passive voice of imperative mood

Discussion in 'English Only' started by KYC, Jul 10, 2009.

  1. KYC Senior Member

    Hello, there:
    I saw a grammar book which instructs passive voice.One of the sentences is about the passive voice of imperative mood.
    For example:
    Active form:Give up smoking.
    Passive voice:Let smoking be given up.
    Active form: Don't open the door.
    Passive form: Don't let the door be opened.

    My question is that I am wondering if the passive voice of imperative mood is common or not.
    I checked the archive about the passive voice.However,I could not find the answer.

    May I have your opinion?
    Thanks a lot!
  2. suzi br

    suzi br Senior Member

    English / England
    Hi. I would say it's not very common.

    Both of your examples sound a little odd to me. Your constuction is accurate, but there are not many contexts in which they would be appropriate things to say. Why would anyone want to make a balnket instruction to no-one in particular about giving up smoking?

    The second one is more likely, since it is about a specific door, and there might be people passing who need to be stopped from random acts of door-opening!
  3. bibliolept

    bibliolept Senior Member

    Northern California
    AE, Español
    In my experience, the only place in which that might be common is in rulebooks, operations manuals, and memoranda/memorandums.
  4. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Hi KYC

    I think the third-person imperative is pretty uncommon anyway, except in set phrases like "let there be light". I suspect most people these days would construe "let Mr Smith come in" as "allow Mr Smith to come in" - in other words, as a second-person command to someone to open the door and allow Mr Smith to enter. The negative version might be a bit more common: I'm thinking of Elton John's Don't let the sun go down on me, for example. But again I believe people would probably construe it as a second-person imperative addressed to God or Fate (or some other entity). When I hear the song I flip between "Please God don't let..." and "may the sun not.../let the sun not..."

    I'd say the passive version of the third-person imperative is even rarer. I can't imagine saying your first sentence. I can imagine saying your second sentence, but only as a second-person imperative: Don't allow the door to be opened.
  5. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    I have to say your first example is bizarre! If the subject was human, it is possible in old-fashioned literary/formal/legal style, but not Present-day English. 'Let him be taken away and imprisoned', for example - we'd never say that today, but we'd understand it in an old book.

    'Don't let the door be opened' doesn't sound as bad, but it's hard to imagine saying it. Actually we'd probably use the get-passive: 'Don't let the window get broken.'
  6. KYC Senior Member

    Thanks for all of your comments.
    I have the same feeling as all of you when I saw sentence above in a grammar book.

    Thanks a lot!
  7. bibliolept

    bibliolept Senior Member

    Northern California
    AE, Español
    "Let smoking be given up" <- Who made you king of the world?

    "Let the finished item dry overnight" <- Sensible directions in a home-repair book.
  8. Philo2009 Senior Member

    A much simpler passive imperative would be e.g.

    Don't be fooled!

    There is no inherent need for the verb 'let' to be included.
  9. KYC Senior Member

    So I can say either of the different forms of passive voice, can't I ?
    1.Let+O+be+past participle.
    Ex:Let the door be opened.

    2.Don't be past participle.(It's common,isn't it?)

    May I have your verification?
    Thanks a lot!
  10. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    "Don't be fooled" is a 2nd-person passive imperative, and perfectly natural:)
  11. KYC Senior Member

    Sorry, I am not very clear about the point.
    May I bother you to answer one more question ?
    So does it mean "Let+O+be+past participle." is a 1 or 3-person passive imperative?
    May I have your clarification?
    Thanks very much.
  12. LV4-26

    LV4-26 Senior Member

    I know that kind of grammar books. They merely teach you the mechanics, with no concern as to whether the result makes any sense.

    3rd person.
  13. KYC Senior Member

    Thanks for your rely, LV4-26!
  14. hansa108 New Member

    Bhopal MP India
    OK. the first example I've seen hear that makes sense. Others seem to bring in "helper verbs" that may not actually be helpers but rather a new verb with a change in meaning, e.g., "let...".
    My test here is whether there exists a logical conversion to the opposite voice that maintains meaning without changing verbs. Here I would say it is easier to put in the classic passive prep. phrase "by (an instrument/agent)", in this case, most appropriately perhaps, "by logic". So, "Don't (you-understood)be fooled by logic." could be reversed to: "Logic should (legitimate helper verb-typical of apparent tense changes in active-passive voice transformations) not fool you."
    However I am still going to delete the entire section on Passive Imperative from the 5th grade grammar. It is just too arcane!!!
  15. LV4-26

    LV4-26 Senior Member

    The imperative is essentially made for the 2nd person (plus, the 1st person plural, at a pinch).
    The rest is literature. :)
    The rest requires "let" to be used and is, at least synctactically, a distinct form.
  16. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    I agree!:D - except for the very restricted cases where you can have a third person imperative without "let":

    Everybody dance!
    Nobody move!
    Somebody open the door!
  17. Cagey post mod (English Only / Latin)

    English - US
    As a positive second-person imperative, I think we are more likely to use the "get passive", as in "Get educated!" or "Get informed!"

    (I am avoiding an inappropriate one that comes more readily to mind.)
  18. se16teddy

    se16teddy Senior Member

    London but from Yorkshire
    English - England
    Yes, I don't think KYC's grammar book is comparing like with like: it is comparing a second person imperative with a third person imperative. If the grammar book insists on exploring such arcane areas, it should list the active and passive forms as follows:
    1st person: Let me / Let us / May I / May we give up smoking!
    2nd person: Give up smoking!
    3rd person: Let him/let her/let them/May he/May she/May they give up smoking!

    contrasted with

    1st person: May I / we, smoking, be given up! (said by, say, an actor representing the spirit of smoking)
    2nd person: Smoking, be given up! (said by a person apostrophizing his bad habit)
    3rd person: Let / May smoking be given up!

    Actually, I don't think the 1st and 3rd person forms are imperatives at all: they are convenient, if clumsy, ways of translating
    - other languages' 1st and 3rd person imperatives, or
    - other languages's subjunctive constructions having a kind of imperative force.
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2009
  19. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    I wholeheartedly agree, teddy:)

    I also wholeheartedly agree with the adjective 'arcane'...
  20. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima (English Only)

    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I was thinking about the passive imperative with let. I think the problem is that the original example was a very unlikely one, but perhaps something like 'Let him [pr any obnoxious person or abstraction] be hanged!' and 'Let X be cursed!' are perhaps likelier examples?

    'Let X by hanged' could be said by an irritated person; or by a dictator or old-fashioned judge.
  21. Philo2009 Senior Member

    Logic would seem to dictate 2nd person. If I say

    Let him be hanged!

    I can hardly be giving the command to perform this act to myself, much less to 'him' (its unfortunate object). That would seem to leave only an unspecified 2nd person to whom the order is being given!
  22. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Philo, I think you've just neatly demonstrated what I said in post 4:
    Thank you:)
  23. hansa108 New Member

    Bhopal MP India
    Yes those are second person commands, but if you take let as the equivalent of allow then it is the second person of the verb "let", not of "come". You are commanding them to allow, permit or "let" and act to be done and act is represented by the verb "come" is a truncated infinitive as you said in your final example. I think it boils down to whether you accept "let" as a helper verb or not. After all the expression really cannot be reworded,"Let Mr. Smith to come in." which I think is a hint that maybe "let" is a helper. Another verb that is more frequently accepted as a helper is "should". Try that: "Mr. Smith should come in."
    BUT none of these are passive! For passive, the subject has to be passive, i.e. the poor innocent object of the action and not the doer of the action, and the act has to be done by an agent in a prep. phrase, "", even if understood only. A passive imperative cannot really have such a construction unless it is a transitive verb (not "come"). "He should be hanged" becomes an acceptable passive imperative with a typical helper verb "should" but not a sentence with "come".
  24. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Hello again, hansa: welcome to the forums, by the way:)

    I'm sorry I misled you with my reference to 'come'. I wasn't suggesting it was passive. In the original context (post 4) I was just making the point that most people would probably construe third person imperatives constructed with "let" as second person imperatives.
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2009
  25. hansa108 New Member

    Bhopal MP India
    Exactly. I agree. One other thing is also clear. The passive imperative is a rare bird. Not going into the 5th grade grammar for sure....
  26. KYC Senior Member

    Thanks for all of your input.
    Actually, I think all of your clarifications are more clear than the grammar book.
    When I read all of your clarifications, I learned that what my problem about the passive voice is.
    It didn't tell the readers about the passive voice of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd peoson etc.That's why I am confused all the time.
    It's really "arcane".:)

    Thanks a lot!
  27. hansa108 New Member

    Bhopal MP India
    Yes and now I'm thinking of retracting some of my statements! For one thing I just read on another site that these words "let, should, can" are modal verbs and they do change the meaning of the main verb. So the constructions using these really have a different meaning if you have to insert modals to make a "passive". I have not thought about this stuff and that's why this is a work in progress. Here's my latest thinking:
    The verb forms that use "let" and "should" etc. are really not true imperatives because the element of command is tempered; the meaning of the main verb is changed by the modal to a request or desire. However strong it may be it is not a command. And, in fact, these modal verb constructions are used to translate "optative" and subjunctive constructions in other languages such as Sanskrit where the verb meaning falls short of being a real command.
    You can only have a true passive imperative if the process of transformation from the active can be straight forward, no modals. A pure 2nd person imperative:
    2nd person: "(You) Damn the torpedos! Full speed ahead!"
    passive: "The torpedos be damned (by you)! Full speed ahead!"
    It works but it sounds like a dated theatrical anachronism and I think this is a sign of it heading for archaism. Because the passive is a kinder gentler voice, the passive form of the imperative begs for a gentler expression, even it be regal, i.e. "Let the torpedos be damned". That is where things are but it changes the verb.

    I also agree now with the prior post that we don't have 1st and 3rd imperatives. This is because of the nature of the imperative itself. Even the active sounds weird. The imperative is a 2nd person phenomenon. The 1st and 3rd person forms we have seen are mere imitators. I cannot think of a true contemporary active imperative for a transitive verb in the 1st or 3rd person according to the strict definitions I just gave.
    In Sanskrit there are 1st and 3rd person imperatives but there is no way to translate them into modern English without "may, let, should, etc" because the English would sound weird.
    e.g. "(Let us) know our minds...!" (Or in OLD English, "Know we our minds!"
    or "(Let us) sit together!" Or, only in OLD English, "Sit we together!"
    The pronoun is essential to avoid interpretation as a 2nd person verb.

    I'm trying to think of contemporary modern English examples but they ain't comin'.
    Anybody out there have any samples? I gotta go do some work here...
  28. moonberry New Member

    Hi - new to this site and this is all fascinating. The reason I was reading these posts was because I'm trying to work out what tense the phrase 'Hallowed be thy name' is (from the Lord's Prayer). Would that be passive imperative? If not, what would it be? It's been driving me crazy! I'm ashamed to say that, as a native English speaker, we were never taught tenses or conjugations or any of the structure of the English language in school.
  29. foxfirebrand

    foxfirebrand Senior Member

    The Northern Rockies
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    Teddy got it right-- the original post's examples are closer to the subjunctive than the imperative mood. Grammarians who believe in the canard that "the subjunctive is dead in modern English" tend to relegate those subjunctive forms into other categories-- such as "passive imperative."

    We do have a not-so-passive pseudo-imperative that uses "let" (and is a relic of the subjunctive of courtesy) and is (as far as I can remember) always used in first person plural.

    "Let's give up smoking."
    "Let's all remember to unlock both doors when we're done using the loo."

    And let's remember, not all constructions with "let" are "passive imperative" or subjunctive.

    Yes: "Let the cries of celebration be heard!"
    No: "Let the dog out, would you?"
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2009
  30. Cagey post mod (English Only / Latin)

    English - US
    "Let's" would be second person plural, if it meant "You-all do it", as indeed it sometimes does.

    But let's at least gives the appearance of meaning that we should do it, you and I, in which case it functions as a first person plural.
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2009
  31. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    Well, yes and no. 'Hallowed be thy name' is both subjunctive and stone dead. The subjunctive lives on in English, but this use of it is not an example of that. It's frozen - it can't be analysed in the grammar of Present-day English. You can explain it historically, as you can the etymology of 'husband' or 'breakfast', or the reason why we say 'trip the light fantastic' (if we do), but they don't make sense inside the language we speak today. They have to be learnt as wholes or idioms.
  32. foxfirebrand

    foxfirebrand Senior Member

    The Northern Rockies
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    I was going to correct you, then noticed I'd made the same mistake-- and in italics, no less. Let's is first person plural (assuming it's basically subjunctive). True imperative implies a second person, but that implication can be very vague.

    "(You) get out!" Clearly second person.
    "(You) let us alone!" Likewise.
    "(?) let us pray." Not imperative at all, but subjunctive-- though it suggests an action in a voice that does have imperative overtones. If you don't believe me, try not going along when everyone else is praying.
  33. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    As a mood this is called cohortative.
  34. foxfirebrand

    foxfirebrand Senior Member

    The Northern Rockies
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    Well...nomenclature can get very elaborate, especially when we are trying to fit obsolescent relics into a nice orderly scheme.

    Are you saying the hortatory (as I learned it) is not subjunctive? Your own source says:

    By the way, I don't mean to correct you if all you're doing is elaborating. But 19th-century grammarians, enamored with the elegance and clockwork complexity of their Latin predecessors, sometimes elaborated to a fault, parsing distinctions they'd learned from Latin, for all the world as though they existed in English.
  35. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    I didn't say that. Some Indo-European languages use the subjunctive to realize the cohortative. Other languages use other constucts. Some languages (e.g. Biblical Hebrew) have a special verb form for this. In comparative linguistics it is convenient to use such categories to express how different languages handle certain contexts.
  36. moonberry New Member


  37. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    There are a number of traditional terms floating around, like jussive and cohortative, that have been variously applied to Latin, Hebrew, Arabic, and I've given up on them. We've got to dump them and re-analyse constructions in clear, modern ways.

    The English let's construction can be called a first-person imperative. Or we could use another term. The test has to be in English. An oddity is the variation between negative forms - don't let's (like any other imperative), or let's not. It's not straightforwardly imperative, but it's more like that than the (relics of English) subjunctive, for example.
  38. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    What is the purpose of re-inventing the wheel? There has been a fashing during the last 30-40 years amoung English grammarians to re-write English grammar in a ahistorical way looking at modern Enlish in isolation. I never understood this.
  39. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    The point is that the traditional analysis was wrong. It's not just picking new names that describe things better. It was people describing nouns as adjectives, or prepositions as adverbs, and we can prove that they were wrong. Newton was wrong about gravity, though what he thought was very useful and is still convenient if you don't push it too hard.
  40. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    Wrong categorizations is a totally different matter.
    Cohortative and jussive (or optative) are just common names for concepts which undoubtedly exist in many languages. Besides, cohortative is to my knowledge not a concept of classical Latin grammar but is a relatively new term originally coined by 19th century semitologists.

  41. LV4-26

    LV4-26 Senior Member

    I don't mean to stop you in your interesting (I'm not being ironic) contreversy, but it seems there's enough material here for 3 or 4 different threads.

    For instance
    • What is exactly this let that we use to form the so-called 1st person plural imperative? Dictionaries say it is the same as the verb, but used as an auxiliary. But what kind of auxiliary is it that causes the pronoun case to change from subject to object?
      We do that
      ==> Let us do that,
      exactly as would a plain transitive verb.
    • Does the imperative mood really apply to any other person than the second? And I don't mean just formally, but also semantically. Can you give orders to yourself (that is, other than by addressing yourself as a second person)? If not, then can you give orders to a group that includes yourself? (We=You + I, -- or They + I -- right?)

    A few other points have been raised that would deserve a thread of their own.
  42. Philo2009 Senior Member

    This is indeed a thorny question. Although the concept of giving commands to anyone other than a present addressee (i.e. a second person, grammaticaly speaking) seems inherently nonsensical, there is a fairly unmissable semantic distinction between the 'group cohortative' let's do that (which can meaningfully be spoken even with no one present but the group members themselves) and a direct request to an addressee for permission on behalf of a group (i.e. = please allow us to...), which we would normally distinguish by avoiding the abbreviated form, saying let us... rather than let's.
  43. foxfirebrand

    foxfirebrand Senior Member

    The Northern Rockies
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    Well, let me see about that.

    We've really got to stop meeting like this.

    Now I really must be going.

    Not imperative to a strict constructionist, but these statements carry the spirit of the mood, which like the "conditional" (which I believe not to exist in grammar) is greatly conflated with the still-viable subjunctive.

    The U.S. has a culture that abhors authority to some degree, and we've devised all sorts of formulae to convey the imperative without "giving orders."

    "You wanna hand me that three quarter inch?"
    "Shouldn't you be going a little faster?"
    "Let's not get all bent out of shape over it."
    "Aw, why don't you put a sock in it?"

    These formulae can be used in the first person, especially in the plural. Mostly they still suggest an imperative action in the second person, but not always."

    "He's gonna finish his broccoli before any of us gets dessert. Guess we're gonna just have to sit here and wait on you, little buddy. You sure you want to put us through all that?"

    These are not grammatical but rhetorical devices to convey imperative action indirectly. In the last case, the device is to talk about someone in the third person instead of addressing him directly. The purpose is to give an order to a child who, as the parent knows, would balk forever if it were done more directly or overtly.
  44. LV4-26

    LV4-26 Senior Member

    Very interesting insights here. Thanks a lot, Philo and FFB.

    I won't coment any further because my other self is enjoining me to stop straying from the initial topic. :)
  45. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    Hmmm. None of these sentences strike me as particularly American. Aren't those just the normal euphemisms you find generally in English and other languages, too?

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