An ESL student once asked a native English speaker the correct way for seeking advice or suggestion.
The student asked, “Am I supposed to say ‘What do you suggest I do?’ or ‘What do you suggest me to do?’”
The native speaker responded, “Well, I think both questions seem to mean the same, but the latter sounds a little awkward.”
The atrocities of the English language grammar never fail to bewilder natives and second language learners alike.
Now, please join me in understanding these pesky nuances. Hope you’ll read ‘til the end so you won’t have to struggle with this concern ever again.
Which is the correct structure, “suggest I do” or “suggest me to do?”
The correct subjunctive structure is “suggest I do.” Strictly speaking, although using “suggest me to do” could be easily interpreted by anyone, this particular structure does not fit the grammatical conventions in English. And, the easiest way to remember the right structure is by thinking about constructing imperative statements, also known as commands, in English, which entails starting the sentence with a base verb. For example, the subjunctive structure for “be here on time” is “I suggest that you be here on time.”
Understanding the grammar behind “suggest I do” vs. “suggest me to do”
To the untrained ears, using either of the phrases may not seem to have any serious impact on understanding the meaning of the remark.
This is true because we normally interpret the meaning of utterances in a holistic manner rather than in chunks.
However, when we speak of the correct syntactical form of the subjunctive voice, we should use the pattern “suggest I do.”
What do you think about my use of “should” in the previous sentence? Was it quite assertive and imposing, or did it sound polite and modest?
If you responded with the first option, then you will surely get the hang of the next couple of subsections effortlessly.
Now, let’s talk about the notorious “subjunctive voice” in ample detail.
The meaning and function of the subjunctive voice
As briefly mentioned earlier, “suggest I do” is classified as a subjunctive expression in grammar.
The subjunctive mood or voice is used in softening the connotation of a suggestion, recommendation, or advice while implying volition at the same time.
Put simply, you can compare the function of the subjunctive form to the addition of the word “please” in giving a command, resulting in a more polite statement called a “request.”
To help you realize these nuances further, please try to think about a person trying to insist on an idea or suggesting a call to action.
Which would make you agree with or follow that person, an imposing intent or a more polite one?
If you take impositions lightly, then that’s awesome because it means that you are open to the idea of following and learning from others.
But, more often than not, the polite tone is preferred by most people, especially in the formal context.
Other languages may have other ways of doing so, but at least in English, a particular syntactic order guides the formation of the subjunctive voice.
The subjunctive phrase “suggest I do” in detail
In this subsection, you will understand the general guidelines in forming the subjunctive sentence structure, particularly using “suggest I do.”
The subjunctive voice is used to soften the blow of a suggestion, recommendation, and advice, thereby increasing the formality and the illocutionary force of the statement.
In a nutshell, this structure is used in expressing the same denotation as the modal verb “should,” which is more commonly observed in American English.
“Suggest I do” is inflected in the present tense which is used to state factual desires instead of hypothetical ones.
The word “suggest” is also often replaced with request, insist, demand, propose, or recommend.
Whereas, the subsequent subject can be substituted with other subject pronouns or nouns depending on the context.
The verb “do” is replaceable with any other verb inflected in the base form no matter what the subject is, which makes this grammatical structure unique.
A declarative sentence in the subjunctive mood is composed of an independent and a dependent clause introduced with “that.”
The conjunction “that” may be conveniently omitted if the writer wants to make the sentence shorter and slightly less formal.
The negative sentence form is even weirder, and hence, making the English language even more unique and interesting to the rest of the world.
Here’s how we structure the negative form.
Yeah, yeah, it’s strange and awesome at the same time, which might be one of the reasons why a lot of people want to learn English.
Another way to form the subjunctive voice using an indicative verb is by starting with “it’s” or “it is” followed by an adjective.
What do you think of the last example? Does it convey a more formal or more casual tone?
You couldn’t be more right. Constructing the subjunctive voice this way further increases the formality as well as the statement’s force.
Also, the sentence has become less aggressive but even more imperative this time.
After all, languages are complex, dynamic, and nonetheless arbitrary, and thus, making them so much more beguiling to study.
Now that we’ve had a grasp on creating sentences in the subjunctive mood, let’s also tackle the implications of using the phrase “suggest me to do.”
The implications of using “suggest me to do”
“I have been using “suggest me to do” for a while now, but so far, I haven’t had any serious mishaps with it. Would this suggest that my English is poor?”
If you’ve asked this question, then you must have learned English as a second, third, or even a fourth language already.
In the view of Applied Linguistics, it is worth noting that there is no such thing as “becoming a native speaker” if and when English is not your first language.
Learning other languages means “winning some and losing some,” and it doesn’t mean that one is expected to be able to fully master a second language.
Apparently, what I’m trying to say is that, in the first place, being able to notice the peculiarities behind “suggest me to do” is already a sign of fluency.
So, to answer the question, I would like to affirm every non-native English speaker that using “suggest me to do” is not a sign of the so-called “poor English.”
In fact, it is a sign of a rather advanced language competency, which is crucial in becoming a balanced bilingual.
As long as you are always open to the act of unlearning language incongruencies, such as the one being discussed, you are on the right track.
Frequently Asked Questions on “Suggest I do” vs. “Suggest me to do”
Is “suggest me to do” grammatically wrong?
If we base the explanation on forming a subjunctive sentence with an indicative verb, then “suggest me to do” does not follow the syntactic structure used by native English language users. Instead, the grammatically-correct and widely-accepted structure is “suggest I do.”
What do we mean by subjunctive mood or voice?
Statements that are written in the subjunctive mood or voice express wishes, desires, recommendations, or suggestions in a formal manner. These statements are either indicative, which means realistic, or hypothetical. More technically, the subjunctive mood can be further classified as “optative” or “potential,” in which the former means that the remark is desired or planned, and the latter being only a state or conception of the mind.
What is an example of a sentence in subjunctive form?
In questioning, we can ask subjunctively by saying “What do you suggest I do?” An affirmative statement can be done by saying “Amy insisted that I stay a little longer.” Whereas, a negative statement would be like this: “It is crucial that he not miss his appointment this time.”
A language is a powerful tool that could be used to express a person’s volition, whether realistic or hypothetical.
This function is particularly demonstrated by the existence of the subjunctive mood in the English language, which is both unique and fascinating.
Also, the existence of this concept in language highlights how whimsical people could be.
Lastly, since the subjunctive voice could easily be used to “manipulate” others, it is essential that everyone be mindful of its possible repercussions.
Hey fellow Linguaholics! It’s me, Marcel. I am the proud owner of linguaholic.com. Languages have always been my passion and I have studied Linguistics, Computational Linguistics and Sinology at the University of Zurich. It is my utmost pleasure to share with all of you guys what I know about languages and linguistics in general.