In a previous question it has been asked (or should it be "it was asked"?) whether "He is demanding my father to pay him $600" were (or should it be "is", or, perhaps "was"?) correct or not, but @kiamlaluno objected that the grammatical version of the above sentence is, or would be, "He is demanding that my father pays him $600".

Please, note the italicized pays, which, I think, kiamlaluno aseptically used in reference to the third person "father".

Answering the question, another user, @Jay, presumably a native speaker, wrote 'a more common wording would be [...] "He is demanding that my father pay him $600"'.

Being an Italian speaker, and, as such, particularly aware about the difference between "indicative" and "subjunctive" moods, I don't think Jay randomly used "pay" rather than "pays", as Kiamlaluno did.

So, I think that "pay" is correctly used in the subjunctive form there, whereas "pays" is wrong because it doesn't render the involved meanig of the sentence.

Am I wrong in asserting what above? If so, why?

  • I think it's a moment in time vs an extended period of time (of the 'paying' action) difference, and depending on context, both are valid.
    – mcalex
    Commented Jul 20, 2013 at 11:19
  • @mcalex, so the inflected form of the third person is not a rigid rule, but it, eventually, depend from the time in which an action has to be done?
    – user114
    Commented Jul 20, 2013 at 11:24

1 Answer 1


As so often, Swan in Practical English Usage (p541) has a good explanation:

The subjunctive is a special kind of present tense which has no -s in the third person singular. It is sometimes used in that-clauses in a formal style, especially in American English, after words which express the idea that something is important or desirable ... .

So whether you use pay or pays here has nothing to do with time but is about formality. It is more likely that an American native speaker than a British native speaker will think you are making a mistake if you use the indicative (with -s) rather than the subjunctive (without -s).

  • +1, I never would have thought that so a famous book strictly covered this question. Under this light, can I infer that the question then is an intersting one? If so, use the mouse hovering over the up arrow to reduce the lack of upvotes that we have on this site, no?
    – user114
    Commented Jul 20, 2013 at 14:29

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