Does English have third-person imperatives, or only second-person ones? Consider:

  • Jeff, turn the heat in here way down, please, but don’t anyone turn his suit heater on. We need to get used to that cold as soon as we can. [citation]

The first part is obviously a normal imperative, vocatively addressing Jeff in the second person by using the regular command form.

But what then is the second half? Isn’t anyone always a third-person pronoun? Is this a third-person imperative? Can those even exist? Or has anyone become a second-person pronoun here?

These are not rare, either. This Google Books search comes up with going on a million hits.

But what are they? You can do similar things with someone, everyone, no one, etc. This seems stronger than an indirect command like “Let them eat cake,” because it seems to be actually addressing all these anyone-people.


The thing that throws me about the original citation is that if it is really a second-person in disguise, then why isn’t it

  • But don’t everyone turn your suit heater on.

As in:

  • Everybody give me your opinions.

It almost seems that people randomly pick your, his, and their to match with somebody, anybody, everybody when used in a second-person command:

  • Eric get me some water, somebody give up their chair so he can site down. [citation]

If, as John says, this “must” be second person because it is a command, then shouldn’t it “always” be your instead of their? Are there rules about this? Are any of these clearly “right” or clearly “wrong”?

  • Somebody give me your ticket.
  • Somebody give me their ticket.
  • Somebody give me his ticket.
  • Somebody give me her ticket.

The first seems to be rare in comparison to the others, so just might be a mistake. But it looks the most correct of any of them to me.


I've always found it more useful to think of categories like tense, number, person, &c not as attributes of particular word-forms but as attributes of the clause, which elicit particular word-forms in various contexts.

As John Lawler says, “it's still second person verb agreement because it's an imperative.” The subject of an imperative is implicitly ‘second-person’. In my terms, this amounts to saying an imperative elicits a subject which may be parsed as ‘second-person’.

But in English, this is scarcely a limitation at all. Only ‘personal pronouns’ are explicitly marked for person; all other pronouns, and all nouns, are unmarked and may be parsed as whatever person is properly demanded. (For that matter, imperatives often take a ‘null subject’, which isn’t marked for anything!) We may think of those other pronouns as ‘third person’, because that’s how we mostly use them, at least in writing. But if you require a pronoun of a particular class—a relative pronoun or an ‘indefinite’ pronoun, for instance—in a first- or second-person utterance, you don’t have to cast about for a second-person relative or indefinite pronoun; you just use the relative pronoun you’d use anywhere else, and the context defines it as second person. Note that this is not materially different from the way we use verbs, which are also mostly unmarked for person.

Of course if you have some reason to make the second person explicit, there’s a way of doing that, too:

One of you turn the heat down, some of you go shut down the warp drive, and don’t any of you turn your suit heaters on.

Your example does have another interesting agreement problem:

. . . don’t anyone turn his suit heater on.

You (or somebody) put that possessive in the ‘third person singular’, reflecting (at a guess) the pressure of a pronoun you almost always use in that person and number. I’d put it in ‘second person singular’, to reflect the context: Don’t anyone turn your suit heater on.

This is not a construction likely to arise in strictly formal writing, so it probably doesn’t matter; but maybe we should agree in advance that the most convenient way of handling it is the way we handle that other pressing pronoun-agreement issue:

Don’t anybody turn their suit heater on!

  • 1
    Your explanation agrees with mine: the author, wanting to avoid using the plural their, opted for his, which created an awkward construction (how many initially thought the speaker was referring to Jeff's suit controls?). Moreover, had the crew not been entirely male, using his would have opened another can of worms.
    – J.R.
    Nov 5 '12 at 9:37

Nice question :-).
"Do" is so useful and so used that most speakers do not notice the complexity of many of the constructs it ends up in. Sometimes they can be "unwound" by rearrangement, as here. Sometimes not.


  • "Please don't anyone turn his suit heater on"

is more easily understood if seen as meaning something like

  • "Please do not turn your suit heater on, anyone."

ie It sounds like "don't anyone" + "do xxx"
but is in fact "don't do xxx" + "anyone"
= "do not do" + ...

  • 1
    It's the same construction as Don't you turn your suit heater on, except that the second person addressee you has been replaced with an indefinite addressee anyone; but it's still second person verb agreement because it's an imperative. Nov 5 '12 at 1:55
  • 2
    What @John said. I certainly interpret anyone as the "second person addressee" (effectively, any one of you), and it would still seem fine to me if it had been "Please don't anyone turn your suit heater on". But what do I know? I wouldn't be bothered by "Don't anyone turn their suit heater on" either. Nov 5 '12 at 2:46
  • Those are all fine with me, too. Nov 5 '12 at 3:07
  • or "don't, anyone, do xxxx"?
    – Louis Rhys
    Nov 5 '12 at 5:45

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.