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I've been watching this little HBO show by the name of Game of Thones. Perhaps you have heard of it. In the most recent episode the following line is used (and also happens to be the title of the episode):

Now their watch is ended

This sounds foreign to my ear. I would be inclined to say "Their watch has ended".

Is there a subtlety in the English language that alters the meaning of the sentence by changing "is" to "has" and vice versa in the context of a simple sentence such as the above?

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    I parse it as an attempt at being archaic/poetic. – RegDwigнt Jun 16 '14 at 12:35
  • Without more context, making a distinction is meaningless. – Canis Lupus Jun 16 '14 at 14:52
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    But you would not have a problem with is done or is finished, now would you? This is no different from those. – tchrist Jun 16 '14 at 17:59
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'Now their watch is ended' carries all the meaning of 'Now their watch has ended' with the further implication that by the act the speaker has just accomplished or observed is the watch ended.

From OED:

have as an auxiliary verb: "As in the other Germanic (and Romanic) languages, the various moods and tenses of have are used with the past participle of another verb, to form a series of compound or ‘perfect’ tenses of the latter..... [The entry explains how the use of have as an auxiliary developed from its meaning: to possess] .... Verbs of motion and position long retained the earlier use of the auxiliary be; and he is gone is still used to express resulting state, while he has gone expresses action. See BE 14b".

be as an auxiliary verb: "[Be is used as an auxiliary verb] in intransitive verbs, forming perfect tenses, in which use it is now largely displaced by have after the pattern of transitive verbs: be being retained only with come, go, rise, set, fall, arrive, depart, grow, and the like, when we express the condition or state now attained, rather than the action of reaching it, as ‘the sun is set,’ ‘our guests are gone,’ ‘Babylon is fallen,’ ‘the children are all grown up'."

I think it is the use of 'to be' rather than 'to have' that lends it the weight and finality.

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    On what basis can we draw this inference? Can you suggest any references or cite something in support? I am interested. – Kris Jun 16 '14 at 13:21
  • @Kris I have edited the post to add more detail, haven't found anything more concrete yet. – Sam Jun 16 '14 at 15:24
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It is a ritual use of the term, in which the statement itself accomplishes the transformation. Part of the great appeal of The Game of Thrones is it satisfies our thirst for this ritual magic of word or language itself accomplishing a deed. The prior posts hint at this, but the religious shamanic dimension is not explicitly noted: that's what I intend to convey here.

  • But as a matter of grammar, why "is ended" instead of "has ended"? – Sven Yargs Aug 17 '18 at 5:27

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