The counselor recommended that he go to a community college.

I found the above example here. What is the context and why not goes after he?


3 Answers 3


Certain verbs in English work like that in the third person.

Those verbs of advice are: recommend, suggest and advise. In the simple present for the third person singular, they take the bare infinitive (people used to call this the subjunctive). There are also others,not discussed here. Demand and order also work like this.

For example:

1) We recommend he stay for another week. [instead of the usual s on stay: stay]

2) She advises he leave immediately. [same as above]

3) I suggest she look this up if he doesn't believe me. [same as above]

This is standard English, in both speaking and writing. And if an individual wants to pass an English test, I suggest he or she familiarize themselves with this usage. Not using it correctly will lead to losing points or getting a lower grade.

Also, please note: people say all sorts of things and speak in all sorts of ways. None of those usages are relevant here. All of them are OK. All speech is what it is. It's all okay.

  • 2
    This answer incorrectly suggests there are exactly three verbs (recommend,suggest,advice). But as the BBC link in Alex_ander's link shows, the same form (subjunctive) is used with "insist" and a host of other verbs. And it can even appear without any of those verbs: "t is necessary that he see a doctor".
    – MSalters
    Commented Sep 26, 2018 at 14:48
  • I meant to write: verbs of advice, and have now amended my answer.
    – Lambie
    Commented Sep 26, 2018 at 14:50
  • @MSalters indeed, the subjunctive can be triggered by things other than verbs, and by considerations other than advice: It's important that the project be finished promptly. It's important that he speak with her before tomorrow.
    – phoog
    Commented Sep 26, 2018 at 17:20
  • There is no such thing as subjunctive. That is a complete misnomer.
    – Lambie
    Commented Sep 26, 2018 at 19:16
  • @phoog I was not dealing with every single instance of the "subjunctive". "It is necessary that he see a doctor" is ***not the specific usage I was addressing which can be seen by my examples."
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 6, 2019 at 12:59

Technically, the first version with Present Simple goes is not a mistake, it's just less formal (and not as widely used) than the second version, where the subjunctive is used in its classic form (with bare infinitive go). In modern British English the slightly less formal version with should go (in the place of go) is preferred:


  • 3
    @Lambie: Considering the answer is backed by a link to the BBC, I'm inclined to trust them on the subject of British English. What's your source?
    – MSalters
    Commented Sep 26, 2018 at 14:37
  • Possibly, it's considered wrong in AE, but numerous British book sources (mainly with official documents from the Parliament) can be googled (for 'recommend-that') using that phraseology with the 3rd person (both singular and plural 'are').
    – Alex_ander
    Commented Sep 26, 2018 at 14:49
  • @Lambie In my experience, the "recommended that he goes" construction (including "recommend he goes") is very common in British usage. It is rather uncommon in the US and sounds hopelessly wrong to my (US) ear. I don't have enough exposure to other varieties of English to comment on those.
    – phoog
    Commented Sep 26, 2018 at 17:11
  • @Lambie perhaps I didn't make myself clear. My principle exposure to British English these days is written sources produced by journalists and the UK government. The frequency with which I see third-person singular indicative mood in contexts that call for subjunctive mood is so high that I cannot reconcile it with the assertion that it is not standard. From a practical point of view, the fact that it appears with that frequency in those sources suggests that it has become standard.
    – phoog
    Commented Sep 26, 2018 at 20:56

There are two possible answers. The one I prefer is that the author is using an ellipsis, which is permitted, indeed common, but very confusing to learners.

What is meant in both sentences is "The counseler recommended that he should go to a community college." The modal verb "should" is to be followed by an infinitive without "to." So "he should goes" is absolutely wrong whereas "he should go" is perfectly proper. But it is permissible after "recommend" to drop the "should."

There are numerous cases, particularly in speech or informal writing, where certain words with a purely grammatical function can be omitted but are to be added back mentally by the listener or reader. These are called ellipses, and native speakers process them without even being aware of it. They are, however, very confusing to people trying to learn grammatical English, and, in my opinion, teachers should avoid them.

  • What is the answer you don't prefer? That it is the subjunctive? Why don't you prefer that?
    – phoog
    Commented Sep 26, 2018 at 17:12
  • Yes, The alternative answer is that verbs such as "recommend" require that the verb in the subordinate clause must be in the subjunctive. I do not prefer it because, at least in modern American English, use of the subjunctive is so rare that I at least am not willing to make the blanket assertion that failure to use the subjuntive is an error. Moreover, explaining the few cases when failure to use the subjunctive is arguably a mistake involves difficulties that I try to avoid. Commented Sep 27, 2018 at 12:19
  • The problem with your position is that historical evidence makes it clear that it is indeed a vestige of a much more robust subjunctive. Nobody in the 18th or 19th century was saying "recommend that he should go," but they certainly were saying "if he go" and "if he were."
    – phoog
    Commented Sep 27, 2018 at 12:52
  • @phoog Your linguistic history is impeccable. English did once have a "robust" subjunctive mood. Donne wrote "if thou be'st born to see strange sights." Pure subjunctive. But we are helping people to learn 21st century English, where the subjunctive is itself a rare sight. As you deduced, I was aware of the historical approach, but I prefer to explain 21st century English through currently robust traits, such as modals and ellipses, rather than vestigial ones. Despite my preference, I shall not declare it a problem if you write an answer based on the remnants of the subjunctive. Commented Sep 27, 2018 at 13:52

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