According to freedictionary, the verb forbear is often followed by from or an infinitive.

I ran a search on ngram with the specific example I need (with the verb think) and found out that the most used version is actually the one that uses a gerund (without from).

I have two questions:

1. Can I even use the verb forbear as an imperative?

I know that I could use refrain or hold back, but I need to sound archaic.

For instance:

Forbear desiring your neighbour's wife.

2. Which of the three options is the most appropriate for an imperative?

  • Forbear desiring your neighbour's wife.

  • Forbear from desiring your neighbour's wife.

  • Forbear to desire your neighbour's wife.

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    Thanks @weatherVane, I know. But, as I wrote, I need to sound archaic.
    – Fra
    Feb 20, 2020 at 19:32
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    It's an unusual usage too. You can't forbear or refrain from a desire - you either desire something, or you don't. Feb 20, 2020 at 19:33
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    I agree with @weathervane - the forebearance would be on ACTING out the desire, not on having it in the first place. Of your three, "forbear from" sounds most accurate,, but I might try to find a way to insert some notion of acting upon the desire rather than just having it. If giving up that desire, then forsaking would seem a better word. Feb 20, 2020 at 20:02
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    Yes, for example "forbear from succumbing to desire for your neighbour's wife." Feb 20, 2020 at 20:04
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    I don't agree that 'forbear' is archaic, except perhaps to Generation Z. I will allow that it may be considered slightly old-fashioned by others, but it is still a good, useful word. Feb 20, 2020 at 20:35

2 Answers 2


The definitive English usage of forbear is surely the epitaph on Shakespeare’s grave:

epitaph on shakespeare's grave
William Shakespeare's grave, Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-on-Avon, England.
ᴀᴛᴛʀɪʙᴜᴛɪᴏɴ: Clipping of image by David Jones from Wikipedia

Containing this quatrain in iambic tetrameter:

Good frend for Iesvs sake forebeare,
To digg the dvst encloased heare.
Bleste be þͤ man þͭ spares thes stones,
And cvrst be he þͭ moves my bones.

Which in modern spelling reads:

Good friend for Jesus’ sake forbear,
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blest be the man that spares these stones,
And cursed be he that moves my bones.


Interestingly, and as you wish to be "archaic", the verb to forbear + from (intransitive and reflexive) is agood choice:

Yes, there is no reason why you should not use "forbear" in the imperative.


  1. a. transitive. To refrain from using, uttering, mentioning, etc.; to withhold, keep back. †Formerly const. from, to, or dative.

b. reflexive. To restrain oneself, refrain. rare.

1611 Bible (King James) 2 Chron. xxxv. 21 Forbeare thee from medling with God.

Thus "Forbear thee/theyself from desiring your neighbour's wife." would be good 16th century English and be so archaic as to be obsolete.

My only caveat is that your examples look like attempts at changing a Bible verse: Exodus 20:17b. The verse in the 1611 King James Version is

17 ... thou shalt not couet thy neighbours wife,

and that is genuinely archaic.


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