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while reading NYT's review on the Gladwell's last book I stumbled upon a rather strange passage:

In the weeks I spent listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast, I learned that lobsters have serotonin, that Elvis Presley suffered from parapraxis and that Mr. Gladwell adheres to a firm life rule that he drink only five liquids: water, tea, red wine, espresso and milk.

Why the author uses "he drink" here? Is it a legal thing to do? Are there cases when you should use it?

  • It's simpler to consider the sentence << Jan sticks to the rule that she drink only water.>> – Edwin Ashworth Sep 21 '19 at 15:29
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    "Drink" is a plain form verb here, so the clause "that he drink only five liquids" is a subjunctive one. "Rule" is one of the nouns that licenses subjunctive clauses as complement. – BillJ Sep 21 '19 at 15:33
  • Actually answered at When should I use the subjunctive mood?; John Lawler lists picture nouns derived from impositive predicates (including 'rule'!) licensing the subjunctive. The periphrastic should alternative is perhaps more common, at least in the UK (where the indicative is perhaps an even more common choice). – Edwin Ashworth Sep 21 '19 at 16:22
  • @amzin The meaning of subjunctives includes a component of meaning comparable to that expressed by the modal auxiliary "must". Compare "Mr Gladwell adheres to a firm life rule that he drink only five liquids" and "Mr Gladwell adheres to a firm life rule that he must drink only five liquids". – BillJ Sep 21 '19 at 16:55
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It's using the present subjunctive.

Examples:

-I'd like that you be quiet.

-He asked that she come early.

-Mary has a rule that anyone visiting smoke outside.

  • Well, yes, but that's just a name. It doesn't explain anything. It "uses the present subjunctive" because the that-clauses (the object clause of would like and asked, and the noun complement clause of rule) require it. And the only thing they actually require is that the infinitive form of the verb be used (like I just did), instead of the normal present tense form. That's not a special mood, that's just an irregularity. You can only tell it's "subjunctive" in the third person singular: I/you/they/we come early could swing either way. – John Lawler Sep 21 '19 at 17:34

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