However the fleet eventually departed without warning after the Zamorin insisted that they left all their assets as collateral.

What is the grammar explanation for the above sentence? This sentence is a extract from Wikipedia. I am sharing the link below. It is in the arrival in 'calicut' section, last paragraph. I know for the subjunctive mood we use the base form of the verb, so how would one explain the above sentence (esp. the use of left)?


  • Pedants would prefer the Zamorin insisted that they [should] leave all their assets, but it's increasingly common in "relaxed" modern contexts to use Simple Past with such constructions. Mar 12 at 13:01

1 Answer 1


The third edition of Fowler (1988) has

In BrE the subjunctive mood is most likely to be found in formal writing or speech [apart from some formulaic uses], and particularly (the so-called mandative subjunctive) after verbs such as demand, insist, pray, recommend, suggest, and wish; nouns and adjectives such as demand, essential, important, insistence, proposal, suggestion, vital, and wish; and a number of conjunctions, such as although, as if, as though, if, unless, etc. But it is seldom obligatory, and indeed is commonly (?usually) invisible because the notionally subjunctive and the indicative forms are identical.

It's not obligatory apart from some formulaic uses, which Fowler lists as including

be that as it may; so be it; bless my soul; come what may; far be it from me to; God forbid (that); God bless you; God save the Queen, etc.; heaven forbid/forfend (that); heaven help us; So help me (God); Thy Kingdom come; long live the Queen, etc.; perish the thought; the powers that be; serve you right; suffice it to say that; woe betide; the fixed phrase as it were, in the sense 'in a way, to a certain extent' [when] the phrase is invariable.

The subjunctive mood* is available, and maybe even desirable in formal writing; but it's not incorrect if it's not used.

*Fowler defines the subjunctive mood as "a verbal form or mood expressing hypothesis, usually denoting what is imagined, wished, demanded, proposed, exhorted, etc. Its main contrast is with the indicative mood." Fowler also notes "The subjunctive mood is one of the great shifting sands of English grammar. Its complexity over the centuries is such that the standard reference work on historical English syntax by F. Th. Visser (4 vols., 1963–73) devoted 156 pages to the subject (Visser called it the 'modally marked form') and listed more than 300 items in its bibliography."

There do exist, even in these hallowed halls of ELU.SE, those who eschew the term.

  • Thank you for this well-informed common sense. The imperative, subjunctive and (in ancient Greek) optative are distinct forms, usually signalled by subordinating conjunctions. Modal clauses are not claims to what was, is or will be the case, but commands, purposes, conditions or imagined/wished for states of affairs. It has turned out over centuries that the cumbersome apparatus of the ancient world is not really necessary. We can express and understand modality, except the ones whose absence is still marked wrong by teachers in schools. The indicative states the 'actual' (or fictional).
    – Tuffy
    Mar 12 at 10:31
  • @PeterShor (in relation to your now-deleted comment) Actually 1988 was edited by Burchfield. Fowler himself wrote "the subjunctive is moribund except in a few easily specified uses" in the First Edition, as early as 1926!
    – Andrew Leach
    Mar 12 at 12:27
  • 5
    In American English, anyway, The Zamorin insisted that they left all their assets flat out means something different. That’s an indicative utterance; the Zamorin is telling them that they did, in fact, leave all their assets. Mar 12 at 14:19
  • 2
    Also, who made this rule: it’s not incorrect if [the subjunctive]’s not used? Your editors beg to differ. Mar 12 at 14:23
  • 1
    @Peter Shor - I'm not in England. I wasn't clear. I'm saying it's not optional. Americans who have no idea what subjunctive mood is, never heard of it, will repeat the imperative verb that would've been used (Leave all yer stuff here!) and still be correct nonetheless. That's what I meant. If the subjunctive is optional, then it's not that. Chief: 'Did you check his alibi?' Detective: 'Yes, they insisted that he left the party, but he didn't.' Chief: 'Had left' or 'leave'? Detective: 'Around 10 pm.' Nobody has time for all that. Mar 13 at 20:27

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