till death do (make?) us part

Discussion in 'English Only' started by sisuer, Jun 10, 2012.

  1. sisuer Member

    China
    Chinese
    Hi all,
    I'm wondering if "till death do us part" means "till death (should) make us part"?
    And if so, do you happen to know any other expressions that use the word "do" in a similar way (that is, "do somebody do something...")?

    Thank you very much!

    (A previous thread talks about variations of "till death do us part". You might want to view it:http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=2399752)
     
  2. owlman5

    owlman5 Senior Member

    Colorado
    English-US
    I agree with your idea about what "till death do us part" means.

    I also hear "Somebody did me wrong" from time to time. That means that somebody did a bad thing to me.
     
  3. Cagey post mod (English Only / Latin)

    California
    English - US
    I think "till death do us part" is an inverted from of "till death does part us". I would call it an object-verb inversion, because it reverses the usual order of an English sentence which puts the object after the verb.

    Here is another thread on the topic, with a different example: Stone walls do not a prison make [verb/object inversion]
     
  4. se16teddy

    se16teddy Senior Member

    London but from Yorkshire
    English - England
    "Do" does not mean "make" here. It is the the same do as in death does not part us, but here (early modern English) used in a positive, and not a negative or interrogative, context.

    Observe also that do is in the subjunctive here (death do and not death does or death doth). Not sure whether the subjunctive was used automatically after till at the time of writing, but I guess that the subjunctive was rather used to suggest the remoteness of the parting.
     
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2012
  5. owlman5

    owlman5 Senior Member

    Colorado
    English-US
    This thread interests me because three members, all fluent English-speakers, seem to find something different in the OP to respond to. I answered, or meant to, that if death does part us, then death does make us part. Then I attempted to come up with an answer for the "do somebody do something" question. Cagey focused on the inversion. Teddy focused on the idea that "do" and "make" mean different things. I hope that Sisuer returns soon to clarify what answer the OP seeks.
     
  6. mplsray Senior Member

    According to Words, Meaning and Vocabulary: An Introduction to Modern English Lexicology by Howard Jackson and Etienne Zé Amvela, "do part" was originally depart, which at the time meant in this context "separate."

    The Oxford English Dictionary shows this as an obsolete meaning of depart:
    It seems to me that I have read somewhere that this (depart instead of departs [departeth?] ​in the older version) represented a particular use of the subjunctive in Middle English which does not occur to Modern English, but at the moment I cannot find the grammatical details. (That is, the wedding expression is not merely a frozen subjunctive, but an example of a whole class of disappeared subjunctives.)

    Addition: I should add that there was no question about death separating the wedded couple in time. The subjunctive in this case did not involve such a doubt, as is sometimes (oddly, when you think of it) proposed in discussions of the use of the subjunctive in the phrase in question.
     
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2012
  7. Keith Bradford

    Keith Bradford Senior Member

    Brittany, NW France
    English (Midlands UK)
    The short answer is that this is a cliché. It is an extract from the Prayer Book (marriage service) and so is always quoted in that form, or in the form "till death us do part" (which was also the title of a BBC television comedy series in the 1960s and 70s); it has nothing to do with making someone do something.

    If it were modern English, we would say "until death parts us" or "until death separates us".
     
  8. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    UK
    English - England
    I opened Shakespeare’s Macbeth at random and glanced through:

    If you see 3, if it were entirely in the subjunctive, you would expect that “Though you untie the winds and let them fight” might have the do form also, but it does not. Example 2 could not be in the subjunctive as the speaker knows for certain what they think. Example 1 does not have an element of uncertainty about it. Thus I think we can discard the idea it might be the subjunctive.

    Rather it is the emphatic. (Bear in mind the source and the emphasis that Christianity has on death.)

    “We do tell them to be careful but they never listen.”
    “The dog does bury his bones but he forgets where they are.”
    “They do make a lot of noise.”

    To the Modern English ear, the only strange thing about “Till Death Do Us Part" or "Till Death Us Do Part1 (which is a certainty) is the [Subject - periphrastic verb - object - verb] / [Subject –object - periphrastic verb - verb] when we would expect [Subject verb object.]

    As in:
    “We do them tell to be careful but they never listen.”
    “The dog does his bones bury but he forgets where they are.”
    “They do a lot of noise make.”


    1 Both versions are found
     
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2012
  9. owlman5

    owlman5 Senior Member

    Colorado
    English-US
    Hello, Sisuer. Your thread seems to have aroused great interest among our members.

    But I'm confused. Do any of these answers tell you what you want to know? I'm not sure that people understand exactly what your question is.
     
  10. Keith Bradford

    Keith Bradford Senior Member

    Brittany, NW France
    English (Midlands UK)

    I think that answers the question...
     
  11. owlman5

    owlman5 Senior Member

    Colorado
    English-US
    I hope Sisuer shares your thoughts. :)
     
  12. Pertinax

    Pertinax Senior Member

    Queensland, Aust
    BrE->AuE
    For a prospective event "till" took a verb in the present subjunctive until fairly recently, about 1800-1900. Google Books has numerous examples of "till he depart" in various contexts in that period. Onions' Modern English Syntax (1904) also mentions it.

    The 1550 Book of Common Prayer read "till death us departe". The "-e" has no significance as an inflection - it was a standard ending for the plain-form verb.

    In 1661 a commission recommended that the words be changed to "till death us do part" since the original meaning of "depart" had become obsolete. Again "do" was present subjective, and its role was merely emphatic.

    The form "do us part" can be found occasionally as early as 1703. (The Scottish Prayer Book of 1637 has "till death do us depart"). Since about 1900 it has become quite popular, perhaps because the archaic object-verb inversion was causing increasing confusion. I don't know why the US Prayer Book adopted it in 1979. Why not go the whole hog and use "till death do part us"? Perhaps it was just responding to widespread US misconception. Perhaps it was indeed intended that it be understood as Owlman suggests (do = make), but if that is the case it seems odd that they did not modernize the archaic subjunctive as well.
     
  13. sisuer Member

    China
    Chinese
    Sorry for the confusion. I'm just not sure what's with the "do" in the phrase. I thought it was a verb, like "make", hence the strange "do sb. do sth." expression.
     
  14. owlman5

    owlman5 Senior Member

    Colorado
    English-US
    Thank you, Sisuer. If I understand the other posts correctly, I think that everybody agrees that "do" is a verb. You'll find a wealth of material to think about in here. :)
     
  15. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    UK
    English - England
    It is more-or-less the same "do" as in "They do go to school!" or "Criminals do steal things!" It does not change the meaning or tense of the main verb (go and steal), it simply emphasises that verb.
     
  16. sisuer Member

    China
    Chinese
    Yes, but you all suggest that it's an auxiliary verb, while I understood it to be a main verb, as in PaulQ's words:)
     
  17. sisuer Member

    China
    Chinese
    So according to your answers, it was originally "till death us departe", later changed into "till death us do part", and then "till death do us part". Very interesting !
     
  18. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    The emphatic do emphasizes that death will indeed part us, and the form is subjunctive because we don't know when.
     
  19. GreenWhiteBlue

    GreenWhiteBlue Senior Member

    The City of New York
    USA - English
    As noted earlier, the use of the subjunctive after "till" was common in the past; in the English of today, one might expect "Until death does part us." One might compare the following verses from the Authorized Version/King James Version translation of the Bible, from 1611:
    For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come. (1 Cor. 11)
    Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the LORD, till he come and rain righteousness upon you. (Hos. 10:12)
     

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