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I was wondering why this expression is not “God saves the Queen”. According to my very first English teacher, when the subject is he, she or it, “to save” is conjugated “he/she/it saves”.

Is it an exception?

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We mean it, man! – naught101 Apr 28 '12 at 10:45
God help us all. – cornbread ninja 麵包忍者 Apr 28 '12 at 17:56
up vote 37 down vote accepted

It is not an exception. This is the subjunctive mood, being used to express a wish. See “Third person requests with a main-clause subjunctive” in the Wikipedia article on “English subjunctive”, which gives “God save our gracious Queen” as a specific example.

You may think of it as short for “May God save the Queen” or “Let God save the Queen” if that helps you parse it better.

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+1. Good answer. Just a small note - it's the subjunctive mood, not case. Cases are about the declension of nouns and adjectives (nominative, accusative etc). – user16269 Apr 28 '12 at 7:47
Or as an imperative: God, save the Queen! – Brad Apr 28 '12 at 10:38
@Brad: I would call it exhortative rather than imperative – nico Apr 28 '12 at 13:40
Surely we should say "God please save the Queen" – mgb Apr 28 '12 at 14:30
@mgb: That's partly why it's definitely not imperative/exhortative: it's "May/Let God save the queen" rather than "God, [please] save the queen". – ShreevatsaR Apr 28 '12 at 15:19

It’s because save is subjunctive. In particular, it’s an example of the ‘formulaic subjunctive’, found in other fixed expressions such as Heaven forbid and come what may. It is used in God Save The Queen to express a non-factual concept: we cannot assume that God saves The Queen, but we express the hope that he will.

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