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I was discussing with some friends the grammatical tense of the verb stop in the sentence:

Someone stop that person.

Despite searching online we did not find a consensus/solution, so we have decided to ask the question here.

Half of us argued that the verb stop is in the imperative mood given its resemblance to an order/command.

The other half contended that 'stop' is in the (exhortative) subjunctive mood. To support their argument, they first translated the original sentence into Italian obtaining

Qualcuno fermi quella persona.

Upon analyzing this Italian version, it became evident that the grammatical mood of the verb fermi is indeed the (exhortative) subjunctive mood. Also, they drew parallels between the sentences 'God bless you' (a classic example of a sentence in the exhortative subjunctive mood) and 'Someone stop that person.'.

Does anyone know of, or can you recommend a reference that might help us figure out the grammatical mood of 'stop' in this context?

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2 Answers 2

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Someone stop that person: the verb stop is in the imperative mood in

That's correct.

'stop' is in the (exhortative) subjunctive mood

That's not.

You can easily prove this syntactically. One test is negation. If you can use don't to negate it, it's imperative:

Don't anyone stop that person

In contrast, you may not use don't to negate God bless you:

*Don't God bless you

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  • This answer is highly majestic. I was looking/searching for an argumentation like this for a very long time! Commented Oct 7, 2023 at 3:01
  • +1 About time this got a straight answer! Commented Oct 7, 2023 at 12:22
  • But the question was about the verb "stop." If the verb looks the same in "Someone stop that person" and "I demand that someone stop that person," how can you tell that the first "stop" is imperative and the second subjunctive? They are identical. Instead, is it the clause that's either imperative or subjunctive, and is it the clause that's negated? If I'm not mistaken, in Italian you distinguish imperative and subjunctive based on verb morphology. No?
    – Puzzled
    Commented Oct 7, 2023 at 15:04
  • @Puzzled I demand that someone stop that person is like I recommend or advise someone stop that person. Verbs like demand, recommend, advise (and can't remember others) uses a bare infinitive in the second clause. So, it can be argued that they are not exactly the same...
    – Lambie
    Commented Oct 7, 2023 at 16:08
  • @Puzzled Yes, that's definitely a view that can be taken (and indeed often is). My suspicion is that JK2 didn't feel that it was particularly worth making that distinction between verb and clause in this case. But you would need to ask JK2. CGEL would agree with you. Commented Oct 7, 2023 at 23:00
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  1. Someone, [exhortation] stop that person.
    John, [exhortation] stop that person.
    You are asking or calling on someone or John to stop that person. The verb is imperative. John and Someone are vocative.

versus

  1. Someone [subject] stop [verb] that person or me [object] from eating all the cake at those weekly get-togethers.

The second is a full sentence on its own. There is no exhortation, no one is being called on to do it. It is a declarative statement.

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  • 4
    As for tense, you can say it's present tense, past tense, or no tense at all == that's all the choices there are. Certainly it's not past, so if it has a tense it's present. But I'd be more likely to say that the imperative is not inflected for tense, the same way regular verbs are not inflected for number (or person or gender except in 3rd person present). Other constructions (like anything starting with a modal auxiliary verb are not inflected for tense either. English inflections are dying right and left. As for mood, imperative is often called a mood. But that just means "modal". Commented Oct 6, 2023 at 23:15
  • @JohnLawler I didn't use the word tense at all, so why get into a disquisition on it and inflection? The verb is in the imperative mood. Of course, the imperative is not inflected for tense. Did I need to write all that?? Not sure a bare infinitive as imperative is a modal.
    – Lambie
    Commented Oct 7, 2023 at 15:59
  • Because the title did before it was changed. I tend to see the title first. Oh, and I was referring to the word mood, or mode, or modal. They're all tied up about probability and its social repercussions. Commented Oct 7, 2023 at 16:01
  • Not mine; I voted you up. Anyway the points system is as useful as the tag system, which is to say not at all. One of the reasons I use comments so much. Commented Oct 7, 2023 at 16:09
  • @JohnLawler Now I had to change my comment as you added to yours. I didn't see the edit or the mention of tense in the title. So, I see now about that. I still disagree about an imperative being modal. :)//Yes, I saw points added in the top menus icon (there were 2, thanks for yours) and then I come here and see the minus 1. Everybody seems so curmudgeonly around here. :)
    – Lambie
    Commented Oct 7, 2023 at 16:10

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