8

Every time I see this expression, I can't help thinking it's grammatically wrong. Is it grammatically acceptable? Why is it used extensively in this form?

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    The correct form is "Till death us do part" and not "do us", (according to the link provided by Henry) – Benjol Oct 25 '10 at 8:30
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    @Benjol: Right, but I think "do us" version is more common. A quick Google search brings 47,100 results for "Till death us do part" and 365,000 results for "Till death do us part". – Mehper C. Palavuzlar Oct 25 '10 at 12:50
11

The phrase is quite old: it was part of the Book of Common Prayer from 1662 (see http://www.eskimo.com/~lhowell/bcp1662/occasion/marriage.html). (For all I know, it could be older even than that.) But fixing it as the official language of a ceremony cemented the phrase in that form, even as the language changed around it. It's probably best viewed as idiomatic; you wouldn't want to say something else using the same form without a very good reason, but that particular phrase is a widely recognized feature of the language.

(Note, by the way, that the form in the BCP really was with "till" rather than "until"; this isn't surprising, since "till" is actually the older of the two words.)

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12

It's the present subjunctive. In older forms of English, most conjunctions took the subjunctive; thus we would see, "till the Son of God appear", "before I be put to death", "If it be the last thing I shall ever do", and so on.

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    Being present subjunctive does not explain why the pronoun is us rather than we – nohat Jan 2 '11 at 21:41
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    @nohat, why would you expect it to be we? It's the object of "part", with "death" as the subject of that verb. In modern English, the phrase would be rendered something like "until death parts us," not "until we part at death." – Alex Jan 2 '11 at 21:50
  • @nohat: the answer does not say anything about 'do part' instead of 'part', that is 'do/does/did' used in positive sentences for the sake of emphasis – user58319 Feb 24 '16 at 15:39
  • The subjunctive and indicative there mean two different things. With the subjunctive it's an uncertainty, whereas with the indicative it's a certainly. – Zorf Jan 25 at 22:36
5

All of the answers omit a key point, or at best imply it. While "death" here is the subject, most people take "death" to be a temporal indication. This is why they expect the pronoun to be "we": I promise to stay with you till (the time of) death. Of course, it really means "until death separates us."

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0

Both (1) till death do us part and (2) till death us do part are found if you ngram-view them, but not (3) till death do part us, which is surprising since it would be the normal word order:

till (conjunction) death (subject) do part (present subjunctive of 'do' + bare infinitive of 'part', emphatic form) us [from each other] (direct object of the verb 'part')

Structures parallel to these would be:

(1) as long as | you | do | me | love (?!)

(2) as long as | you | me | do love (?!)

(3) as long as | you | do love | me

Ngram Viewer for the 3 'till death…' sentences mentioned

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  • The do of "do love me" is different from the causative "do" of "do us part" – Colin Jun 22 '17 at 6:30
  • The "part" in "death do us part" is not a verb; it's an object-complement adjective. It has the same structure as "till death make us dead"; think "till death make us parted [from each other]" in a more modern structure. – Zorf Jan 25 at 22:38
  • @Zorf So 'part' is like 'apart' in your opinion. Any piece of evidence? – user58319 Mar 11 at 18:04
  • @Zorf: Romeo and Juliet: Good night, good night! / Parting is such sweet sorrow, That I shall say good night till it be morrow. (Act-II, Scene-II, Lines 188-189) 'Part' is a verb! – user58319 Mar 11 at 18:08

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