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.

I don't understand the structure of this sentence:

“Well, well, Inspector,” said he. “Do you follow your path and I will follow mine.

It is from The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge, part 2, a Sherlock Holmes short story.

Why is there a "do" there? shouldn't it be "you follow", or "you do follow"?

share|improve this question
3  
It's just an archaic/poetic construction, inverting You do [something]. As in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar Act 1, Scene 2 But, look you, Cassius, The angry spot doth glow on Caesar's brow. –  FumbleFingers Oct 8 '11 at 16:31
2  
And the construction functions as an imperative, both in the OP's example and in the example from Shakespeare. (Where, incidentally, is your example from, Ulukam?) –  Barrie England Oct 8 '11 at 16:36
    
it is from "The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge - part 2", a Sherlock Holmes short story. –  Ulukam Oct 8 '11 at 16:59
    
Aha! Even more recent than Trollope then (Cerberus's answer). –  Barrie England Oct 8 '11 at 17:48
    
@Barrie: Yeah, actually I'd not be very surprised myself to see it in a modern novel, archaic though it may sound now. –  Cerberus Oct 8 '11 at 17:52

1 Answer 1

up vote 4 down vote accepted

This is a common construction in older English. It is an imperative, and I believe do used to be required (or very common) when the subject (= "you") of an imperative is expressed; constructions like you tell me! (with omitted do) sound modern to my ear, and often informal. I know it was at least still common in late-19th-century literature (Trollope's The Way We Live Now, for example).

share|improve this answer
1  
I suspect that overall, the most prevalent constructions omit both do and you, in such imperatives as, for example, "[Do] [you] listen to me!" –  FumbleFingers Oct 8 '11 at 17:43
    
@Fumble: Oh, absolutely. I meant to say that do was prevalent when the subject is expressed. –  Cerberus Oct 8 '11 at 17:50
    
All permutations do/did occur, but I think it's safe to say that including both "do" and "you" is invariably archaic/poetic today. But we often use just one, as in "Do listen to me!", and "You listen to me!", which both sound totally normal to me. –  FumbleFingers Oct 8 '11 at 17:59
    
@Fumble: Yeah, but do listen to me! sounds emphatic, whereas do you listen to me! in older English does not—or does it? I'd say it doesn't. –  Cerberus Oct 8 '11 at 20:53
    
Hmm. It's hard to say because we don't speak like that now. I agreed with you as I read the words, but the more I think about it, the more it feels to me that "do" has always added emphasis. Adding "but" as well things gets positively desperate - Do but listen to me –  FumbleFingers Oct 8 '11 at 23:42

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.