Which is correct and why?

  • 'a proposal that the resolution be adopted'


  • 'a proposal that the resolution is adopted'
  • 2
    To is or not to is, that be the question! (Actually, in formal meetingese something like "We have a proposal that the resolution be adopted" is perfectly idiomatic. You would not often hear the usage in normal speech, however.) – Hot Licks Oct 10 '18 at 11:53
  • 1
    It's the subjunctive. – Kate Bunting Oct 10 '18 at 13:13
  • "Be" as the subjunctive would be the correct answer in this specific context. I'm not sure that would always be the case as the title of your question indicates. – Karlomanio Oct 10 '18 at 14:28

Many nouns, such as the nouns proposal or condition can take content clauses using subjunctive constructions. Usually these clauses indicate the desired outcome of some implicit or explicit command or instruction. Constructions which convey some desired for action or result are often called mandative constructions.

Here are some more examples of the subjunctive following the noun condition from printed books. Notice that the verbs are in the plain form. They do not exhibit the third person 'S' that we would expect if these were examples of present simple verb forms:

When head of the verb phrase in the content clause is the verb BE, the use of the subjunctive is more striking, of course, because the plain form of the verb BE, namely be, looks and sounds very different from the present simple forms am, is or are:

The Original Poster's examples

  • a proposal that the resolution be adopted

Here we see a content clause using a subjunctive mandative construction. The corresponding present simple version of the clause would give us the Original Poster's second example:

  • a proposal that the resolution is adopted

In the OP's (Original Poster's) first example, we see the passive auxiliary BE, which heads the verb phrase, in the plain form. It is a perfectly grammatically correct sentence. Many American English speakers would prefer this example to the second, and might feel that the second is ungrammatical.

In the second example we see a mandative using present simple verb forms in the content clause instead. This construction is absolutely completely grammatical in British English and would also be used by a minority of American English speakers. This type of construction occurs in published texts written in American English, although it is much, much less frequent than the first.

Speakers of British English are less likely to use subjunctive constructions than American English speakers.

So, in short both of these constructions are grammatical, but it is safer to stick with the subjunctive if writing for an American English speaking audience, or for a SAT exam, for example.

  • I think another form that would exist alongside these two is "a proposal that the resolution should be adopted" – sumelic Oct 11 '18 at 23:59
  • @sumelic I was going to put that in as the preferred mandative of choice in BE. But somehow with the noun proposal, that just won't go through. The should there seems to change the whole meaning to something along the lines of "We propose that it is a fact that one ought to accept the proposal", as opposed to "We propose you accept the proposal". So, therefore, I didn't! – Araucaria Oct 12 '18 at 0:39

'a proposal that the resolution be adopted'

A document which proposes that some body votes or otherwise assents to use (adopt) some new goal, or resolution (at "resolve"). This is propbably the one you want.

'a proposal that the resolution is adopted'

A document which proposes (?) to confirm (?) the state of some "resolution," specifically here: that is "is adopted" (stative verb phrase). While that makes less sense here, other examples could work with this verb phrase, such as

A motion to enter into record that the resolution is adopted


Both of them could be correct provided the correct context were present.

[I am making] a proposal that the resolution be adopted.

A resolution that has not yet been adopted is being proposed for adoption by the speaker.

[I am making] a proposal that the resolution is adopted.

A resolution already has a state of being adopted or not, which is unknown to the audience. The speaker is putting forth a proposal defining which state it is already in.

I would think that in the case of adopting a resolution, the second one does not make sense. The difference in meaning becomes more clear if you replace resolution with a person.

[I am making] a proposal that John be adopted.

John has not yet been adopted; the speaker is proposing an action.

[I am making] a proposal that John is adopted.

John may have been adopted, but that information is unknown; the speaker is proposing a theory.

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