How should the phrase "Let it be done" be interpreted grammatically?

What confounds me are the following assumptions, some or all of which may be wrong:

  1. "Let" implies imperative
  2. "it be done" implies a subjunctive
  3. the lack of an agent implies passive
  4. section 5 of this reference says that the "let" indicates the desire for a hypothetical situation and is hence part of the subjunctive - I'm thinking that this "let" could be either a desire and a command but at this point I'm probably wrong

Given the above is "Let it be done" a correct passive transformation of "Do it"? Is this a passive-voice imperative-mood construction (in which case what about the subjunctive?), is it a passive-voice subjunctive-mood construction? Is it somehow in the active voice ?

The original query was intended for "Let the cake be eaten", which I had assumed to be a passive transformation of "eat the cake" the title and rest of the question are an attempt at generalization. Also note that I'm looking at this from a purely grammatical point of view, whether such constructions are silly or not is another matter.

related questions here and here

  • 2
    Let is an imperative, but is often used to convey what other languages do with the subjunctive. The unspoken subject of the verb let is you. It is the direct object of the verb let. Be is a bare infinitive, not a subjunctive in this case. Done is the past participle of the verb to do. Let is not passive, but be done is.
    – Anonym
    Mar 26, 2014 at 16:44

1 Answer 1


Nordquist has a balanced article on jussives that examines different approaches.

I'd say that calling 'Let us pray' an imperative usage is stretching the term somewhat. It is far less hortative than '[Get] on your knees!' In the linked article is:

'[John] Lyons [Semantics, 1977: 747] argues that the imperative can only be, strictly, second person, and never third person (or first person). _This may, however, be no more than a terminological issue, since first and third person 'imperatives' are often simply called 'jussives.'

Types of jussives are also addressed:

Jussives include not only imperatives, as narrowly defined, but also related non-imperative clauses, including some in subjunctive mood:

Be sensible.

You be quiet.

Everybody listen.

Let's forget it.

Heaven help us.

It is important that he keep this a secret.


In 'Let it be done,' 'it' is referential (with preceding referent) and 'be done' is certainly passive. A modern not-too-near paraphrase is perhaps 'Get on with it, or make sure someone else does!' Far more imperative.

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