2

I frequently write sermons. A common way to offer people a blessing is to start with the phrase "May you" as in "May you always have peace in your heart."

When I run the spell / grammar check in MS Word, this phrase almost always gets flagged as ungrammatical unless I use a question mark at the end. Clearly, I'm not using this phrase as a question.

Is such usage ungrammatical, or is MS Word being overly fussy?

  • 6
    MS Word does not have advanced or overly unusual forms. That's all it is. May you continue successfully in your endeavors. :) [It would be nice to always have peace in one's heart. [[sigh]] ] – Lambie Jan 18 '17 at 21:19
  • 2
    Your examples aren't questions but wishes. The grammar is a rather special case. It is a different use of the word "may" than, "may I have a cookie?" which is a question. You can find some further explanation here en.wiktionary.org/wiki/may but I'm afraid a full answer is beyond me. (subjunctive present, defective) Expressing a wish (with present subjunctive effect). [from 16th c.]  [quotations ▼] may you win;  may the weather be sunny‎ – Tom22 Jan 18 '17 at 21:35
  • 4
    May, like all modals, has a number of functions. One of these is its magical function, used for blessing, cursing, and wishing. Fillmore describes it about page 5 in his essay "May We Come In?", giving the examples May all your troubles be little ones and May you spend eternity rollerskating on cobblestones. – John Lawler Jan 18 '17 at 22:27
  • It's not ungrammatical, but is almost always unidiomatic nowadays. And if you're confused about the usage, why foist it on the congregation? 'I pray that you will always have peace in your heart.' Or, if you believe that Scripture teaches that Christians have the ability to bless (subject to the listeners' faith) conferred upon them, 'Peace be upon you'. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 18 '17 at 22:40
  • 5
    @EdwinAshworth I think "May the force be with you" in Star Wars may have given the form another generation or two of familiarity. – Tom22 Jan 18 '17 at 23:10
2

Turn off the MS Word Grammar checker. It is only programmed to catch a handful of mistakes that grade school students make when writing their compositions.

You are using a construction where the modal auxiliary may introduces a clause whose verb is in subjunctive form. Historically it was a more widespread construction, though now used mainly in blessings (like you are doing). Here's an example from a random 19th century book on Google books:

As you are young and inexperienced, said he, I will tell you my sad story, and may you profit by it.

And since you are religiously inclined, here's five examples from the King James bible using a similar construction which was formerly very common. It is the same as the one you are using, except that the clause containing may is subordinate, and the word order is non-inverted (i.e., may comes after the subject).

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? (Rm 6:1)
Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow down their back alway (Rm 11:10).
That ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great. (Rv 19:18)
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Mt 5:16)
They said unto him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory. (Mk 10:37)

Related is the Would that... construction, e.g. (another 19th century book),

Lights! would that we could see them a little more distinctly just now upon the horizon of the political and social world! Would that we could see them in the unhappy realm of France...

| improve this answer | |
1

That usage may look unidiomatic in everyday speech and blessings from a pulpit are not everyday speech. They might often incorporate, and sometimes use solely everyday speech but which of you doesn’t automatically associate pulpit, blessing or sermon with much more formal styles, let alone all of them together?

John’s little troubles rollerskating on cobblestones clearly come from a blessing and a curse but Edwin’s prayer for peace is exactly that: a prayer, not a blessing. Payers and blessings might overlap in wishes like ‘Peace be upon you’ but otherwise, they’re not interchangeable.

| improve this answer | |
-1

As far as I know, it's right to say "may you have all what you dreamed about" or "may God make all your dreams come true" and I see it used many times in different places and occasions as a hoping phrase so I think it is right.

| improve this answer | |
  • Well, no. "May you have all that you dreamed about" would be closer, though "... dream of" would be a hair more idiomatic. – Hot Licks Jan 18 '17 at 23:30

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.