someone wrote:

In general I prefer my students change every semester.

I think it must be:

In general I prefer my students to change every semester.


In general I prefer to have new students every semester.

Do I need "to" before "change"?


The sentence is correct as it is.

You probably feel you want to include a to because it is more common to find "to + verb" when two verbs or more verbs are connected or near each other in sentences:

We work to earn money.

However, in

... prefer [that] my students change every semester

the text following prefer is a declarative content clause or a that clause with the verb change in the subjunctive mood. Including the word that is often optional in such clauses.

In this type of clause, a present subjunctive, the second verb looks like the bare infinitive form of the verb (we can think of its appearance as that of the plain, simple present tense form, with no to).

We use the subjunctive to talk about things that are in some way not necessarily real at the time of speaking, such as when we talk about the way we'd like things to be, hope they will be, or when we make a suggestion or describe a guess, belief, etc.

I used this type of clause above:

You probably feel [that] you want . . . .

Where [that] you want . . . is a declarative content clause (or that clause) and want is a verb in the subjunctive mood. It looks like the bare infinitive or simple present tense form.

There is more information and examples of similar structures here:


More specifically, in the Use of the Present Subjunctive section of that page.

And here:


under Declarative Content Clause.


The "to" in the first sentence is optional. It's an example of an ellipsis, where certain words in a sentence may be omitted if they add no additional meaning. Both are fine, as is your third example. There are, of course, many ways to say the same thing.

I prefer my garden to be watered every week.

I prefer my garden be watered every week.

I prefer to have my garden watered every week.

My garden should be watered every week.

and so on. I don't know if there are many set rules about where and when you can use an ellipsis -- as usual the best way is to imitate how native English speakers write.

  • Not exactly, but it's a reasonable guess. The reason this case is not ellipsis is that the to is not grammatically implied, expected, or assumed and then left out or unvoiced. It is not required, so can't be omitted. Sometimes an infinitive can be used, but the meaning may be changed. I prefer my students to change does not exactly equal I prefer [that] my students change, and this difference in form can be more obvious with different examples: I recommend you to stop is problematic. We must not include the to there, and the clause without the to does not exemplify ellipsis. Jan 2 '17 at 18:59
  • @JimReynolds what is the semantic difference between "I recommend you to stop" and "I recommend you stop"? Both are grammatical.
    – Andrew
    Jan 2 '17 at 19:05
  • What happens if you use I prefer my gardner water every week for your list of possible variations? Or is there an elided to in I insist you not leave!? Jan 2 '17 at 19:11
  • I think I recommend you to stop is ungrammatical. Note that I'm not an expert in this area, and parts of my own answer are sketchy, but I think I have the essence. Jan 2 '17 at 19:13
  • Discuss more in chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/24938/language-overflow if you'd like. It's an interesting topic and others might contribute, too. Jan 2 '17 at 19:19

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