Why is this sentence correct?

She suggested that he go to the cinema.

I would definitely use goes instead of go.

  • 7
    You would definitely be wrong. In this context, "go" is either "subjunctive" or "bare infinitive", depending on your terminology/point of view. You can't recast it to present tense. Jul 31 '12 at 15:44
  • 4
    It should be "I wonder why this sentence is correct." Jul 31 '12 at 15:44
  • 9
    The infinitive is definitely required for this meaning; but the tensed form goes is also correct. However, it means something quite different -- it means she said that he attends the cinema regularly. Jul 31 '12 at 15:47
  • 1
    @John Lawler: How does AmEng distinguish betweeen the two meanings with 'She suggested that they go to the cinema'? Jul 31 '12 at 16:14
  • 1
    @BarrieEngland We use the bare infinitive for the subjunctive sense and the finite verb in the other one.
    – tchrist
    Jul 31 '12 at 16:15

For those who are a little confused by Barrie England's answer...

She suggested that he go to the cinema. and She suggested that he goes to the cinema. are both correct, but they have different meanings.

Here's how she might suggest that he goes to the cinema:

ALICE: Where do you think he goes every Thursday evening?

JANE: Hmm ... well ... cinema tickets are cheap on Thursdays, and he loves movies. Maybe he goes to the cinema?

This is similar to She said that he goes to the cinema., but with less clarity or certainty.

Here's how she might suggest that he go to the cinema:

BOB: I want to go out and have some fun this evening. Do you have any suggestions?

JANE: Why don't you go to the cinema?

This is similar to She told him to go to the cinema. but with less force.

So why do we use go rather than goes. This is an example of the use of the subjunctive mood. The subjunctive is much less important than it used to be in English grammar — many observers of the English language think it is dying -- but it is still used in phrases like prefer (that), suggest (that), vote (that), wish (that) and so on.

The subjunctive is used more in American than in British English. To me, as a native speaker of British English, She suggested that he go to the cinema. does not seem wrong (perhaps because I've seen and heard so much American English), but I might prefer to say She suggested that he should go to the cinema., which has the same meaning, but does not use the subjunctive.

  • And in formulaic expressions such as “till death do us part” or “come the day”.
    – tchrist
    Aug 1 '12 at 1:37
  • I think you missed explaining “She suggested that he went to the cinema”, which is something else again.
    – tchrist
    Aug 1 '12 at 1:39
  • @tchrist There are plenty more uses than that! I trust you're not suggesting I should list all contemporary uses of the subjunctive mood in English.
    – Pitarou
    Aug 1 '12 at 1:41
  • No, but explaining the indicativeness of the simple past went instead of the bare infinitive/“present” subjunctive might be useful.
    – tchrist
    Aug 1 '12 at 1:44
  • Yes, I omitted the quotative use. I also conflated two uses of suggest: to propose a possibility ("maybe he went to the cinema?") and to imply ("cinema tickets are cheap on Thursdays, and he loves movies"). I don't think these are relevant to the question.
    – Pitarou
    Aug 1 '12 at 1:47

It is a mandative subjunctive, but its use is not obligatory.

  • 5
    In other words, the mandative subjunctive is indeed obligatory in America, lest you be misunderstood. It’s alive and well here. She suggested he go to the cinema is saying that he hasn’t gone yet and she is advising him to do so. She suggested he goes to the cinema is theorizing that this was his actual habit/action. In American, you truly can’t skate by with the latter if you mean the former.
    – tchrist
    Jul 31 '12 at 16:05
  • 2
    @tchrist: I don't know about 'alive and well'. Maybe not bedridden or in the hospital, but only leaving the house for special occasions.
    – Mitch
    Jul 31 '12 at 16:17

Should has been omitted from the original sentence, and that is why it doesn't make any sense. She suggested that he should go to the cinema.


Getting back to the point in a way that might help the questioner, I say that the construction in question is used for suggestions and orders. It is rather like saying should go/ ought to go/ might go/ may go / could go, but without mentioning any one of those words. It is commonly used in the law:

The court orders that: 1. the Respondent refrain from harassing the Applicant; 2. the Respondent do not approach within one hundred yards of the Applicant's home.

  • 1
    No, that do you have there in do not approach is wrong. Ungrammatical. Spurious. The only time you use do in a subjunctive clause is when it’s the main verb: “I insisted that she do her hair before leaving the house.”
    – tchrist
    Jul 31 '12 at 23:21
  • I disagee. The use of 'do' under (2) above is an example of the emphatic. 'Do' carries the tense in question, the following 'approach' merely follows the pattern of the emphatic. Having worked in the law, I assure you that this construction is regularly seen, and it is grammatically correct. Aug 1 '12 at 6:29
  • 3
    In a discussion such as this, legal English amounts to inadmissable evidence. Aug 1 '12 at 6:53

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