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There was another sentence that I wasn't sure about: "Rather, O blessed one, give you me boldness to abide within the harmless laws of peace, avoiding strife and hatred and the violent fiends of death." Is it okay to say "give you me"? Does that phrase mean give me something that is from you?

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3 Answers

To look at it from the opposite direction, what is the subject of the following sentences?

Give me boldness.

Please take a seat.

In both cases the subject is the person or people asked to perform the action, that is the person or people addressed. In other words, in both cases it is "you".

This is the case of almost all imperative sentences. There are exceptions of which the most common is probably the first person plural and includes the addressee in that subject:

Let's [Let us] go out for dinner.

With rarer third-person cases:

Let them do it if they want to.

Even here though, because they are still a command or request to the addressee, we can rephrase them as having a second-person subject:

You, let us go out for dinner.

You, let them do it if they want to.

(Because English uses the verb to let for the first-person and third-person in the imperative mood, and an implied you is the subject of that let so you could argue it either way).

We might also use a noun or noun phrase for the second-person to point out who is addressed:

John close the door please.

You by the door close it please.

This in itself points to one reason why an explicit you isn't as much used today as before. Up until part-way through the Modern English period, English had singular-only and plural-only second person pronouns, now almost only used poetically.* So at that time, the following added clarity:

Thou go away now.

Ye go away now.

The first addressed one person, the second several. This though is quite definitely archaic and not used today.

Now, the explicit you subject isn't strictly archaic. On the one hand, it could be left out all the way back to Old English, and on the other it is sometimes still used.

The most common use is for emphasis. "Don't you touch this" would be seen as stronger than "Don't touch this", almost aggressively so (I compare it to the way parents might use a child's full name when that child is in trouble).

The other use is when the person addressed is being differentiated from someone else, "Don't you eat that, I made it especially for Paul". Here the fact that you are not Paul is being underlined.

It is though much less often used that it was before, and the use in the quote in the question would probably not be made today.

Indeed, the fact that a remaining use is for emphasis gives us an even stronger reason not to use it normally—people may not see it as old fashioned, but as adding a strong emphasis where it doesn't belong, possibly to the point of being rude.


Sorry, I focused purely on the use of an explicit you and didn't address the word order. This is also a mostly archaic feature, that likewise does have a modern-day use, but much rarer.

English generally uses the order subject-verb-object, with an exception of placing the verb before the subject in some interrogative forms, as in "Are you going?" and "Do I have to?"

It was once common to use verb-subject-object with the imperative, as per this example "give you me". It may be notable that when it was more common in England, everyone considered educated had some fluency in Latin, and in the Celtic countries, the influence of the native languages there (all of which have a verb-subject order) was stronger. That's just a conjecture though.

We still see it in the idiom, "believe you me".

Other formations which break from that are examples of hyperbaton. Hyperbaton is where we deliberately put words in an unexpected order for effect. It is relatively rare in English because most possibilities are nonsense and all are strange. (In languages where words are more heavily inflected, you have greater freedom to position words according to the effect you want).

Since hyperbaton does still happen in present-day English, such formations are not entirely archaic. However, hyperbaton is very rare. It would only be used in poetry or perhaps oration. Hyperbaton is used for emphasis, but unlike the sort of emphasis we may add in the heat of a moment (as per the examples of explicit you given above, uses of expletives and so on), but a very poetic use that works precisely because it unusual and non-standard.

The opening of the Aenid is sometimes translated:

I sing of arms and of a man.

Which is a straightforward English structure. It is sometimes also translated:

Of a man and arms I sing

Or:

Of arms and the man sing I

These are not standard English structure, and this makes it stand out strongly by forcing us to put more effort into interpreting it.

In the sort of poetry or oration to which it is suited, it can still sound overly high-blown if you don't pull it off well.

If you were to talk like that in everyday life you would sound like an megalomaniac villain from a comic book!

*Some dialects retain ye while some add youse or y'all, but these are not considered standard English.

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The expression 'VERB you me' appears to have declined from start of the 19C, rapidly in AmE and rather reluctantly in BrE.
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It however, continues unabated in English fiction worldwide.
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Such that the overall prevalence in English is still substantial.
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Leading to the possible inference that the expression is not favored in formal writing either in AmE or BrE, but only appears in fiction, which is generally less conformist than creative, across world writing in general.

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Unfortunately, it would be much harder to do something to demonstrate that other formations with explicit you in the imperative has likewise fell. I would certainly expect so (as per my answer) but I don't know of any way to distinguish imperative "you VERB me" or "you VERB" from a statement about what the persona addressed does or has done. –  Jon Hanna Jan 28 '13 at 10:39
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Give you me boldness is phrased archaically; it is an imperative verb and so, according to modern usage, the subject should be left out completely. You will most likely be understood if you include the you in the middle there, but it is not standard anymore and will probably make people think you talk funny.

(As for meaning, there is no difference between Give you me boldness and Give me boldness.)

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Right, so the 'you' doesn't mean 'from you' because he could be asking 'give me boldness from people' instead of 'give me boldness straight from you'. –  user36521 Jan 27 '13 at 7:01
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At the time of writing that sentence, it was correct, and the pronoun was probably required. Only later has the elision come to be mainstream. –  Kris Jan 27 '13 at 7:45
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@Kris you could elide the second person pronoun from an imperative statement all the way back to Old English, so it was never required and always mainstream. The degree of emphasis or clarification that we would want before using it today has though increased greatly. –  Jon Hanna Jan 27 '13 at 12:08
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From Shakespeare's Measure for Measure - Why give you me this shame?. Definitely an archaic form today. –  FumbleFingers Jan 27 '13 at 16:14
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@FumbleFingers Wahida Clark, "Payback is a Mutha", 2009 p 295. Daniel Washington, "The Human Touch" in "We Are the President: Maid in America", 2011 p 77, Don Trembath, "Rooster", 2005 p 175, Ann Hood, "How I Saved My Father's Life (and Ruined Everything Else)" 2010, p12. Erin Healy, "Never Let You Go" 2010, are all quite recent (not necessarily as recent as the dates of the editions, but still recent). We don't use it anywhere near as much as we did, and wouldn't as Shakespeare did there, but explicit you is definitely a contemporary form. –  Jon Hanna Jan 28 '13 at 9:09
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