My text book says that base form of verbs can make sentences whose meanings are wish, for example, in "God save the queen." or "Grammar be hanged."

If the sentence's subject is third person and singular, we can tell this verb as base form because the verb should have -s in the end usually, but otherwise we can't tell because the sentence is the same with usual sentences which don't mean wish, declarative sentences, and I think it's confusing.

So I wonder if all the base forms can make "wish-sentences" or not.

  • 1
    Better get a different textbook -- or maybe find what language it is talking about. Dec 14, 2017 at 19:31
  • Thank you for telling this is not true. John Lawler
    – Motoki
    Dec 17, 2017 at 4:04

1 Answer 1


The answer to your question is mostly "no". This is not an especially productive construction these days. These third-person imperatives are differently expressed now, although the old style can sometimes still be heard as frozen form not a productive one.

Those old optative uses are formulaic benedictions or maledictions, which were originally present subjunctive forms and which are now the simple bare infinitive.

Exhortations like these:

  • Devil take the hindmost.
  • God rest ye merry.
  • God give you peace.

Are actually third-person imperatives, and as such are now normally expressed using a helping verb like may or let:

  • May God grant you peace.
  • Let the devil take whoever wavers.
  • Let them eat cake.

They can also be first-person imperatives:

  • Let us pray.
  • May we never falter.
  • May I never forget this day.

Only in second-person imperatives can you skip the person, and indeed the helping verb altogether, and use just the bare form:

  • Never forget this day.
  • Leave now and never return.
  • 1
    I see. This style is not productive now, although there are some usages which have been frozen and they are mainly benedictions or maledictions. Your explanation is simple and easy to follow. It's very thankful to English learners. Thank you.
    – Motoki
    Dec 17, 2017 at 4:05
  • The ones starting with May. Aren't they optative in Present-day English?
    – JK2
    Sep 19, 2022 at 8:54

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