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I know that "please" can be many different parts of speech; interjection, an adverb, or a verb, depending on how it's used. I'm looking specifically to find out what part of speech "please" is when followed by a verb:

  • Please send me your information
  • Please find your shoes
  • Please write down your name
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5  
As @Neil Coffey's answer demonstrates, this isn't actually a clear-cut issue. Please stop with the knee-jerk "general reference" flagging/voting to close. –  Marthaª Oct 26 '11 at 21:21

4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

It is an adverb, according to Merriam-Webster.

In your case, it is used as a function word to express politeness or emphasis in a request.

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4  
However, note that traditional grammar tends to use "adverb" as a dustbin category for "any word that doesn't fit very well into any of the traditional categories"... –  Neil Coffey Oct 26 '11 at 15:28
    
@NeilCoffey Interesting. I assume that adverb itself is one of the traditional categories, based on the fact that adjective is to noun what adverb is to verb. –  Terry Li Oct 26 '11 at 15:34
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@Neil: Absolutely. Please certainly doesn't modify any verbs in OP's example. I think it's more an imperative than anything else. It's probably a degenerate form of May it please you to...* –  FumbleFingers Oct 26 '11 at 15:35
    
@FumbleFingers: The reason they say "please" is an adverb is because it modifies the whole action, attaching to the whole thing. "May it please you to" is an adverb phrase for the same reason, as is "If you can do it" –  Ron Maimon Mar 14 '12 at 6:08

Traditional grammar doesn't really have a category that "please" would fit into very adequately. So like various other words, it tends to get dumped into "adverb" or "exclamation" that tend to be used as "dustbin" categories for words that don't really fit anywhere (cf "yes", "viz"...). But there's really little rationale in lumping the word "please" with, say, the word "carefully".

I would suggest using a framework that allows a broader set of categories, or which at least admits as additional categories words like this that are essentially "isolates" that don't readily fit into one of the regular productive categories.

The British National Corpus tagset, for example, has a category ITJ for "Interjection or other isolate" (which is also a bit of a dustbin, but more satisfactory than lumping any old word into "adverb"-- at least it's effectively admitting "category for words that basically don't belong anywhere").

You might also want to consider having categories for words that effectively 'stand in for' whole clauses or phrases. So, e.g. just as you might analyse "soon" as effectively a prepositional phrase (i.e. you see it as effectively a placeholder for e.g. "in a moment", "in a few minutes", "within two days"), you might analyse please as, say, a verb-phrase placeholder.

Or, put another way: there's no single "right" answer and it depends on your analysis. But if you call it an "adverb" as many dictionaries do, you may want to try and be clear with yourself what similarity you think 'please' actually has with more canonical examples of "adverbs" and how well it really fits.

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I'm with you, in that calling it an "adverb" is a cop-out. The reality is that lots of words/phrases don't really fit into those traditional grammar categories. It's misleading and confusing to assume every peg fits into either a round or a square hole. –  FumbleFingers Oct 26 '11 at 16:25
    
@Neil Coffey: I’m going to put in a case for ‘please’ being an adverb when it accompanies an imperative. ‘Please move along’ can be re-written as ‘Kindly move along’. Is there any doubt that ‘kindly’ is an adverb? If it is, doesn’t it give the sentence the meaning ‘Move along in an agreeable manner’, that is, do it cooperatively so that we don’t have any unpleasantness? Doesn’t ‘please’ perform exactly the same function? –  Barrie England Oct 26 '11 at 19:25
    
Barrie -- note, however, that you can say "Very kindly move along", but not "*Very please move along". The case you put forward isn't that clear-cut. –  Neil Coffey Oct 26 '11 at 19:50
    
You could say the same about 'tomorrow'. If 'tomorrow' isn't an adverb, what is it (when it's not a noun)? But perhaps best not pursued any further here. –  Barrie England Oct 27 '11 at 7:02
    
Barrie -- belated reply to your comment is that yes, you're completely right: lumping "tomorrow" and "carefully" into the same category is also fairly questionable. And yes, I think we'll leave further exploration as an "exercise to the reader". –  Neil Coffey Dec 19 '11 at 0:45

When, in the OED's words, it is 'used in polite request or agreement, or to add a polite emphasis or urgency', it's an adverb.

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I agree with you, but you should say that its an adverb phrase, not an adverb word, because it doesn't allow certain additions, like "very please, go to the store" but it does allow "Please and quickly, go to the store." or "Please and if you are rested, go to the store." –  Ron Maimon Mar 14 '12 at 6:32
    
@RonMaimon: Not all adverbs can be modified. You can't say 'very tomorrow', for example. –  Barrie England Mar 14 '12 at 7:03
    
"tomorrow" is also an adverb phrase, not an adverb word. It is in the same class as the phrase "When you go to the store". –  Ron Maimon Mar 14 '12 at 15:54
    
@Ron Maimon: Do you have an authority you can quote on the point? In grammatical analysis a single word can also be a phrase, but I'm not aware of the very interesting distinction you make between adverbs. –  Barrie England Mar 14 '12 at 16:05
    
I never cite authority. I made this up, just as I make up almost everything I write (I make it up so as to be correct, of course). It's in my BNF for English, which is close enough to complete that I know what part of speech is what in almost everything. The authorities in this field are mostly mentally defective. –  Ron Maimon Mar 14 '12 at 18:34

The classification of please as an adverb is, I believe, ridiculous. It can appear in similar positions in sentences (Will you please / kindly / quickly fasten your seat belts - where I believe kindly is not acting as an adverb either – contrast Will you kindly speak to those people who have just seen their dog run over with Will you speak kindly to those people who have just seen their dog run over) - but is being used as a discourse element extra to the semantics of (the rest of the) sentence, whilst usage allows it to be included between the capital letter and the full stop. It is almost the equivalent of an accompanying smile.

This usage of please is, to add to the response number 5 above (sorry, I can't fathom out to whom to accredit it!), a discourse marker subclass politeness (or emphasis if used with irony) marker.

(I've come across this terminology on various websites, and don't know how widely the terms are accepted - or indeed, how widely the courage to sensibly confine the adverb class to words that are truly modifying verbs is to be found.)*

Very kindly would be a two-word variant of kindly; I'd classify it as a single lexeme. Pretty please is similarly a variant of please, but has whimsical or childish overtones, and must occur at the start or end of the request.

  • I've been looking for a more sensible approach to word-classes, largely on the Internet, for years now. There still seems to be a lot of argument over where to lump and where to split classes even (or especially) between different linguistics departments. This sadly leaves us saddled with the sacrosanct but untenable 8 classes of antiquity, with people claiming this view as Gospel, with no clear voice suggesting any better alternative.

I've compiled a list as a working model (sorry I can't format better):

Noun

Verb
Adjective
Adverb
Pronoun
Auxiliary
Determiner
Preposition
Adverbial Particle and other Particle components of multi-word verbs
Conjunction / Coordinator
Subordinator
Complementiser
Degree/Secondary Modifier
Limiting Modifier
Determiner Modifier
Prepositional Phrase Modifier
Negator
Infinitive Marker
(Sentence connector) . . . (Sentence Adverb) . . . Discourse Marker
Interjection (Nonsense word) (Lyrical filler)

Pro-sentence / Sentence Substitute

and am prepared to consider idioms, open compounds etc as single units (eg He who must not be named; ship of the desert; take off (of a plane); let go; make do...

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1  
Welcome, Edwin. I am sympathetic to your search for a different set of word-classes, but I don't think it belongs here in an answer to this question. (Unlike some discussion boards, here on Stack Exchange sites we like to keep each question and answer focused on the topic at hand, for the aid of those who find it at any point in time.) It might fit better as a new question here or on Linguistics.se. –  aedia λ Nov 30 '11 at 21:37
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I would strongly suggest you place this excellent discourse on a separate blog or your website and just provide a linking reference here. That should reach a wider audience while at the same time helping in this discussion. –  Kris Dec 1 '11 at 12:18
    
Hi Edwin--- you have too many classes. If you want to produce a good set of word-classes, you should think about a computer program to parse English. In such a program, "please" functions exactly the same as "if you want to" grammatically--- it's an adverb phrase. This is also true of prepositional phrase modifiers--- we don't make as many categories as children as the linguists do in their literature. –  Ron Maimon Mar 14 '12 at 6:25
    
As far as "will you kindly speak to X" vs. "Will you speak kindly to X", the issue seems to be the binding of "kindly". It seems to me that kindly is binding to "will", as opposed to "speak", so that it modifies "will", which is strange, because you might think "will speak" is a unit. "Kindly speak to the people" vs. "Speak kindly to the people" is different, but not "Speak, kindly, to the people" suggesting an invisible "do" at the beginning of the command that "kindly" is binding to. It is an interesting observation, anyway, thanks, +1. –  Ron Maimon Mar 14 '12 at 6:28

protected by RegDwigнt Jan 24 '12 at 18:03

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