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I know that for all verbs the structure of present subjunctive is the bare infinitive.

I also know that typically it is used after two structures:

  • Some verbs (ask, demand, insist, etc.);
  • Some expressions (it is desirable, essential, vital, etc.) + that.

Would you please help me with the following questions?

  1. What if a bare infinitive exists in a sentence without complying with the above rules?
  2. Any bare infinitive is a present subjunctive? If not, how can we say whether it is or not?
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  • I believe this question is beyond me, but others may be better able to assist you if you focus on a single question and provide an example (including your interpretation) if possible. – Tyler James Young Apr 14 '14 at 21:52
  • @Tyler James Young, actually my question has arisen from this question: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/21254/… My first reaction was to say that we have a present subjunctive here, but since I wasn’t sure I deleted my comment. The structures as described on my question are not here, in this construction: 1. There’s no a verb such as the verbs listed; 2. There’s a “that” there, but doesn’t follow the pattern, it is before the verb “are melting”, not the pattern verb + that. So, as far as I ca tell, there are the following possibilities: – Lucian Sava Apr 15 '14 at 6:13
  • @Tyler James Young, 1. There’s no a present subjunctive here; 2. This construction is wrong; 3. There’s a present subjunctive here, even if it’s out of the patterns. Regarding other examples, I cannot come up with, at least for now. Thank you for your help. – Lucian Sava Apr 15 '14 at 6:16
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You have become a bit confused about the statement in the link that you have provided. What it is saying is that the inflections on the end of the verb are the same as those of the "bare infinitive". In other words, there aren't any! It isn't making any other claims about the similarity between the bare infinitive and the subjunctive. In fact, they are completely separate moods (the moods are indicative, infinitive, imperative, and subjunctive, in my best guess as to their frequency of use) which each have their place in the language.

So, the link is simply saying this: for the subjunctive, instead of saying "he works" you say "he work". That's the only difference, except in the verb "to be". In that case, the present is the same as the bare infinitive "be": I be, you be, he be, we be, you be, they be. Also, to be is the only verb where the past subjunctive is different from the past indicative: I/you/he/we/you/they were. Have a look at these:

It is necessary that he work on Saturdays.
I would have preferred that he worked only on Saturdays last summer.

The first is an example of the present subjunctive, the second of the past subjunctive.

So, to answer your questions. First question: if you see a bare infinitive that isn't complying with the rules you describe, it's probably because it's a bare infinitive! Consider these examples:

I make him work on Saturdays.
I made him work every Saturday last month.

These are examples of the use of the bare infinitive. Have a look at this for more examples of the use of bare infinitive. (By the way, I prefer to think of "Let's play Monopoly", which they give as an example of the use of bare infinitive, as the first person plural imperative, but I won't go so far as to say that it's wrong to call it a bare infinitive.)

Second: no, a bare infinitive is entirely distinct from a present subjunctive, except in the sense that I described in the first paragraph. This might help: the subjunctive mood is inflected like the bare infinitive (there are no inflections, or alterations to the ending of the verb), but constructed like the indicative mood (I/you/some other pronoun or noun plus the verb).

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If you find the apparently bare infinitive "be" in other reading, particularly in quoted dialog, you might be looking at a sample of AAVE (African American Vernacular English) where "be" is used as actual present tense conjugations (he be, you be, they be).

Also in imperative: "Be quiet!" (or on a Valentine candy heart "Be Mine")( or in KJV Bible: "Be ye therefore perfect....") Most (all?) verbs use infinitive form as imperative.

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  • This answer is a bit misleading. AAVE does not use 'be' for all conjugations of present tense 'to be.' In fact what you're noticing is the use of habitual be which is a tense distinct from ordinary imperative mood present tense. Generally it expresses an ongoing state of affairs or what is usually the case. – Kevin Driscoll May 22 '15 at 16:45
  • @Kevin Driscoll: Good clarification. I'm not conversant in AAVE, but I knew I had heard "be" therein. – Brian Hitchcock May 23 '15 at 4:02

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