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Consider:

It is requested that a vote be taken.

It is high time you went to bed.

These two sentences express the subjunctive mood. Why do they differ in their form? The first has the infinitive and second one the preterite. Is there some logic behind this different formation of the subjunctive?

  • Unless you've got a lot of time on your hands, it's not really worth giving much thought to the "subjunctive" in English. It might be important in other languages, but the main reason it crops up at all in English is simply that historically it was important to Latin. It's not very significant in English, As a "mood" it doesn't mean much, and syntactically we use it less and less. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Feb 6 '16 at 16:12
  • The second construction has been discussed several times here. This is just one place – GoDucks Feb 6 '16 at 16:13
  • In sentence 1 there is no infinitive, but a present subjunctive in passive form. – rogermue Feb 6 '16 at 16:39
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    @Ustanak: I'm talking about native speakers in general, not particularly BrE. Technically, I suppose it's true that It's time I left is "subjunctive", but although that's a perfectly natural usage, I doubt the average Anglophone would call it that (they'd probably just say it's a "past tense" form). Many of the more "unusual" subjunctive usages, such as If that's what you want, then so be it are effectively "frozen" forms and/or considered dated/archaic. And many forms which strictly speaking are subjunctive mood simply aren't recognized as such by native speakers today. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Feb 6 '16 at 17:40
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I'm going to make it short. Please forgive my conciseness.

It is requested that a vote be taken.
(= That should happen when it's needed to happen in the future, probably soon.)

It is high time you went to bed.
(= That should've already happened. That is, you should've already been in bed!)

In short, it's some point in time after now vs. now.

  • Short but good. Nice way to explain it. – Alejandro Feb 6 '16 at 15:41
  • Thank you for a reply. Yet I ever thought that the phrase "It is high time you went to bed" has the meaning of inducement and thus is related to the future. So the concerned person is not yet in bed. – bart-leby Feb 6 '16 at 15:45
  • The meaning of inducement as you said is an implication. Its literal meaning suggests something that should've happened, but didn't or haven't happened yet. It's a common way to be indirect in English, in my humble opinion. – Damkerng T. Feb 6 '16 at 15:55
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    @DamkerngT. Your understanding of "it's time you went* to bed" is not correct. The past subjunctive went* expresses a wish/demand, what someone should do now. dictionary.cambridge.org/de/grammatik/britisch-grammatik/… A pity that the Cambridge article does not say that "we went" is past subjunctive referring not to past, but to now. – rogermue Feb 6 '16 at 18:03
  • @roguemue I thought I said "now". I said now, didn't I? – Damkerng T. Feb 6 '16 at 20:18
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First things first:

"I don't know if this be right." (not correct even in Shakespearean English.)

The above statement is a confusion of the present subjunctive because the writer sees "if"; however, more correctly, this should be "whether" and not "if". It is answering a question:

"Is this right?"

"I don't know whether this is right."

"If this be right" means "in the event that this be right". If one were to replace "if" with "in the event that" above, "I don't know in the event that this be correct" makes NO SENSE! For example:

"If that be the case, I shall eat my hat!"

"In the event that that be the case, I shall eat my hat!"

"If that were the case, I should eat my hat!"

"In the event that that were the case, I should eat my hat!"

Do you see the difference here? Now for your examples:

"It is requested that a vote be taken." (The present subjunctive is used herein because you believe that "a vote SHOULD BE taken" and you've requested it. You could very easily add "should" herein and it would be correct.)

"It is high time you went to bed." (You could use the present subjunctive herein and it would be correct and mean virtually the same thing: "It is high time you go to bed." But in your situation, the past subjunctive gives off an air that you're not going to go to bed anytime soon.)

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