Usage and Grammar
Q. Dear CMOS, I know you aren’t a grammar usage source, but for lack of knowing where to look, I wonder if you might know which word—“be” or “is”—would be correct here. “The senior management plan specifies that the lump sum rate in effect at termination (be/is) used to project interest to the regular retirement date.” I believe the correct word choice is “be,” but I’m not sure why. Can you offer any expertise? Thanks for your help!
A. You are right; the correct choice is “be.” This is a specific use of the subjunctive mood in English, where a dependent clause following certain verbs, including “demands,” “suggests,” “insists,” or in this case “specifies,” calls for “be” rather than “is” (or “are”). Any demand or suggestion or stipulation involves some uncertainty as to whether the outcome will be shown to have followed the rule or request. I keep examples like the one you gave straight by asking if “should” could be added: “The senior management plan specifies that the lump sum rate in effect at termination [should] be used to project interest to the regular retirement date.” “Should” expresses the kind of contingent nature that the subjunctive mood is all about. (P.S. CMOS covers grammar and usage in chapter 5.)