded more and more by the indicative ....

In America [such usage] has never been confined to formal language; it is usual in sentences such as 'I ask that he be sent for', 'It is important that he be there' ...; in all these the custom in this country [the UK] is to insert a should.


Semantically covert mandatives differ from the rest of the alternants in that they denote – “in addition to the necessary attributes of volition and futurity a degree of habituality and recurrence. The elements of 'futurity' and 'volition' are thus weakened to a considerable extent. The emphasis is not primarily on getting somebody to do something at some stage in the future; it is on describing a state that takes effect whenever a particular situation occurs.” (Hoffmann 1997:79)

The above excerp, including the cite, from The Mandative Subjunctive in American English A corpus ­based study on the use of mandative constructions  by Olga Vlasova

This pretty much is synonymous with the way insists is used. It implies a repeated and ongoing demand, and is exactly what has been reported (domestically, at least) regarding the American position on North Korea's Nuclear Weapons program.

As to the matter of your expectation in this case, the same document notes the following -

Following  Biber   et   al.  (2006:476,984),   Johansson   and   Norheim   (1988:30),   Hoffmann (1997:54) the following criteria of formality of the mandative subjunctive are adopted in the current study:
1. register distribution of the construction;
2. the use of passive;
3. that­omission.
Concerning the first criterion, our data shows (see Tables 2.15, 2.16) that the mandative subjunctive   is   most   frequently   used   in   the   genre   of   newspaper   writing. In British English Hoffmann notices the same surprising particularity of its use: “'world affairs' has a considerably higher frequency of mandative subjunctives than the text types 'applied sciences' and 'natural and pure sciences'.” (1997:19) Thus MS can not be regarded purely as a formal construction. Rather it is typical for the written mass­media coverage of recent events, that is, newsfeed.

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