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Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin

“And Arya, well . . . Ned’s visitors would oft mistake her for a stableboy if they rode into the yard unannounced. Arya was a trial, it must be said. Half a boy and half a wolf pup. Forbid her anything and it became her heart’s desire.

Catelyn talks about her daughter Arya, who she thinks is long dead. She remembers how she used to behave like a boy, not a proper lady. Catelyn says that Arya desired to accomplish anything that was forbidden by her mother Catelyn.

I understand the sentence in context, but I'm confused about this structure the author used. Is this some kind of clause here? -> Forbid ... and it became ... . What is the tense of forbid here and why is it used with past simple [became]?

I never encountered such a device. Can anyone help me deal with grammatically? Would appreciate any extra resources to read up on it.

Thanks in advance

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I would say that “Forbid her anything“ in this context is an unusual use of the imperative construction. The verb “forbid” is in the plain form, which has multiple uses: as the bare infinitive, the so-called “present subjunctive”, the present indicative non-third-person-singular, and the imperative.

A paper that I think is relevant: Imperatives under coordination, Ezra Keshet and David Medeiros. Keshet and Medeiros discuss this construction, but actually seem to conclude that it is not an imperative because of its reference to a past situation. However, I’m not sure what it is in that case.

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  • An old TV ad used to suggest: "Promise her anything, but give her Arpege." – Yosef Baskin Jul 13 at 22:16
  • The link you give shows clearly that this general construction was the imperative several centuries ago. It's not clear to me whether today's English speakers consider it to be the imperative, a conditional with omitted words, or just an idiom that uses the infinitive. It would be interesting to know when it started being used with the past tense in the consequence clause; was it after people stopped considering this construction to be an imperative? – Peter Shor Jul 15 at 11:53
  • But to me, it's the same beast whether it has the present tense or the past tense in the consequence clause; saying that this changes the interpretation of the verb form is hair-splitting at its finest. – Peter Shor Jul 15 at 12:01
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Martin is writing a conditional sentence; he is not speaking of something that has actually happened, but is a possibility. If the sentence was written with more words it would be:

"[If you] forbid her anything, [then] it became her heart's desire."

Martin is using forbid as a present tense conditional verb because the sentence is conditional, but it is still a very likely possibility.

Here is an article about conditional verbs and their proper tense

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  • Thanks for the response. So do you propose that in this particular case Martin uses Present form of "forbid"? I wonder why is it not the past? Cause using "If + Present Simple + Past Simple" seems against the rules. – artek Jul 13 at 18:41
  • @artek Most dictionaries I just looked at did not include "forbid" as a past tense for "forbid"; they all listed "forbade" as the past tense. Unless there is an exception that I am unaware of, I would say that Martin using Present Simple + Past Simple is just a grammatical error on his part. – Tyler N Jul 13 at 18:58
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In this sentence, forbid(verb) is used as a past tense. Forbid and forbade are the past tense of the word 'forbid'. And, 'became' is used because the author talks about what happened in the past.

In other words, the sentence could be formed as, "If you forbade her anything, it became her heart's desire."

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  • "Forbid and forbade are the past tense of the word 'forbid'." No, that's not true. Forbid is not the past tense of forbid. – Jason Bassford Jul 13 at 15:20
  • @JasonBassford I cross-checked it before posting the answer. link – Bhavesh Lohana Jul 13 at 16:25
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    Or there's this site which does not include it. While it's fine in the sentence in the question, it's still the present tense that's being used—and fine as a general statement of fact: Paint her red, and it became the colour she liked most. The tenses don't need to match. – Jason Bassford Jul 13 at 16:37
  • @JasonBassford Yes, you are correct. This might be one of those few exceptions. – Bhavesh Lohana Jul 13 at 17:25
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    @JasonBassford's example can't be changed to Painted her red, and it became the colour she liked most. So forbid can't be the past tense here. And I don't know what you mean by "one of those few exceptions" -- exceptions to what? – TonyK Jul 13 at 18:27

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