My point here is trying to explain why the message issued is not correct according to the operations allowed ahead.
However, I'm in doubt about the bold part, is it grammaticaly correct or is there another way to put it ?

We should change the message content, so that, its content be not so strict.

  • 7
    That's how Shakespeare might have put it. Better nowadays to say "so that its content is not so strict." Note that no comma is required after so that. – Robusto Dec 17 '12 at 17:34
  • As it stands, the repetition of the word "content" doesn't make sense, since "its" can only refer back to "the message content". So effectively, the suggested change is so that the content of the message content is not so strict. – FumbleFingers Dec 17 '12 at 18:24

Yes, it is correct. Yes, there are other ways to put it.

  1. We should change the message content in order that its content not be so strict.
  2. We should change the message content so that its content isn’t so strict.

If this were a formal standards document, which is after all a form of legalese, something more along the lines of the first version is probably more appropriate. But in regular conversation, the second version is what would be far more apt to come out of people’s mouths.

(Actually, if it really were a standards document, there would be no “we should”. It would be something more like “you shall” or “you must” (which are formally equivalent, as it turns out), and so on and so forth.)

There are other, more relaxed constructs available that are a bit more colloquial, like using an infinitive. That version would run:

  • We should change the message format to not be so strict.

Which sounds perfectly normal, and is probably the best option of all.

If you really want illustrations of the present subjunctive following so that clauses in Modern English, you should look in the second volume of Visser’s massive An Historical Syntax of the English Language, where he calls this occasional in Old English, common in Middle English, and frequent in early Modern English. However, it is now becoming literary and even archaic. Here is the relevant portion, from page 880.

Visser clipping


First, I would never use your form in this century (extraneous comma deleted):

We should change the message content, so that its content be not so strict.

You could argue that the above form fits into legalese, but I would argue that these types of forms are why legalese is a pejorative term nowadays. Legalese doesn't have to read like this in order to be precise. Read Bryan Garner's books if you want a good example of how to write good legal prose.

Second, there is a subtle difference in meaning between your two practical options. If the content is what is "doing the strict", then I would use:

We should change the message content, so that its content not be so strict.

If the content is simply adhering to an externally applied "strict", then I would use:

We should change the message content, so that its content is not so strict.

  • Is there some reason, why you think it needs a comma? – tchrist Dec 17 '12 at 20:37
  • Well played, tchrist. :-) I'll assume you are referring to the possibly extraneous second comma that I left in. I deleted the one obvious unnecessary comma, but I left the second possible unnecessary one in because it does affect the reading and meaning slightly, and I didn't know which the OP intended. – David Smith Dec 18 '12 at 19:37

If you can slightly reformulate the sentence to sneak in the idea that we should change the message for fear that its content will be deemed too strict, we can then use the nice word lest in addition to be:

We should change the message, lest its content be deemed too strict.

Archaic language wholeheartedly embraced ought be.

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