Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Is the construction 'Let + subject + verb' considered as an order/imperative for the third person:

Let every man count his days

when it is intended to mean 'must'/'is ordered to'?

share|improve this question
    
possible duplicate of How is the jussive mood rendered in English? –  kiamlaluno Mar 24 '11 at 18:36
    
2 votes among 10 answers. Tough crowd. :) –  Jason Orendorff Mar 25 '11 at 21:44

10 Answers 10

up vote 2 down vote accepted

"Let" can introduce an imperative phrase, but it doesn't have to. Third person is a red herring here; "Let us go forth in peace" at the end of Anglican communions has exactly the same force of command. Exactly how strong an imperative it is depends very much on the context, though. It's not terribly strong in either your example or mine, but "Let my people go!" is a different kettle of fish entirely.

If I recall correctly, "Let + verb" is the standard way of translating subjunctive "imperatives" from Latin.

share|improve this answer

"Let" can be used in the imperative mood for the following purposes:

A command insisting someone allow something to happen

Let him go!

A polite way of making or responding to a suggestion

Shall we go? ... Yes, let's.

A polite way of offering help

Here, let me.

Expressing a strong desire for something to happen or be the case

Let him be all right.

Expressing defiance or a challenge

If he wants to walk out, well, let him!

Expressing an assumption upon which a theory or calculation is based

Let A and B stand for X and Y, respectively

These are all in imperatives, though only the first would actually be an order/command (and maybe the fifth). The fourth would be the one you're looking for, and it is in the imperative mood (though not necessarily an order/command).

Source: New Oxford American Dictionary

share|improve this answer

I read it as an exhortation rather than as an order. But I don't know the jussive subjunctive, so let us now go look that up...

share|improve this answer

Unless it is followed by some indication of consequence or ultimatum, I would not understand it to mean "must" or "is ordered to." For example

Let every man count his days, lest he become too proud.

vs.

Let every man count his days, for every day is a treasure.

In the first example, it sounds as though every man must count his days, because some consequence (becoming too proud) will fall him if he doesn't. In the second, it is not an order or imperative, because there is no consequence.

share|improve this answer
    
IF a teacher said: –  nicholas ainsworth Mar 24 '11 at 18:33
    
If a teacher said at the beginning of an exam: 'Let every student take their pen and begin writing.' would that not be an order / imperative? –  nicholas ainsworth Mar 24 '11 at 18:34
2  
It might be imperative contextually, but I don't believe that it is imperative grammatically. –  xdumaine Mar 24 '11 at 18:42

That's a tough one, and I think would depend on cultural background. I'd feel rather awkward saying that, but if I put my religious hat on, it seems rather like a prayer. Of course it is rather forward to be directing an imperative at a deity.

share|improve this answer

I think that that construction does form an imperative, but it is more lax than a traditional construction. For example, consider:

Let us rejoice!

vs

Rejoice!

In the former case, I wouldn't be worried if I decided to refrain from festivities. But in the latter case, I might be a little concerned.

I see a subtle difference between the two, but I don't know if that goes for everyone.

share|improve this answer

I believe that is actually an example of the subjective mood, specifically the jussive subjunctive, which is a form of command.

Not the same thing as the imperative, though.

share|improve this answer

I suggest it means I suggest or It is a good idea

Let every man count his days

It is a good idea that every man counts his days or Every man should count his days

share|improve this answer

It's a tricky one for English, but when you're translating a third person imperative from Latin or Ancient Greek, that's how we do it, so I would say that's the closest thing we have to it.

share|improve this answer

Grammatically, I think Let every man count his days is the same whether it is intended in the allow sense or the exhorting sense. It is grammatically like Make every man count his days or Help every man count his days. Of course the meaning is very different.

The main clause is imperative, and as usual with imperative clauses, its subject is omitted: Let/Make/Help [direct object] [bare infinitive].

So to answer your question, I wouldn't call this “an imperative for the third person” in any grammatical sense. Semantically, perhaps. Grammatically, that would mean the subject was third-person, and here there is no subject.

However, some imperative clauses do have subjects, and the subject can be third-person:

You stay put until the ambulance comes. (second-person subject)

Heaven help us all. (third-person subject)

Everybody chill! (third-person subject)

You could almost interpret these as ordinary subjectless imperatives with a direct-address tacked on the front, but in that case, I would expect the direct-address comma to be almost mandatory, and instead it makes all these sentences much worse: You, stay put. Heaven, help us all. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language astutely points out that Nobody move is grammatical while Nobody, move is nonsense.

share|improve this answer
    
Um, last I checked "us" is 2nd person plural... –  Marthaª Mar 25 '11 at 22:27
    
Heaven is third-person, as is everybody, grammatically speaking. (Both take third-person singular present-tense verbs: heaven is, everybody is, you are, we are.) –  Jason Orendorff Mar 26 '11 at 0:22

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.