I heard that expression along with its derivatives so many times, in movies or otherwise, but I can't get it grammatically, meaning, does it stand for a complete sentence like "I will fuck you!" or "I want to fuck you!"? Or what?

Is it an imperative construction, or part of some other type of sentence with material deleted?

NB: This question is NOT about the meaning of this phrase (amply addressed in other questions on this site, such as Meaning of “f*ck” in the following conversation). It is about the structure of the phrase from a grammatical perspective, along with the common meaning of the expression.

  • 2
    @Mari-LouA: It's not a duplicate of that question, even though the expression under discussion is the same. Here, OS is asking about how to parse it grammatically. There, they were asking about it's intended meaning in that specific (friendly) context.
    – lly
    Commented May 19, 2019 at 11:42
  • @lly ...Yeah, that's exactly what I mean
    – OS1799
    Commented May 19, 2019 at 11:48
  • 1
    Grammar has been a historically problematic word. Our regular contributors generally prefer a narrow reading that only encompasses a couple of categories, but new users often come to us with a broader sense that sometimes includes other things like punctuation or lexical semantics. Now that it has been expressed that this question is more syntactical in nature I voted to reopen it.
    – Tonepoet
    Commented May 20, 2019 at 9:45
  • 1
    @Araucaria Taboo words lose their power once they become the norm. It's interesting to note how a possible interpretation, without the use of crude offensive language is viewed, rightly so, to be more shocking. I am not sure if the OP realizes just how offensive "F**k you!" used to be and still is in certain social situations. OS1799 be very careful of saying that expression to a stranger or even to an acquaintance, just because you hear it in the movies, songs and in TV shows doesn't mean it is always acceptable. P.S the question is reopened.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented May 20, 2019 at 10:24

2 Answers 2


"Fuck yourself" is the imperative, although the usual wording is "go fuck yourself". The lack of reflexive pronoun in "fuck you" indicates to me that it is not truly an imperative.

But it also doesn't really make sense for the expression to have an elided "I". Think about it: kids say "fuck you" to their parents, (straight) men say it to other men, one person may say it to a group of people, etc. It just doesn't make sense for it to mean "I fuck you". ("Fuck you" is sometimes interpreted this way in sarcastic retorts, but only because it is clearly against the intent of the "fuck you".)

The Oxford English Dictionary says that "fuck" in oaths is used "chiefly in optative with no subject expressed". (It also says this of the corresponding usages of "bugger" and "damn".) The book Evolutionary Syntax elaborates:

It is also relevant in this respect that swearing in present-day languages often involves verb forms which look like imperatives, but are not true imperatives in the modern sense of the word. These include e.g. Damn (you)! Fuck (you)!), as discussed in Dong (1971). Such uses of verbs in swearing in fact resemble optatives in the sense that they impose wishes/curses upon someone. In that sense, such swear expressions can be seen as negative versions of optative phrases such as Long Live the King! [...]

Some sources say that it is some type of subjunctive. For example, the article Fucking the Subjunctive says:

Noting that fuck you and bless you are structured similarly and used in practically identical grammatical contexts --- if opposite social contexts --- it seems reasonable to conclude that the blasphemous one is another example of the jussive subjunctive mood.

"No! God doesn't fuck people!" you may say.

That's true. With the exception of Mary, God stays out of mortal business. Knowing, however, that the rest of those musty word buddies --- bethatasitmay, and all those other set phrases that might as well be one word, given how we use them --- originate from an older period of English in which the subjunctive was commonplace, think about the superstitions people back then had. About fucking. And supernatural entities.

That's right. The Devil fucks you.

It seems plausible to me that far from being a command or a request, fuck you is actually a invocation of the Devil or his underlings to fly into you bedroom and ravage your privates in your sleep. Literally, fuck you could be May the Devil savage you in your sleep. And that, I have to admit, is probably the worst curse I could ever think to hurl at somebody.

Some say both, such as Swearing: A Cross-Cultural Linguistic Study:

In modern English, curses usually dispense with the subject and consist of more compressed constructions like Damn you!, Fuck you!, Sod the consequences!, where Damn, Fuck and Sod are examples of optative subjunctives of the same kind as live in Long live the Queen!

  • isn't the question of optative or subjunctive just a question of terminology?
    – Toothrot
    Commented May 19, 2019 at 23:41
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    While it may well be mimicking the optative mood, I think an interpretation of [May] God (the Devil) fuck you is wrong. I think it's more like May you be fucked, in the sense of "May you be ruined". Same sense as if I say "I'm fucked", meaning I'm in a hopeless situation, or exhausted/useless, or morally deficient. Commented May 20, 2019 at 6:27
  • @Chappo ..Yeah, I think so.
    – OS1799
    Commented May 20, 2019 at 7:45
  • @OS1799 I've already voted to reopen your question, as I think it's angling for something different compared to the duplicate. If it does get reopened and I get the time, I'll turn my comment into an answer. That's not to say Laurel's isn't useful, but another perspective can't hurt. ;-) Commented May 20, 2019 at 7:49
  • @Laurel Now, according to what said — "Damn, Fuck and Sod are examples of optative subjunctives of the same kind as live in Long live the Queen!" — I understood that "Fuck you!" can be expressed, very formally, as "May you get fucked!" OR "I wish you got fucked!", and so with damn -->> "May you get damned!" an so on...and then, also, the expression "Long live the king!" can be expressed as "May the king live long!"......RIGHT?
    – OS1799
    Commented May 20, 2019 at 7:56

"You" can be an archaic reflexive pronoun, as in King Lear Act IV, Scene 6 (sampled in the Beatles' "I am the Walrus"): "Sit you down, father; rest you."

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