English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

What does "I must have you dance" mean? What kind of a sentence is it?

share|improve this question
Could you provide some context? I can't make much sense of the sentence without it. – Brendon Dec 13 '11 at 2:56
Yes. There are number of things it could mean, in different contexts. Sentences do not mean anything by themselves -- only in a real context. – John Lawler Dec 13 '11 at 3:15
@Brendon: From Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: ‘Come, Darcy,’ said he, ‘I must have you dance. I hate to see you standing about by yourself in this stupid manner. You had much better dance.’ – Gigili Dec 13 '11 at 10:37
@JohnMLawler: I added more context. – Gigili Dec 13 '11 at 10:43
up vote 8 down vote accepted

The only way I can make sense of that sentence is someone expressing his or her strong desire to induce the dancer to dance for him or her. Although not all may agree, I think of this sort of construction as a part of high-society small talk.

[polite conversation]
1: I quite enjoy the arts, don't you?
2: Yes, I certainly do. As a matter of fact, I'm a dancer.
1: Wonderful! I own a dance hall, I must have you dance sometime.

share|improve this answer
I agree. I have seen this used in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. – pavithramouli Dec 13 '11 at 3:35
Exactly, I read it in Pride and Prejudice. – Gigili Dec 13 '11 at 10:36
Could you explain the structure, is the one you mentioned the same thing as what @Laure said? – Gigili Dec 13 '11 at 10:52
Yes, this is the same thing laure said. The quote you mentioned above is essentially a polite way of saying, "I don't want to see you sitting alone, go out and dance with someone." – Kevin Dec 13 '11 at 13:34

This is a pseudo-passive construction, I’ll have you know.

share|improve this answer
"Pseudo-passive"? How so? Looks pseudo-causitive to me. – Colin Fine Dec 13 '11 at 14:55
@ColinFine: Or possibly pseudo-caustic. – Barrie England Dec 13 '11 at 14:58
despite my levity, that was a genuine request for explication. I can't see what's passive about the construction. – Colin Fine Dec 13 '11 at 15:01
Passive has not applied. Full parsing [square brackets mark clauses] (parens mark arguments) is something like [WILL (I, [HAVE (I, [DANCE (U)])])] Or, as we would say 200 years later, I want to see you dance. – John Lawler Dec 13 '11 at 15:27
@ColinFine: You're quite right. I was just being a pseud. – Barrie England Dec 13 '11 at 15:33

The question here is on the polysemy of the verb have.
Followed by object pronoun + past participle or bare infinitive have can mean make or oblige s.o. to.
It implies that the grammatical object (you in your example) is not entirely willing of the action expressed by the grammatical subject (I in your example).

"I'll have you do your homework, whether you like it or not." (says mum to son)

"I'll have you executed on the spot."

(King of Hearts to Mad Hatter)

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


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.