This is a sentence from an article in The New Yorker.

One day, Prince demanded that he see the crew member’s portfolio.

My question is about the form of the verb 'see' here. Why not 'sees' or 'saw'? What is the grammar behind this construction?

  • see, sees, saw - would be all correct in this case, right?
    – Voli
    Nov 11, 2017 at 18:44
  • Only "see" would be correct in the above sentence; "sees" or "saw" would not work and would be ungrammatical.
    – Nick
    Nov 11, 2017 at 21:08
  • 1
    If you said "sees" or "saw" in the United States in the above sentence, we'd look at you and roll our eyes. It can be confusing in the US if you try to use "sees" or "saw" there because it's wrong and hardly anyone here says it, and in some cases, using "sees" or "saw" in the mandative subjunctive changes the meaning.
    – Nick
    Nov 11, 2017 at 21:09

1 Answer 1


[1] One day, Prince demanded [that he see the crew member’s portfolio].

Your example [1] is known as the subjunctive mandative, a special kind of construction with a subordinate content clause headed by a plain form verb - in this case "see". Like imperative clauses, mandatives invoke the concept of compliance: Prince demanded compliance. The mandative subjunctive is the 'standard' form in all varieties of English for conveying such meaning using a subordinate content clause.

[2] Prince demands [that he sees the crew member’s portfolio].

[3] One day, Prince demanded [that he saw the crew member’s portfolio].

It is also possible for the mandative to have the form of an ordinary declarative content clause - sometimes called the 'covert mandative'. Covert mandatives contain a present tense verb, as in [2] or else a backshifted preterite, as in [3]. The covert type is comparatively rare, and in AmE particularly is generally considered unacceptable.

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