By insisting that the benefits be passed down the supply chain, it intends to reduce the retail price to only 20 to 50 cents.

My question is that what is the grammar of "be passed down".

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    This construction is called the subjunctive - I've added the "subjunctives" tag to your post, you can also read up relevant articles online (Wikipedia, etc). Phrases about suggestions, insistence on something can use this type of construction. Jan 10, 2019 at 16:23
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    The passed down [the food chain] bit is effectively an "adjectival past tense passive verb phrase", where something like shared or subsidised would be a simpler syntactically equivalent adjectival past tense. But I'd have thought the more challenging aspect for learners would be the fact that it follows the relatively formal "subjunctive" verb form be (as opposed to are or were, which are more likely in casual conversational contexts). Jan 10, 2019 at 16:24

2 Answers 2


The transitive verb to pass (something) down means to cause something to be sent "down", and the word down can have a variety of meanings, such as to a younger generation in a family, or to a lower tier in a hierarchy, such as we find in commerce, from manufacturer to master distributor to regional suppliers to wholesalers to retailers to the customer.

You can understand your sentence as either a passive form of that transitive verb or as an adjective phrase formed from the verb's past participle. Since an action is involved, I would go with the former.

As the comments above indicate, insist (and a number of other verbs) can be complemented with a clause that has a shifted verb form indicating that it is not a statement of fact but a statement of desire, wish, intention, urging, command, etc.

The doctor insists that the medication be taken on an empty stomach.

There, the doctor is telling the patient what to do, not making a factual assertion about how people are taking the medication. If we want to have the doctor making a factual assertion, it would be is:

The doctors are saying that the instructions on the packaging are in tiny print that people cannot read. The doctors are insisting that the medication is being taken with meals, despite the warning on the package that the medication be taken on an empty stomach.

  • Strictly speaking, He insists she is here should only be interpreted as meaning he (stubbornly) claims that she is in fact present (usually, in contradiction to others saying that she isn't present). But people often use that inflected form (is) where what they actually mean (using the "subjunctive") is He insists [that] she be here (he's demanding her presence; his requirement is that she should be here). Jan 10, 2019 at 16:46
  • @FumbleFingers: Yes, as you say, some speakers do not shift the verb form in clauses expressing desire, wish, intention, urging, command, etc.
    – TimR
    Jan 10, 2019 at 16:55
  • I don't know if it's just me, but somehow the "error" (which I wouldn't normally classify as such, it not being particularly bothersome to me) seems somewhat less noticeable in the past tense He insisted [that] she be/was present. But I'm pretty sure that personally I'd usually include both "helper" words that she should be present if that were (was?!) the intended sense. :) Jan 10, 2019 at 17:04

By insisting that the benefits be passed down the supply chain, it intends to reduce the retail price to only 20 to 50 cents.

"Be passed down" is not a constituent.

This is a subjunctive construction, as evident from the plain form verb "be". The passive clause "that the benefits be passed down the supply chain" has "the benefits" as subject and the verb phrase "be passed down the food chain" as predicate, with the verb "be" as head.

Within that clause is the further embedded clause "passed down the food chain", serving as complement of "be", with "passed" as head and the PP "down the supply chain" as its complement.

With subjunctive clauses it is a matter of bringing about the situation expressed in the that clause. In other words we can invoke the concept of 'compliance': here we understand that the referent of "it" is insisting on compliance.

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