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In a passage I encountered:

To an inattentive reader, the expressions,

  • “I am the man, who commands you”

and

  • “I am the man, who command you”

[reformatted, EA]

may appear to be precisely equivalent. This, however, is by no means the case —(See “The Etymology and Syntax of the English Language explained,” p. 261, fourth Edition.).

I could not find the 4th edition of the referred book, and unfortunately not sure I understand the difference here.

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  • Three points: 1 “I am the man, who command[s] you,” does not appear to be a full sentence and is therefore meaningless - could you give a full sentence and some context? 2 The book was first published in 1836 - in the intervening 184 years much has changed. 3 "commands" is the indicative, "command" is, or appears to be, the subjunctive.
    – Greybeard
    Sep 26 '20 at 9:27
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    @Greybeard, (1) I'm afraid there is no full sentence. This was used to illustrate a point - the author seems to think this is enough. This "sentence" does convey meaning. (2) Maybe so. If in modern English there is no difference, it answers my question (but only partially since I do want to understand the point of the author). (3): I think the subjunctive/indicative is indeed the point here(judging from the context) , but I cannot interpret it in terms of what difference does it make.
    – d_e
    Sep 26 '20 at 9:46
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    @EdwinAshworth, thanks for you suggestions, but to be honest with you, I can't see any connection between my question and those suggestions. (apart from being related to relative clause). My question is specific about usage of the "s" ("who command" vs "who commands")
    – d_e
    Sep 26 '20 at 14:11
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    You need to ditch the comma.
    – Hot Licks
    Sep 28 '20 at 11:35
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To an inattentive reader, the expressions, “I am the man, who commands you,” and “I am the man, who command you,” may appear to be precisely equivalent.

This is obsolete English grammar - the comma is no longer inserted.

Full sentences might read

“I am the man who commands you [to attack the enemy.]” - One of my jobs is to tell you to attack the enemy. (Note that the object is "you.")

“I am the man who command (subjunctive) that you attack the enemy.” - I am the one who is currently ordering you to attack the enemy. (Note that the object is a content clause - "that you attack the enemy")

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  • What does "attack then enemy" mean?
    – Hot Licks
    Sep 26 '20 at 11:38
  • No; d_e has found an authoritative analysis positing a split subject. Sep 26 '20 at 14:52
  • @EdwinAshworth You may have misunderstood when you wrote: No; d_e has found an authoritative analysis positing a split subject. The origin has absolutely no bearing on the question which is "My question is specific about usage of the "s" ("who command" vs "who commands") (see d_e's comment above and to which you responded.
    – Greybeard
    Sep 26 '20 at 14:59
  • Without the commas, as in the version d_e has found: 'I am the man who commands you' {using unremarkable defining/restrictive relative clause, antecedent '[the] man'} v 'I am the man who command you' ↔ 'I who command you am the man'. {The unrearranged original shows the predicate splitting the subject I who command you, placing the defining relative clause (antecedent again 'the man') of the subject after predicate am the man. Probably unacceptable nowadays, but never any subjunctive involved. Sep 26 '20 at 15:13
  • @EdwinAshworth Ah! So the writer was explaining/attempting to explain "I who am..." and "I who is..."
    – Greybeard
    Sep 26 '20 at 18:03
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I found the source, Crombie (p.204-205 Note 3 in The Etymology and Syntax of the English Language explained (4th ed)):

Note 3. — In the earlier editions of Murray's Grammar, we find the following rule : " When the relative is preceded by two nominatives of different persons, it may agree in person with either, as, ' I am the man who commands you,' or 'I am the man who command you.'" The rule here given is erroneous.

The construction is by no means arbitrary. If we say, " I am the man who commands you," the relative clause, with the antecedent man, form the predicate ; and the sentence is equivalent to " I am your commander." If we say, " I am the man who command you," the man simply is the predicate, and I who command you the subject ; thus, " I who command you," or " I your commander am the man.

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    What happened to the commas? (Which quote is accurate?) // Can you think of an example (where the predicate splits the single subject) which sounds idiomatic nowadays? Sep 26 '20 at 14:49
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I was wrong then all the way. This is one of those things that I thought English has lost in time (like gender and most of differences of number and person in verb conjugation). I had not considered: " In relative clauses, who (like other relative pronouns) takes the number (singular or plural) of its antecedent. Who also takes the person (first, second or third) of its antecedent." (Theodore M. Bernstein, The careful writer/ A modern guide to English usage) In which case, the sentences are not only correct, but might indicate differences in matter of 'emphasis':

  1. I am the man, who command you .... = 'I am that man' is more important.
  2. I am the man who command you... = 'I am your commander' is more important. Even though what I had written on Latin is correct, it was quite wrong in what I said about English, so I have rewritten my answer. Thank you all who commented otherwise, helping me to see the point.
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  • Your (1) and (2) are identical. An answer will address the acceptability (over time) of a sentence where a subject containing a relative clause ('who command you' here) is split, the relative clause being postposed to a position after the predicate ('am the man). I've found one further example: 'He is here Who walked on the water' (in [Christian] song lyrics). But this contains a locative complement. Sep 29 '20 at 13:36

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