Third-person imperative in English first used when?

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages, and Linguistics (EHL)' started by Pertinax, May 21, 2012.

  1. Pertinax

    Pertinax Senior Member

    Queensland, Aust
    When was a third-person imperative first used in English (as in "Someone help him!")?
    It seems that Shakespeare sometimes used one:
    Then every soldier kill his prisoners. (Henry V)
    The eye wink at the hand. (Macbeth)

    Was a third-person imperative ever used in Old English?
    Could the present subjunctive be used in the same sense instead?
    Should the KJV "Thy kingdom come." (Matthew 6:10) be analysed in English as a subjunctive or as a third-person imperative?
  2. Pertinax

    Pertinax Senior Member

    Queensland, Aust
    In the absence of responses I have done a little digging myself. I am new to Old English, so any correction or confirmation would be welcome.

    I have not come across any documented inflection for a third-person imperative in O.E., but conceivably the second-person imperative might be used with a third-person subject. However, the following passage seems to discredit that notion. It is the O.E. translation of Matthew 6:9-13 (the Lord's Prayer) in the West Sussex dialect. It is a good example because the original Greek is rich in imperatives. In 11-13 we have four verbs which in the Greek are all second-person (aorist) imperatives (except for "lead", which is subjunctive due to "not"). The KJV translates them as:
    give us this day
    forgive us our debts
    lead us not into temptation
    deliver us from evil

    The O.E. translation also appears to use second-person imperatives (at least for the last three):
    syle (give) - not sure about the root of this one - is it a form of sellan?
    forgyf (forgive) - presumably a variant of forgiefan
    gelæd (lead) - from gelædan
    alys (release) - from alysan

    Now, in Mt 6:9-10 there are three verbs which in Greek are third-person (aorist) imperatives (in varying voices). The KJV translates them as plain-form verbs:
    Hallowed be thy name
    Thy kingdom come
    Thy will be done

    However, in the O.E. translation these all appear to be singular present subjunctives (with a nominative subject):
    Si þin nama gehalgod = be thy name hallowed: si = subjunctive of "be" (why not "sie"?)
    to becume þin rice = to come-to-be thy kingdom: becume = subjunctive of becuman
    gewurþe ðin willa = be-done thy will (a passive of weorthan? but at any rate with a subjunctive -e)

    Since the OE translation of 11-13 copied the Greek second-person imperative, it would be natural for the OE translation of 9-10 to copy the third-person imperative, if one was available in OE. The fact that the OE subjunctive was used instead suggests that no such verb-form was available, i.e. that OE had no third-person imperative or at least none suitable for this context. Edit: It has just struck me that the OE might have been a translation of the Latin Vulgate - which blows a bit a of a hole in my argument, since Latin used the subjunctive for third-person imperatives. Or were the early translators also Greek scholars?

    Given that phrases like "Thy kingdom come" were subjunctive, I assume that similar phrases (e.g. God be with you, God bless you) were originally OE subjunctives, and I see no reason to reclassify them when the decay of inflectional endings led to the present subjunctive having the same form as the imperative. In other words, I see no reason to reject their traditional classification as subjunctives.

    There is another reason why I think that such phrases should be analysed as subjunctives rather than imperatives: the pronoun "you" can be used in subjunctives with third-person subjects in a way that it cannot be in third-person imperatives. E.g. we can say:
    God bless you.
    but not:
    *Everyone help you. (intended as a plea for help for the particular person I am addressing)
    .. because in a third-person imperative the second person apparently takes on the same signification as the third person. E.g. we can equally well say:
    Everyone switch his (or their) phone off.
    Everyone switch your phone off.
    (In both cases here I take "everyone" as a subject, not a vocative.)

    I'm not sure now whether to read Shakespeare's:
    Then every soldier kill his prisoners. (Henry V)
    as a kind of jussive subjunctive instead of a third-person imperative. Perhaps the third-person imperative in its current form only developed as the main-clause subjunctive became fossilized.
    Last edited: May 26, 2012
  3. Pertinax

    Pertinax Senior Member

    Queensland, Aust
    After searching Google Books for third-person imperatives, I am ready to believe that they started being used only about 150 years ago.

    Searching for "No one move" and "Nobody move" returns large numbers of let-imperatives ("Let no one move!") before that time, but only one direct imperative:
    New Orleans Custom-house Officials: Fraudulent and Dishonest Acts of W.P. Kellogg, Collector.
    By William Pitt Kellogg (1867)

    The lieutenant of police of the second district said, "Boys, keep quiet and cool, and no one move before I give you orders." We did stand in the ranks, and he gave the order to the sergeant and corporal to keep the men as quiet as ...

    The earliest "Don't anyone" I could find was:
    Household Words: A weekly Journal (1881)
    She stood up, and mechanically gathering up her outdoor things, left the room, only just turning at the door to say, with some effort : "Don't anyone come into my room to-night, please. Tell father I am not well, and have gone to bed."

    I didn't find anything earlier that couldn't be construed as a subjunctive or vocative or some other such construction. I'd welcome evidence to the contrary.
  4. CapnPrep Senior Member

    In situations where there is no morphological distinction, the distinction between subjunctives and imperatives is going to be a little artificial/arbitrary. I'm happy to see that you avoid semantic arguments (e.g. impossibly subjective judgments about "subjunctive force" vs. "imperative force") in favor of more directly observable grammatical criteria. As is usually the case, however, the grammatical criteria do not line up nicely with one another to produce a clear-cut classification.

    Things are not straightforward even for the 2nd person imperative in English. While everyone would agree that Be good! and Don't leave me! are imperatives, I think there would disagreement about You shut up! and Don't you leave me!, depending on whether the absence of an overt subject is taken as a strict defining criterion for the 2nd person imperative.

    You have suggested an interesting possible criterion for identifying 3rd person imperatives in English: "in a third-person imperative the second person apparently takes on the same signification as the third person". In other words, in a 3rd person imperative, 2nd person pronouns can be used to refer to the 3rd person subject (Everyonei switch youri phone off). I would point out the following:
    • I don't believe this is possible in Greek.
    • This excludes non-personal subjects (since they cannot normally be addressed as "you/thou") and subjects that contain possessive your/thy (since they cannot normally be co-referent with "you/thou").
    • Even within the set of possible subjects, the English construction seems to be restricted to indefinite pronominal subjects (everyone, no one, someone, [not] anyone, etc.), at least for me. I don't accept Every soldieri kill youri prisoners (but maybe Shakespeare would have).
    If we choose such a narrow definition of 3rd person imperatives in English (and call everything else a subjunctive), then yes, 3rd person imperatives probably appeared rather recently in English, and they are very unlike Greek 3rd person imperatives.
  5. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    I also agree that there is little to be gained from postulating a jussive or imperative separate from the present subjunctive, especially as there is no trace of a morphological distinction. I think it is totally sufficient to describe those imperative or jussive senses as part of the usage range of the present subjunctive. Also in genetically closely related languages like German, these senses are expressed with the present subjunctive.
  6. Pertinax

    Pertinax Senior Member

    Queensland, Aust
    Thank you - I appreciate the perspective. I've dug out some earlier examples of the third-person imperative. I now see it as a totally different construction from the traditional subjunctive.

    It's not just in Henry V that Shakespeare uses it, but also, for example, in:
    Romeo and Juliet
    every man betake him to his legs
    every one prepare To follow this fair corse unto her grave
    Love's Labour's Lost
    every one give ear
    Then homeward every man attach the hand Of his fair mistress
    A Midsummer Night's Dream
    every man look o'er his part

    It also crops up in books published since then.
    I have the sense that it's uncommon in print not because it's that uncommon in speech, but because it is considered informal - and therefore often edited into a let-imperative. These examples slipped through:
    1866: "Everybody do his own work, and everybody leave everybody else alone" - that was his formula. (William Brighty Rands)
    1787: Every one take care of one — every one keep his matters right, and the commonwealth does well enough, I warrant you. (Isaiah Thomas)
    1711: Every one take heed how he standeth lest he fall (John Marten)
    1707: Come every one, take his Place provided. (John Lacy)
    1676: Every one take your possessions of this gospel of salvation. (George Fox - a possible vocative)

    There are also examples before Shakespeare. E.g., it occurs in the Winchester manuscript of Malory's "Morte d'Arthur":
    1470: 'Now every man take kepe to his felow!' seyde sir Launcelot. And so they trotted on togydyrs.
    Unsurprisingly this was edited in 1816 to a let-imperative:
    1816: Now let every man take heed to his fellow, said Sir Launcelot.
    ... though the "let" was deleted in an 1868 edition.

    The oldest examples that I've found are from the Wycliffe Bible. E.g.:
    ~1384: Ech man dwelle at him silf, noon go out of his place in the seuenthe dai.
    Compare the KJV:
    1611: Abide yee euery man in his place: let no man goe out of his place on the seuenth day.
    The KJV translation contains a hybrid second-third person imperative and a let-imperative, while the Wycliffe translation contains two third-person imperatives, including a rare example of "no one" as subject. This is the more impressive because Hebrew itself has only a second-person imperative, which suggests that the translation into the third person had an idiomatic attraction powerful enough to overcome Wycliffe's strong preference for a very literal translation.

    There are many similar examples in the Old Testament. In this interesting example from Jeremiah 25:5, subsequent second-person and third-person pronouns are co-mingled:
    KJV (1611): Turne yee againe now euery one from his euill way, and from the euil of your doings
    Geneva Bible (1599): Turne againe now euery one from his euill way, and from the wickednes of your inuentions
    Coverdale Bible (1535): Turne agayne euery man from his euell waye, & from youre wicked ymaginacions
    Wycliffe Bible (~1384): Turne ye ayen, ech man fro his yuel weie, and fro youre worste thouytis

    This foreshadows - and perhaps partly explains - the present-day choice of second or third person pronouns in third-person imperatives. It also shows that the construction is radically different from the traditional subjunctive, such as is found in the Lord's Prayer.

    Perhaps the third-person imperative evolved out of a second-person imperative:
    Work hard, every man at what he does best. -> Everyone work hard at what he does best.
    Work hard, everyone -> Everyone work hard. (promotion of vocative to subject)
    That seems more likely than that it evolved from the subjunctive, or even from an infinitive of the form:
    1450: Eueriche man to brynge with hym his wif. (OED: Merlin)
    .. by elision of "to". Otherwise, why should the second and third persons become interchangeable in many cases?

    Third-person imperatives which take a non-personal subject:
    Cars proceed slowly past road works.
    Steep descent: Trucks engage low gear.
    All vehicles proceed with caution.
    .. cannot, as CapnPrep points out, use a second-person pronoun. However, I think it true that if a second-person pronoun can be used in an imperative at all, then it is coreferential with a third-person equivalent. Another characteristic of third-person imperatives is (I think) that the subject can be omitted without making the sentence ungrammatical. Perhaps these two properties together are sufficient to distinguish between subjunctives and imperatives in English.

    I think I would accept more than just "indefinite pronominal" subjects. E.g.:
    Back row pay attention.
    Last one out turn the lights off.
    Passengers with tickets go to their seats, passengers without come to the desk. (Potsdam 1996)
    Jane hang up her coat, Michael put away his lunch box, and Rebecca pick up the toys. (ditto)
    Last edited: May 29, 2012
  7. CapnPrep Senior Member

    I think this only works insofar as the sentence can be transformed into a 2nd person imperative. The result is ungrammatical in cases like Betake him to his legs or Do his own work.

    A few comments about your last examples:
    Back row and last one out might better be analyzed as vocatives, not 3rd person subjects. This would explain why they are able to appear without a determiner, and why the examples sound worse (at least to me) if a determiner is added. The last example is only marginally possible for me because of the enumeration, which suggests to me that each individual clause is ungrammatical, but the structure as a whole becomes acceptable thanks to some sort of "syntactic accommodation" on the part of the listener. The "passengers" example is convincing.
  8. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    You mustn't confuse the very restrictive and highly formalized use of the the subjunctive in Late Modern English with its "traditional" use in Old, Middle and Early Modern English. In Elizabethan English, the use of the subjunctive was still as free as in German expressing the Modus Irrealis in all its shades, including imperative, jussive, cohortative, obtative, hypothetical and conditional meanings. You might want to read Onions, Modern English Syntax, 147 on the history of the subjunctive in English. You quoted from that book in another thread, so I know you are familiar with it.

    It might also be useful for you to read about German grammar, preferably not a recent beginner's textbook concentrating on current colloquial use, as the German Konjunktiv has been experiencing some decay is recent decades. If you want, I can search for some useful textbooks in English.
    Last edited: May 29, 2012
  9. Pertinax

    Pertinax Senior Member

    Queensland, Aust
    Ah, yes. :thumbsup:
    I'm not sure about the "back row", but "Last one out turn the lights off" could be a sign hanging by the door - with no one around specifically to "invoke". Would you accept these:
    Back row raise their right hands.
    Last one out shut the door behind him.

    When I started the thread, I was not sure why phrases like "God save the Queen" or "Thy kingdom come" or Onions' Shakespearean example "My name be blotted from the book of life" should not be analysed grammatically as third-person imperatives.
    By post #2 I decided that there was no useful way to distinguish them from other subjunctives.
    By post #6 I was ready to see traditional subjunctives on the one hand, and third-person imperatives worthy of the name on the other hand, as belonging to entirely different lineages. I think we are of the same mind, but can you clarify that you see all my examples in #6 as imperatives? I see constructions like Wycliffe's (1384) "Each man stay in his own home: no one go out of his place on the seventh day." as purely imperative, and I would imagine that if it has any roots in Old English then it would have been rendered with an imperative inflection (if only as: Stay, each man in his own home: go not out, anyone from his place on the seventh day) rather than a subjunctive one.

    I think Onions is excellent - providing a perspective that modern grammars lack. I'm sorry to say that I know nothing about German, and if you can recommend a good grammatical overview then I would devour it with relish. :)
  10. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    What I tried to explained to you is that the scope of the subjunctive was much to broad and its use much to free to to provide space for such "hair-splitting" distinctions. Onions says (loc. cit.): ... its use was very free, and we find it in all kinds of subordinate clauses where the verb does not necessarily imply fact. In simple sentences and main clauses of complex sentences there was not restriction upon its use, whereas now we employ it only in certain kinds of clauses and certain stereotypes expressions.

    To give you another example: In modern usage there is a sharp distinction between hypothetical (expressed by the past subjunctive) and conditional (expressed by would + bare infinitive): If he were as prince then his wife would be a princess. Using the subjunctive to express the conditional would be ungrammatical: If he were as prince then his wife *were a princess. Elizabethan English did not know such restrictions: If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well (Macbeth).

    I will come back to you.
  11. Pertinax

    Pertinax Senior Member

    Queensland, Aust
    Onions did, however, make a sharp distinction between main-clause subjunctives and second-person imperatives. This distinction stretches right back to the O.E. inflectional endings. Modern grammars, too, such as Huddleston & Pullum 2002, distinguish the subjunctive use of the plain-form verb in main clauses from its imperative use.

    Where Onions 1912 differs from H&P 2002 is that he does not recognise third-person imperatives (excluding let-imperatives). I'm not sure why - perhaps he viewed them as vocatives. Yet it seems to me that third-person imperatives (as understood by H&P 2002) should be classified conceptually and historically as imperatives. To put them in the same class as subjunctives in Elizabethan times seems to me like putting second-person imperatives in that same class. Or perhaps I misunderstand you - are you saying that it is hair-splitting to distinguish all main-clause uses of the plain-form verb in that era - subjunctives and second-person imperatives included? As far as I understand that was never Onions' contention.
  12. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    Yes, second-person imperatives were in English, and in other Germanic languages still are, morphologically distinct from the subjunctive. Example: English to eat; Old English second singular present subjunctive vs. singular imperative: itis vs. et; Modern German: essest vs. iss. So, I am quite used to drawing the distinction in my own mother-tongue. But a morphologically distinct imperative only ever exists in second person singular & plural and only in present tense; Old English and early Old High German also knew a separate first person plural imperative which later merged with the subjunctive.

    But there never was an attested third person jussive or imperative form. This meaning has always been represented by the present subjunctive. You are of course free to call the imperative/jussive uses of the subjunctive a separate mood which just happens to be morphologically indistinguishable from the subjunctive. Like all definitions, grammatical classifications are never true or false but only more or less useful. But I would advise against it because the historical range of uses of the present subjunctive is so wide that it can easily include imperative meanings. Also, there is no historical comparison within the Germanic language family which could serve as a benchmark for distinguishing between these two moods. Therefore you would have to introduce separation criteria when postulating a separate third person imperative which would always carry the unpleasant smell of arbitrariness.

    I, therefore, much prefer a classification system which sticks more closely to attested forms where the third person present subjunctive has different meanings, among them imperative and jussive ones.
    Last edited: May 31, 2012
  13. CapnPrep Senior Member

    The historical/comparative considerations are worth noting, but the suggestion seems to be that a 3rd person imperative has developed as an innovation in English, in which case the synchronic facts within English must take precedence. But I still don't see any generally applicable (set of) grammatical criteria for distinguishing imperatives from (other) main clause subjunctives, either for older stages of English or for present-day English.

    For me there is a clear difference, however, between two types of "imperative" examples, involving negation:
    • Everyone go to their/your seats. → Don't everyone go to their/your seats.
    • Passengers with tickets go their/your seats. → *Don't passengers with tickets go to their/your seats.
  14. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    I wonder where you got that from. These uses can be traced back to OE and OHG and should therefore be at least Common West Germanic, if not Common Germanic in origin.

    In German the equivalent sentence (the sounding a bit 19th century today) is Ein jeder gehe zu seinem Platz using the subjunctive. And that is also not an innovation.
    Last edited: May 30, 2012
  15. Pertinax

    Pertinax Senior Member

    Queensland, Aust
    Rodney Huddleston, the sole author of Ch 10 of the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, does distinguish between "third-person imperatives" (pp927-928) and fossilized third-person "optative subjunctives" (p944) (his terms). Unfortunately he does not define grammatical criteria for the distinction, and that was what originally prompted this thread. I'm not convinced that the distinction is a will o' the wisp, or merely semantic; I do see a number of syntactic peculiarities of third-person imperatives (in the narrow CGEL sense) which distinguishes them from jussive-force subjunctives, but with CapnPrep I want to see them formulated definitively.

    The third-person imperative is also explored here (1996, 2003):
    One peculiarity noted here is that they don't (or at best marginally) accept a personal pronoun he/she/it/them as subject.

    Rejecting the distinction presumably implies that a sentence such as:
    Everyone go to your seats.
    can be analysed in two equally valid ways: either as a second-person imperative with vocative "everyone", or as a third-person subjunctive with jussive force. If the latter, it is disconcertingly unique, I think, in being the only kind of example in which the main-clause subjunctive is still productive.
  16. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    I think sometimes the "vocative" or "subject" serves multiple purposes at once:

    You silly ass. Go to your seat. [Assuming some sort of linking verb. The two sentences are independent.]
    Now you come here this instant. [Grabbing "your" attention.]
    Come here you. [Insulting "you".]

    All of you with tickets go to your seats. [Vocative and subject.]
    You guys with tickets go to your seats. [Vocative and subject.]
    Don't all of you get up at once. [If all of you get up at once, someone will have disobeyed me. If possible, collectively decide who is to get up first.]
    Don't everybody get up at once. [Ditto.]

    Somebody! Help me! [Vocative]
    Somebody help me! [Vocative and subject, like "Father forgive them."]
    Help me somebody! [Vocative and subject, like "Forgive me Father."]
    Help me anybody! [Desperate to indicate I'm not being picky.]
    Anybody help me!:cross:

    Don't move anybody. [Again indicating I'm not being exclusive.]
    Anybody don't move!:cross:

    Don't anybody move! [Vocative as a sort of modifier?]
    Nobody move! [?]
    Don't nobody move! [dialect]
    Move nobody!:cross:

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