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I understand the phrase "believe you me" to be an emphatic version of "believe me" but how did it come to be? Is it a poor translation into English?

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I have a sneaking suspicion it is some sort of corruption of between you and me –  Matt Эллен Apr 11 '11 at 21:17
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@Matt Ellen Interesting! –  ChrisO Apr 12 '11 at 3:42
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+1 for the title. :) –  Erik B Apr 12 '11 at 12:47

3 Answers 3

up vote 67 down vote accepted

The phrase "Believe you me" copies the archaic word order one finds in Early Modern English for a marked imperative. Typical examples are from King James version of the Bible (both testaments).

See e.g. Book of Matthew 14:16

They need not depart; give ye them to eat.

and in a few common phrases such as "mind you" (but with a slight nuance) for example

Not that I would have accepted her offer, mind you!

This is also very common in Shakespeare.

Romeo and Juliet, Act 3, Scene 4, Lord Capulet speaking:

And bid her, mark you me, on Wednesday next--

[...]

Well get you gone: o' Thursday be it, then.

In the interrogative voice, it takes an accusing turn.

As you like it, Act 5, Scene 2, Phebe speaking:

If this be so, why blame you me to love you?

and my favorite, Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 2, Rosencrantz speaking:

Take you me for a sponge, my lord?

It seems "Believe you me" is a relatively recent recreation of this syntax if one believes my copy of the OED.

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This word order is preserved in other Germanic languages also, where it is not archaic. For example "Glauben Sie mir" (Believe you me) is standard German. –  Adam Smith Apr 12 '11 at 2:27
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Possibly also in Welsh, if "look you" is anthing to go by. –  mgb Apr 12 '11 at 4:20
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In spanish this expression exist and is called Imperative mode. The difference is that the pronouns are invisible (how do you say tácito??) and the verbal form goes before the invisible pronoun. Ex: believe (you) / cree (tú). If you follow the line, believe me you is creeme tú. That's imperative mode for english WOW!!! I thought english had fewer verbal modes than spanish, it appears that they're just buried. –  Billeeb Apr 12 '11 at 14:35
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@ogerard: Excellent answer! –  FumbleFingers Apr 12 '11 at 14:39
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@Billeeb: the imperative (commanding) conjugation exists in English as well, it's simply usually explicitly stated or implied by tone or context, due to the influences from Germanic languages. All Romance languages have an imperative. In Latin it would be "crede me", but they had quite a few words for believe/trust/etc. so it could also be "puta me" or "confide me" or a half dozen others. –  Phoenix Apr 12 '11 at 19:27

Wiktionary has references from the 1840s and 1870s so this is old enough to register as a well-established idiom. I had some trouble finding other uses of "[verb] you me" until a blog pointed out the King James Bible:

For thus saith the Lord unto the house of Israel, Seek ye me, and ye shall live

Using Verb-Subject-Object order is "an archaic form used for imperatives." The blog also found references from earlier than those on Wiktionary and goes on to hypothesize (emphasize added):

The interesting observation is, at first glance, that the majority of these early examples come from Irish publications [...]. A hypothesis: perhaps it isn't a relic of the archaic English VSO construct, but arrived by a different route. Irish Gaelic is a VSO language; maybe its sentence pattern influenced Irish English? A quick Google suggests "Believe you me" might correspond to the Irish phrase "Creid uaim é!" = "Take it from me!" (literally, "believe from-me it").

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+1 for explaning "Using Verb-Subject-Object order is an archaic form used for imperatives." The other answers don't explain why the subject appears after the verb –  Louis Rhys Apr 12 '11 at 2:03

It's real English.

It's based on archaic English grammar, e.g., phrases like "Hear ye me" in the King James Bible.

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For instance: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God" (Matthew 6:33, sim. Luke 12:31) "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations" (Matthew 28:19) "And he went out to meet Asa, and said unto him, Hear ye me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin" (2 Chronicles 15:2). Plus many others. –  psmears Apr 11 '11 at 21:52
    
It looks like it might be based on archaic English grammar, but is there any evidence that it is? –  Kosmonaut Apr 13 '11 at 17:26
    
I suppose it depend son what you count as archaic, VSO is pretty common in the KJB which presumably means that sort of language was around then - at least for rhetorical use –  mgb Apr 13 '11 at 17:35

protected by RegDwigнt Jun 5 '12 at 9:48

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