Which form of verb should follow prefer?


Which of the following sentences is correct?

  • His uncle prefers that she speaks with him personally.
  • His uncle prefers that she speak with him personally.

One guide says that the second one is correct. However, this is somewhat against our intuition.

Perhaps you can elaborate with proper references.


Posted 2014-08-29T15:40:43.180

Reputation: 787

Is this mandative? – F.E. – 2014-08-29T23:27:20.760

1It seems that both versions have the same meaning: the uncle wants a situation to come about, and that situation is for her to speak to him personally. That meaning is a mandative reading, and the difference between the two versions in your post is merely of syntax: the first is a covert mandative, the second is a subjunctive mandative. – F.E. – 2014-08-29T23:33:40.073

What would be the answer if the question is put in an examination as an MCQ question? – Masroor – 2014-08-29T23:37:37.487

Here's a related post on mandatives: http://ell.stackexchange.com/a/31376/8758

– F.E. – 2014-08-29T23:38:11.753

Well, it seems to me that both versions are grammatical. Both versions are mandative constructions, where the mandative word is "prefers". The difference is that your 2nd version uses a subjunctive clause, while the 1st version uses an ordinary declarative clause. As to what your test wants as an answer, er, yeah: whatever they seem to want -- they're the giver of the test, which doesn't really mean that they have to know what they are talking about. Perhaps you could link to that specific MCQ question, or provide an excerpt? – F.E. – 2014-08-29T23:42:00.963

I have only hard copy of the test. This is actually a four option MCQ question with two more options available, which you can readily rule out. – Masroor – 2014-08-29T23:47:37.373

Could you still copy that question in, with its four options? – F.E. – 2014-08-29T23:48:29.950

It is actually like this, Her uncle prefers that she ______ with him personally. (a) speaking (b) speaks (c) speak (d) has spoken. – Masroor – 2014-08-29T23:55:49.223

1Yeah, you often have to do mind reading to figure out what the tester's idea of "correct" is. It seems, if I were to gamble, that the tester wants the subjunctive mandative here as the answer. – F.E. – 2014-08-29T23:59:51.543



His uncle prefers that she speak with him personally.

This is most likely what you want, if I may assume your use case. The uncle, who is planning to speak with the girl, wants it to be done personally this specific time.

His uncle prefers that she speaks with him personally.

This would mean in general, when the uncle ever wants to talk to the girl, he would rather it be done personally. However, he's not referring to a specific instance.


Posted 2014-08-29T15:40:43.180

Reputation: 334

1My question was which of the two sentences is correct, not what they mean. – Masroor – 2014-08-29T16:02:48.753

3@Masroor -- ಠ-ಠ's answer means that both are grammatically correct, and that which one is better in any given situation depends on the meaning you want to express. – Jasper – 2014-08-29T20:56:51.993

@Masroor yes, I should have been so specific. They can both be correct in different contexts. However, you did not provide the context. In my answer, I tried to say that the first option was probably the grammatically correct version by guessing your context. – ಠ_ಠ – 2014-08-30T05:03:37.450