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If I want Leonard to eat a banana, is this a desire that Leonard eat a banana or a desire that Leonard eats a banana? How about a desire that my best friend like me / my best friend likes me? Would using the subjunctive in the second case suggest that this is a counterfactual desire?

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  • Don't say I desire that Leonard eats / [should] eat a banana anyway. It's not very natural English. Just say I want Leonard to eat a banana. But if you must use the subjunctive form (which I recommend you to avoid wherever possible), it's probably usually best to explicitly precede it by should. The choice of subjunctive (with or without should) instead of a finite verb form like eats has absolutely no connection to "degree of improbability" or counterfactuality Commented Jul 24, 2023 at 14:34
  • ...so obviously it's I want my best friend to like me. If you go around saying things like I desire that my best friend likes / [should] like me, you'll be lucky to have any native Anglophone friends at all! It's just too weird! Commented Jul 24, 2023 at 14:42
  • Thanks! So, while unnatural, the second form would be the correct one?
    – amadeu
    Commented Jul 24, 2023 at 14:45
  • If you have to pass an exam, use the subjunctive (eat). And if possible include should before it, but if you're faced with one of those tiresome "multiple choice" questions where you can only choose between eat and eats (from some ignorant test-setter who thinks I desire that Leonard XXX a banana is a sensible utterance with only those choices), you must choose subjunctive eat. But myself, I'd rather look for a better test-setter! Commented Jul 24, 2023 at 15:39

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The subjunctive in English is optional. Hence

I desire that he eat a banana

and

I desire that he eats a banana

are both correct. And both are non-idiomatic.

It is much more idiomatic to say "I want my friend to eat a banana" or "I want my friend to like me."

You might use the subjunctive in highly formal situations. These are exceptionally rare and most learners will never be in a situation in which the subjunctive is the best choice.

His Majesty the King desires that he be taken from this place.

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