These are the sentences that I found in Cambridge grammar books:

I suggested that she bought a car.
I suggested that he gives up golf.

Both of the sentences above start in the past simple but end in the past simple and present simple respectively. Why is that and what's the difference in meaning?

UPDATE: Now that I'm thinking about it, I have a guess about the differences between these two:

"I suggested that she bought a car" means:

I suggested that she bought a car but at the moment it's not clear whether she has bought it.

"I suggested that he gives up golf" means:

I suggested that he gives up golf but he hasn't given up it yet. Perhaps later. Or never.

Though I'm not sure about it and need someone to confirm.


2 Answers 2


Here is how I interpret these sentences:

I suggested that she bought a car

This would be equivalent to "I gave the impression that she bought a car [even if that wasn't the truth]." In this case the speaker was not addressing the presumed buyer of the car ("she") while doing the suggesting.

I suggested that he gives up golf.

I think this is a less formal/"correct" way of saying "I suggested that he give up golf" - meaning "I told him [or someone else] that he should give up golf." (Normally the present subjunctive uses a bare infinitive form of the verb.) The speaker may or may not have addressed the other person ("he") while doing the suggesting.

EDIT: For sentence 2, I am now not sure that thinking of the suggestion as possibly being directed towards the other person ("he") actually makes sense. The meaning of "to suggest" that makes sense to me in both sentences is "to imply as a possibility" (to anybody, not necessarily the "he" or "she" spoken about) rather than "to advise" (where the "he" or "she" is the recipient of the advice). This way, the subjunctive mood isn't required, and the sentences do not sound ungrammatical. The second sentence therefore would have a meaning more like "I implied that he gives up golf [on occasion; whenever someone tells him to; etc.]"

EDIT 2: I have learned from the OP that the rules concerning use of the subjunctive are different in British English from (my native) American English. The original sentences are in fact valid expressions of the act of giving advice. If you're talking to an American audience, you might be met with confusion, but if the audience is British then I suggest you leave the sentences be. (see what I did there? :-p)

  • Alright. Interesting. Thank you. Just several minutes before you posted this answer I updated my question with my own guess. What do you think of it? Does it make sense?
    – Karolini
    Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 22:50
  • Ah, I didn't see the update before posting my answer. I hate to say this, but I am not completely sure what you are getting at when you use the same original sentences in the respective longer sentences. Could you replace the word "suggested" with something equivalent in each explanation?
    – Mixolydian
    Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 22:56
  • Realized I was being slightly hypocritical there - edited my answer to hopefully be more clear about what I think the "suggested" part means in each case. I think knowing who the person is who is the recipient of the suggesting is important to understanding the meaning.
    – Mixolydian
    Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 23:25
  • I think I do understand your answer. I'm just talking about a bit different aspect. I guess that when we use the present simple after 'I suggested that' then we refer to the future and not the past. For example:"I suggested that she buys a car and a day later she bought it.". I guess this sentence makes no sense because the suggestion is still relevant, so she couldn't have bought a car yet. But I think that it's perfectly correct to say: "I suggested that she bought a car and a day later she bought it." So, does my understanding make any sense?
    – Karolini
    Commented Feb 12, 2019 at 0:00
  • 1
    My book says "I suggested that she buy a car" and "I suggested that she bought a car" are similar in meaning. But I think I've found some explanation on Wikipedia: "dual statement/directive use of verbs like insist, suggest and propose can lead to confusion in cases where some, mainly British, speakers informally use the indicative and not the subjunctive, strongly preferred by many, especially Americans". It also gives an example sentence: "He worked in an optical business off Baker Street, and I suggested that he studied lenses and optics, and got him into night school".
    – Karolini
    Commented Feb 12, 2019 at 14:10

I can't answer why that is, but I can try to explain the differences:

  1. "I suggested that she bought a car." --- Imagine a version of this in dialogue between two people:

Andy: What did you tell her to do?

Bob: I had suggested that she should buy a car. (The example sentence is another way to say this)

Andy: Cool. So is she going to buy one?

Bob: Yep!

  1. I suggested that he gives up golf. --- I'm not sure that this one is gramatically correct. Since you have the word suggested there ought to be the word should as well. Here it is in an example:

Amanda: What did you say to him?

Britt: I suggested that he should give up golf.

Amanda: But why? I thought he loved playing golf.

Britt: Nah. It stresses him out to run into his boss at the country club. He should take a break from it.

  • Thank you! I know that we can use 'should' as well as subjunctive mood in both of the sentences, but my question is specifically about the difference between the present and past simple in these sentences. As both of the sentences are from Cambridge grammar books, I assume that they are grammatically correct.
    – Karolini
    Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 21:24

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