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I have a question about the use of the subjunctive in if clauses. I usually use grammarly as a grammar checker and ran into following problem:

I wrote: If he stay at home, he would die.

Grammarly corrects me to: If he stays at home, he would die.

I remember that I learned in school to use the simple present/past for if clauses (depending on how likely a condition is).

But then, you say "If I were you", not "If I was you", which is clearly subjunctive.

Doesn't that mean the subjunctive form would be grammatically preferable to the simple present? So "stay" is correct, while "stays" isn't?

Or where am I wrong here?

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In the English of three hundred years ago, If he stay at home would be grammatical. But the so-called 'present subjunctive' (which is always the same as the base form) is only used today in a few set phrases (such as "long live ..."), and (for some speakers) after verbs like command and resolve. It is obsolete to use it after if.

However, I find Grammarly's suggestion very odd - I would say, wrong.

In modern English, you can either use the simple present, if the possibility is quite open whether it happens or not:

If he stays at home, he will die.

Or you can use the past, for a more hypothetical possibility:

If he stayed at home, he would die.

(Historically, this is the 'past subjunctive', but for every verb in the language except one, it is the same as the simple past. Were is the only exception, and not all speakers use it anyway).

  • Thank you for your answer! I agree with you on the simple present/will vs. simple past/would part. Can you give an example for the use of the present subjunctive with command or resolve? – h345k34cr Sep 24 '18 at 11:46
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    "They commanded that she leave". And especially in the context of committees and official business: "The committee resolved that the matter be referred to the relevant officer". Not everybody uses this: many would say "should be". But it's still current in an "official" register, particularly in North America – Colin Fine Sep 24 '18 at 14:16
  • Intuitively, I'd use "shall be": "The committee resolves that the matter shall be referred to the relevant officer" – h345k34cr Sep 24 '18 at 14:19
  • @h345k34cr: I meant to say "resolved", and edited it - apparently after you posted your comment. – Colin Fine Sep 24 '18 at 14:28

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