'witness' the number of letters ....

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Baltic Sea

Hello everybody!

The programme aroused strong feelings - witness the number of letters received.

What does the verb witness mean - show or see (check)?

Thank you. The source: http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/witness_5

​<dictionary entry quoted>
to show or give proof of somethingThis year's charity ball was the most successful one ever, as witnessedby the number of tickets sold.
The programme aroused strong feelings - witness the number of letters received.
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  • DocPenfro

    Senior Member
    English - British
    It means that "the number of letters received" could be used as evidence to support the proposition that "the programme aroused strong feelings". The writer is inviting his (presumed) audience to see with their own eyes (in a metaphorical rather than a literal sense) this evidence.


    Senior Member
    English - English
    It isn't well explained in the entry, is it? Witness used like that does simply mean look at, or see, as in a set of instructions. It usually indicates a semi-scientific tone, as above, where a conclusion has been drawn from numerical data.


    Senior Member
    English - British
    As a matter of fact, the Cambridge dictionary entry cited above is rather laconic, but it is correct. 'Witness' does mean 'show'.

    The point is that 'witness' here is a third person imperative: so that 'witness the number of letters received' means 'let the number of letters show [the truth]'.

    In the same way, 'God save the Queen' means 'let God save the Queen'. It is not a second person imperative (which would mean: 'God! Save the Queen!' The third person imperative is more polite than that).


    New Member
    A witness is someone who has, who claims to have, or is thought by someone with authority to compel testimony to have, knowledge relevant to an event or other matter of interest.


    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I've always just seen it in scrotgrot's sense: 'look at', and have found this use only in more academic style texts. (I find it slightly pompous sounding.) DocPenfro provides the more literal reading.

    Wandle, I am not sure I understand 'third person imperative'. I've always seen 'God save the Queen' as an instance of the subjunctive to indicate a wish (May God save the Queen). You can use this even if there is no agent mentioned eg Long live the King! = May the King live long.
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    Senior Member
    I see "witness" here as a bombastic second-person imperative meaning "look at" or "see" (as in "see the above").

    I wouldn't rule out interpreting "God save the Queen" as a third-person imperative (more as a prayer than a wish) instead of a present subjunctive, but I don't read "witness" that way here - though it's an interesting suggestion.


    Senior Member
    English - British
    Some languages distinguish the third person imperative by a separate form, and also distinguish the imperative from the subjunctive.
    English does not have separate forms for these meanings, so it can be argued that these instances are third person subjunctives. That gives the meaning: 'May the number of letters show...', and 'May God save the Queen'.
    This meaning, where the subjunctive is really expressing a command, is equivalent to 'Let ... show' or 'Let ... save', so the difference is not palpable.

    The verb 'to witness' means 'to bear witness', i.e. 'to testify', 'to give evidence'. I do not see how this can be turned into 'see', or 'check'. It represents the other side of the coin.

    There are other expressions with 'to witness'. In sayings such as 'God be my witness' we have clearly either a third person imperative or a jussive subjunctive, and this I believe is the paradigm for 'witness the number of letters' and similar examples.
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