It’s necessary that I not be lazy?

Is this sentence correct? Because it sounds odd - but due to the structure of subjunctive:

It’s important /(un)necessary /essential + that + Subject + (should) + V.inf without to.


The sentence

It’s necessary that I not be lazy?

is not a subjunctive form. It is grammatical but a bit unusual, and thus feels awkward. I think this is partly due to the negative form. An equivalent positive form feels better.

  • It is necessary that I be diligent?
  • It is necessary that I be productive?

Also, when asking this as a question, it is more usual to invert subject and verb:

  • Is it necessary that I be diligent?
  • Is it necessary that I be productive?

leading to

Is it necessary that I not be lazy?

| improve this answer | |
  • The precise definition of "subjunctive" forms isn't exactly my specialist subject, but Wikipedia cites (among other examples) It might be desirable that you not publish the story, which to me looks syntactically identical to OP's example here. So can you explain why you say it's not subjunctive? – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jul 9 '19 at 16:44
  • @fumb Hmm. That example is clearly suggesting an alternate possibility in the future. I have always used "subjunctive" to mean an unreal alternate in the past or present, one already known not to have happened, not a possible future choice. Perhaps I am wrong. – David Siegel Jul 9 '19 at 16:49
  • That Wikipedia example was in the section Present Subjunctive, but earlier on they do say The past subjunctive exists as a distinct form only for the verb be, which has the form were throughout: Perhaps that's what's led you to think "subjunctive" only applies to "past irrealis". My inclination at the moment is to think that you're wrong and Wikipedia is right (and that I've understood Wikipedia correctly! :), but I honestly wouldn't have the guts to downvote you here unless someone like Tᴚoɯɐuo or StoneyB wades in to support me! :( – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jul 9 '19 at 17:06
  • Ha! I found precisely one relevant instance of it is necessary that he were convinced of the greatness of his danger. That's from 1750, and it certainly sounds more than a little "weird" to my modern ear, but I can just about get my head around it ([should] be sounds better than were to me though). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jul 9 '19 at 17:10

It is not a very good sentence.

It is structured as a statement, but it has a question mark. Questions should use question syntax.

It has a confusing negative structure, and it uses a subjunctive, in a very odd way.

You would never say this. How about?

Is laziness permitted?

Am I allowed to be lazy?

This sentence means the same, but I can understand this one easily. It took me 5 minutes to work out what your sentence means.

Or you can change the adjective:

Is it necessary to be energetic and industrious?

But all of these questions are odd: Nobody asks permission to be lazy.

| improve this answer | |
  • What?! So I can't frame a question as a statement? People do this all the time, surely? – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jul 9 '19 at 16:46
  • I see what you did there. Of course it is possible to use question intonation with statement syntax. But this is less common in English. Normally there is syntatic support (Is it...? Instead of It's....?) The structure of this is already strained, the "question as statement" just adds to the oddness of this expression. – James K Jul 9 '19 at 16:54
  • You don't think you're being a bit pedantic? (I could trot these out all day! :) Can't I be lazy if I want? Nothing particularly weird about that. (I'm simply making the point that the subject/verb inversion for questions isn't really relevant to the "naturalness" of the specific example under consideration.) – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jul 9 '19 at 17:15
  • An yet in all the cases, by making a question without using question syntax you are communicating something about the expected answer. And in the orginal question the syntax is confused. It is very unclear what the OP is trying to communicate. I think the sense of is best expressed as "Is laziness permitted?" as per my answer. – James K Jul 9 '19 at 17:31

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