In a question on SO I ran into a question about the meaning of word "closeable".

As far as I know (and my teachers taught me so) it has two meanings:

  • possible to close
  • should be closed

The discussion was about whether "closeable" should be used for the resources that can be closed, or for those that should be closed.

I also searched for imperative forms of "-able", and found some examples, although they're really not so common:

  • applicable rules (rules that must be applied)
  • marriageable woman (the woman to be married)
  • considerable opinion (the opinion everyone should consider)

My questions are:

  • Generally, is the imperative usage of "-able" proper?

  • What does "closeable" mean for a native speaker?

The referenced question on SO: Java naming convention: isCloseResources() vs doCloseResources?

(Bear with me, I'm not a native speaker. Thanks!)

  • 3
    I think in general no imperative is implied, just the possibility. Certainly in the case of a marriageable or less archaic marriable woman, implying an imperative will be frowned upon in most of the English-speaking world. Closeable means it can be closed. whether it has to be closed depends on context.
    – oerkelens
    Commented Nov 24, 2014 at 19:19
  • @oerkelens I think in this case (marri(age)able) it comes from the context.
    – gaborsch
    Commented Nov 24, 2014 at 19:21
  • 2
    It is certainly uncommon nowadays to order women to marry, or to assume they should marry :)
    – oerkelens
    Commented Nov 24, 2014 at 19:22
  • @oerkelens That's a cultural question, and not a linguistic.
    – gaborsch
    Commented Nov 24, 2014 at 19:24
  • That is why I added in most of the English speaking world. Not only is it uncommon in most of the English-speaking world, it is illegal, and seen as morally objectable in most of the English speaking world. So to answer your question: in that case interpreting marriable as imperative would not be seen as proper, it would be seen as highly improper.
    – oerkelens
    Commented Nov 24, 2014 at 19:25

2 Answers 2


In general, an implied imperative can only be there when there is such a semantic implication. The -able ending normally indicates just ability. Implying an imperative meaning can certainly, as I mentioned in my comments, be seen as improper in certain cases.

Even when no cultural or otherwise touchy subjects are in play, in at least the vast majority of cases, only ability is meant: a readable essay, a palatable meal, a drinkable wine, machine-washable clothes, a memorable evening, a likeable person, ...

Of the four examples given, I'd only see considerable as implying some kind of imperative.

In the context of the SO question, isCloseable would tell me that an object can be closed (maybe it is a door). It certainly does not imply it should be closed at any specific moment.

  • 3
    I think even considerable does not imply any kind of imperative. Considerable is still a comparative, and not the strongest. A candidate could have considerable support, where the other candidate has overwhelming support. It doesn't so much mean that you have to consider him, but that he is worth considering. Much like the statement, "100 million Michael Jackson fans can't be all wrong".
    – IchabodE
    Commented Nov 24, 2014 at 23:36

Modals do not occur in the imperative. They don't have infinitive forms, which the imperative uses.

  • Real imperatives: Leave at once. Go out the back door. Be quiet.
  • Ungrammatical imperatives: *May leave at once. *Can go out the back door. *Could be quiet.

However, various phrases with modals have become common as indirect impositives.
In the examples below, the bald on-record challenge shut up sounds incongruous framed
with such indirect fripperies, designed to distract from public face loss by the addressee.
This is to emphasize that it's the modal in the construction that implicates the order or request/
("Impositive" is the cover term for both orders and requests -- they're both impositions):

  • Would you mind waiting a moment/shutting up?
  • Do you think you could possibly wait a moment/shut up?
  • Can you wait a moment/shut up for a minute, my love?
  • You could possibly wait a moment/shut up, you know.
  • It would be OK if you waited a moment/shut up now.

If one substitutes a neutral verb like wait, the result is a possibly peeved but certainly courteous request. Not a bald imperative like shut up. These are conversational implicatures of the sort discussed by Gordon and Lakoff.

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