I am confused between the two.

I demand that he leave!
or I demand that he leaves!

I demand that this man leave!
or I demand that this man leaves!

Which is correct with s or without and why?

  • 6
    Read about "mandative subjunctive" May 8, 2018 at 2:49
  • TIL about the "mandative subjunctive." At first I thought this was a simple question about plural vs singular subjects e.g. "The man leaves, but the men leave. He pays, but they pay." Thank you SE.
    – JesseM
    May 8, 2018 at 23:50

5 Answers 5


Technically speaking, only this one is correct:

I demand that he/this man leave!

The reason why that one is correct while the other one is not has to do with the fact that what we're dealing here with is an example of something called a subjunctive mood. Wikipedia defines subjunctive mood as follows:

The subjunctive is a grammatical mood found in many languages. Subjunctive forms of verbs are typically used to express various states of unreality such as wish, emotion, possibility, judgment, opinion, obligation, or action that have not yet occurred.

The English subjunctive mood is a bit messy as it comes in all shapes and sizes: May God rest his soul, God bless America etc. are all instances of the English subjunctive. What we've got in our case here however is an example of a very particular subjunctive called the mandative subjunctive. And this is just one out of many different types of subjunctive mood that exist in English:

The mandative subjunctive is used with clauses that usually, but not always, begin with that and express a demand, requirement, request, recommendation or suggestion. It is indicated by the use of the base form of the verb (e.g. the base form of the verb to love is love) with singular subjects.


It is recommended that the Board approve the policy.

I suggest that she leave the country.

I demand that he pay his share.

  1. I demand that he leave!
  2. I demand that he leaves!

These are both examples of what are known as ᴍᴀɴᴅᴀᴛɪᴠᴇ ᴄᴏɴsᴛʀᴜᴄᴛɪᴏɴs. Sentences such as example (1) are known as sᴜʙᴊᴜɴᴄᴛɪᴠᴇ ᴍᴀɴᴅᴀᴛɪᴠᴇs. Examples such as (2) are known as ᴄᴏᴠᴇʀᴛ ᴍᴀɴᴅᴀᴛɪᴠᴇs. There is a third type of mandative called a sʜᴏᴜʟᴅ-ᴍᴀɴᴅᴀᴛɪᴠᴇ.

Mandative constructions use a content clause which tells us about some desired or wanted situation or event (a content clause always has a full verb and a subject). Normally the situation is one that the people in the Subject of the clause want to happen:

  • The judge insisted [that the prisoner be set free].
  • The judge insisted [that the prisoner should be set free].
  • The judge insisted [that the prisoner was set free].

In the examples above, the clauses in brackets describe what the judge wanted to happen. In examples like these we call the verb a mandative verb and we call the clauses that occur after them mandative clauses.

Notice that the three examples above use slightly different clauses. The first example, a subjunctive mandative, uses a plain form of the verb. (The plain form of the verb has no tense and no third person 'S'). The second example, a should-mandative, uses the modal verb should. The third example uses the same tenses and inflections that we see in normal clauses. Because there is no special marking of the mandative here, it is known as a covert mandative—where the word covert means hidden.

British English speakers as a whole prefer covert mandatives to subjunctive ones, at least in spoken English. However, American English speakers highly prefer subjunctive mandatives to covert ones, and some American English speakers may even find covert mandatives only marginally acceptable (i.e. they may verge on finding them ungrammatical).


Notes for language junkies

Here is a slide from a study done by the Survey of English Usage at UCL. It compares the frequency of different types of mandative clauses in British English in two corpora. The LLC data is from the 1950s-early 70s. The ICE-GB data is from the early 1990s. In this table, the term ɪɴᴅɪᴄᴀᴛɪᴠᴇ is used to indicate covert mandative clauses.

enter image description here

As you will see, the use of covert ('indicative') mandatives seems to have increased significantly during this period in spoken English. In the modern ICE-BG corpus, discounting the non-distinct entries (which could be analysed as either covert or mandative), less than 6% of mandative clauses were subjunctive ones, whereas 35% of them were covert and 21% were should-mandatives. The remaining examples used other modals such as will or must and so forth. Bear in mind that these are from corpora of spoken English.

I believe that other studies of the mandative in English also support the assertion that the covert mandative is preferred over the subjunctive in British English. However, this observation should be taken with a pinch of salt. The mandative verb/adjective/noun involved may affect a preference for one over the other. Subjunctive mandatives appear to be quite frequent in British English after the verb demand, but very rare indeed after the adjective essential for example. It should also be noted that this may well be affected by the type of genre involved. Mandatives with demand are particularly common in newspapers and legal documents but rarer in informal writing and speech, whereas essential is very common in many different types of spoken and written texts.

Grammar Note from Huddleston & Pullum

Here is the relevant excerpt from the reference grammar The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language by Huddleston & Pullum (2002, pp. 995-996):

enter image description here enter image description here

  • 8
    To me (as an American English speaker), the third sentence ("The judge insisted that the prisoner was set free") has quite a different meaning: the judge is asserting that something already happened. In contrast, the first two are statements of the judge's order to make something happen. May 8, 2018 at 19:30
  • 6
    This is the only answer so far to point out that both are correct in different environments. This should be the accepted answer.
    – CJ Dennis
    May 9, 2018 at 1:16
  • 1
    @200_success Indeed. That contrast is brought out in the H&P excerpt. You can see it in the last paragraph. In the next section of the chapter, they point out that there can be ambiguity, depending on the verb in question, between non-mandative and covert mandative sentences. May 9, 2018 at 9:07
  • 2
    I think you've misunderstood part of that excerpt. You write "British English speakers as a whole highly prefer covert mandatives to subjunctive ones", but the excerpt doesn't support that statement. What it says is that they prefer should-mandatives to subjunctive ones. (And it states generally, without reference to a specific dialect, that covert mandatives are "fairly rare".)
    – ruakh
    May 10, 2018 at 1:10
  • 2
    It’s interesting that H&P appear to actually be miscategorising Brits. They say that covert mandatives are fairly rare in general, presumably including BrE, whereas the UCL survey states that covert mandatives are the most frequent in BrE (not counting the ‘other modals’ and ‘indistinct’ categories because one includes several different constructions and the other includes more possible matches than a distinct mandative ever could). Is there a direct link to the survey, by the way? May 10, 2018 at 13:43

The sentence

"I demand that he leave."

is correct English. The verb "to leave" is in the subjunctive mood. To my ear it sounds better than

"I demand that he leaves."

although people understand either one and many would not notice the difference. The second one sounds like a plausible choice because we say "he leaves" all the time when using the indicative mood. It is used so often in place of the subjunctive that it's not surprising you're confused about them, but it's not the best choice in this situation.

The confusion is compounded by the fact that the third person singular is the only case where the subjunctive is different from the indicative. In the other cases we use the subjunctive and indicative forms interchangeably, so this is an exception to the rule.

For example, in the third person plural we would say,

"They go to the store."

in the indicative, and

"I demand that they go to the store"

in the subjunctive. There's no difference between the two verb forms here.

  • 4
    You might also like to point out that the difference between the subjunctive and indicative forms of a verb is usually evident only in third person singular as in he leave (subjunctive) // he leaves (indicative) whereas the subjunctive and indicative forms are often the same for first person, second person and for third person plural (I leave// you leave// they leave) as observed in the Wikipedia article you linked: "In Modern English (...) for most verbs, the only distinct subjunctive form is found in the third person singular of the present tense, where the subjunctive lacks the -s ending" May 8, 2018 at 9:48
  • 2
    @english student Hmm. Good comment, but that article has it wrong, though. The distinction is nearly always observable in past tense constructions.It might be worth pointing out that it's always observable with the verb BE, of course (worth it because the verb BE is extremely common) May 9, 2018 at 7:46

I strongly demand that John leaves.
I strongly demand that John leave.

The the ghosts of the germanic roots of Old English still stir in English and run through our English brain veins. Thus for some, 'he leaves' is not a candidate for an unreal state. Were he gone, this demand would not be uttered.

That said, how many times does the so called Present Tense refer to an event happening now?

Today is Wednesday. "John leaves on Friday." Obviously, Friday is not 'now' and John has not (yet) left.

The future has not happened. The future is conjecture. Conjecture is conjunctive. Conjunctive is subjudice. Subjudice is subjunctive. In the above sentence, John has not (yet) left.

English, nor any other language, is static. Purists full of Old English blood will tell you, “Only 'he leave' be correct." or, maybe they might say “Only 'he leave' is correct." and the cycle starts again. "Be 'be' or be 'is' correct?"

Therefore, I choose to interpret the meaning despite the words: 'John (vocative), PFO!'


I suggest that he leave!


I suggest this man leave!

Grammatically are the correct answers.

  • 6
    No. Changing demand to suggest does not affect the grammaticality of the sentence at all. It just changes the meaning. May 8, 2018 at 15:20
  • @JanusBahsJacquet i mean to say,that as per the asked question,it has two statements,i just posted the two correct statements. May 10, 2018 at 13:05
  • No, you posted two completely different sentences with a different verb. Whether it should be leave or leaves is a question that cannot be answered unequivocally (it depends too much on dialect, sociolect, idiolect, and level of formality), but changing the verb in the matrix clause from demand to suggest is definitely not the correct way to answer the question. May 10, 2018 at 13:10
  • this is the question right : 1)I demand that he leave! or I demand that he leaves! 2)I demand that this man leave! or I demand that this man leaves! now tell me,what i did wrong,i just posted the correct ones from the four statements. May 10, 2018 at 13:13
  • Yes, exactly. So why did you write suggest instead of demand? That's just a different, unrelated verb. It's akin to someone asking whether “The man bought a blue car” is grammatically correct, and then answering that the grammatically correct answer is “The man bought a red car”. Whether the car is blue or red has nothing to do with grammaticality, and nor does whether he suggested that the other person leave, or whether he demanded it. May 10, 2018 at 13:16

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