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May you be blessed - subjunctive? Options
Kirill Vorobyov
Posted: Monday, October 02, 2017 6:07:23 AM

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Hello!

I understand this construction "May + ..." is usually a prayer, or otherwise a strong wish that appeals to celestial forces. Since I know "May you be blessed" I assume "may" should be followed by the subjunctive, is this right?

So it's "be" in all persons and no -s ending in third person singular for other verbs, right? E.g.: May he be safe", "May it remain as it is" , etc. Are these correct?
Clyde of Oz
Posted: Monday, October 02, 2017 6:29:49 AM

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Yes.
Kirill Vorobyov
Posted: Monday, October 02, 2017 6:41:24 AM

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Thank you!

Some anti-Trump person on another forum suggested they should pray, and I wondered what that prayer would have to be linguistically. Now I understand it's May he have never won that election.
tunaafi
Posted: Monday, October 02, 2017 6:44:32 AM

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Kirill Vorobyov wrote:
May he have never won that election.

That is not natural.
Audiendus
Posted: Monday, October 02, 2017 7:47:18 AM
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Kirill Vorobyov wrote:
I understand this construction "May + ..." is usually a prayer, or otherwise a strong wish that appeals to celestial forces. Since I know "May you be blessed" I assume "may" should be followed by the subjunctive, is this right?

It is actually followed by the (bare) infinitive, which has the same form as the subjunctive.

Kirill Vorobyov wrote:
So it's "be" in all persons and no -s ending in third person singular for other verbs, right? E.g.: May he be safe", "May it remain as it is" , etc. Are these correct?

Yes. The infinitive ending is always the same; it does not itself have 'person' forms.
tunaafi
Posted: Monday, October 02, 2017 8:10:07 AM

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Audiendus wrote:
Kirill Vorobyov wrote:
I understand this construction "May + ..." is usually a prayer, or otherwise a strong wish that appeals to celestial forces. Since I know "May you be blessed" I assume "may" should be followed by the subjunctive, is this right?

It is actually followed by the (bare) infinitive, which has the same form as the subjunctive.


In the rather old-fashioned 'May you be blessed', it seems to me that may is an expression of the speaker's wish. The speaker's wish is that the the person addressed be (subjunctive) blessed.
Audiendus
Posted: Monday, October 02, 2017 9:09:29 AM
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tunaafi wrote:
In the rather old-fashioned 'May you be blessed', it seems to me that may is an expression of the speaker's wish. The speaker's wish is that the the person addressed be (subjunctive) blessed.


I would say that "may" here is a modal verb in the subjunctive mood, followed by an infinitive.

"Be" can be subjunctive where there is no modal verb, e.g. "Blessed be he", "Be it good or bad".
tunaafi
Posted: Monday, October 02, 2017 9:37:21 AM

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Audiendus wrote:

I would say that "may" here is a modal verb in the subjunctive mood, followed by an infinitive.

Modal verbs are not generally considered to show mood in the way that other verbs can.

Quote:
"Be" can be subjunctive where there is no modal verb, e.g. "Blessed be he", "Be it good or bad".

Indeed it can, but that has nothing to do with what we discussing.
Audiendus
Posted: Monday, October 02, 2017 10:43:42 AM
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tunaafi wrote:
Modal verbs are not generally considered to show mood in the way that other verbs can.


Do you agree that "may" is a modal verb in "May you be blessed"? If so, "be" cannot be in a finite mood.
tunaafi
Posted: Monday, October 02, 2017 11:04:02 AM

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It's difficult to say what 'may' is there. I seem to recall that Huddleston and Pullum call it some form of particle - I'll see if I can find the page when I have some free time.
Wilmar (USA)
Posted: Monday, October 02, 2017 11:49:06 AM

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GO Pres. TRUMP!
tunaafi
Posted: Monday, October 02, 2017 2:24:20 PM

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I am still unable to locate the H & P reference (what a useless index The Cambridge Grammar of he English Language (2002) has!). I will keep looking.
Audiendus
Posted: Monday, October 02, 2017 10:47:14 PM
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Thanks.

I note that Wiktionary describes "may" in this sense as a subjunctive:

http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/may#Verb
tunaafi
Posted: Tuesday, October 03, 2017 3:35:49 AM

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Thanks. That definition adds: Expressing a wish with present subjunctive effect. That seems to me (though I may be a little biased here) to mean that causes what follows to be subjunctive.

On the other hand, Curme (1931), writing nearly ninety years ago, is clear that the dorm we are talking about is a 'new subjunctive form' (his term for modern equivalents of the traditional subjunctive) 'may and a dependent infinitive clause' (my emphasis added).
tunaafi
Posted: Tuesday, October 03, 2017 5:14:42 AM

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In main clauses MAY can be used formulaically to express a wish, as in [Long may they fail]. In many languages a subjunctive form is used here.

Aarts, Bas (2011), Oxford Modern English Grammar, OUP.

Aarts appears to imply that a subjunctive form is not used in English.

I'll find a supporter of my idea yet!
tunaafi
Posted: Tuesday, October 03, 2017 5:38:53 AM

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Going back even farther in time puts another potential nail in the coffin of my idea, Sweet (1891.108) refers to this use as a combination of may and might with the infinitive.

However, I do not find this convincing, as his examples of this 'permissive mood' (Sweet's term) include:

1. May you be happy.
2. Let the dig loose that he may run about a little.

It seems to me that these are two different constructions. Might is not possible in the first, though may is in the second. In the first, 'may' is the verb in an independent clause, in the second it is a verb in a dependent clause introduced by 'so that'. In the first 'may' expresses a wish/prayer; in the second it doesn't.






TheParser
Posted: Tuesday, October 03, 2017 8:20:49 AM
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Kirill Vorobyov wrote:


Some ... person on another forum suggested they should pray, and I wondered what that prayer would have to be linguistically. Now I understand it's May he have never won that election.



NOT A TEACHER

Hello, Mr. Vorobyov:


I have found some information that may interest you.

A great expert says: "For reference to past time we employ the past perfect subjunctive, or in the case of auxiliaries use the perfect infinitive instead of the present."

You may wish to study his examples:

1. O had he only been here!

2. O might I have known it in time!

3. O could I have understood him better!


So I am wondering: Instead of saying the natural sentence of "I wish that he had never won," maybe we could use the formal and elegant sentence of "O had he only lost the election!"



Source: The one and only Dr. George Oliver Curme in his magnificent 1931 two-volume masterpiece A Grammar of the English Language, Vol. II, page 399.

He traces the development of English grammar from the past up to the 1930s.

You will be overwhelmed and thrilled by the material in his masterpiece (including copious examples).



Audiendus
Posted: Tuesday, October 03, 2017 10:03:38 AM
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tunaafi wrote:
Going back even farther in time puts another potential nail in the coffin of my idea, Sweet (1891.108) refers to this use as a combination of may and might with the infinitive.

However, I do not find this convincing, as his examples of this 'permissive mood' (Sweet's term) include:

1. May you be happy.
2. Let the dog loose that he may run about a little.

It seems to me that these are two different constructions. Might is not possible in the first, though may is in the second. In the first, 'may' is the verb in an independent clause, in the second it is a verb in a dependent clause introduced by 'so that'. In the first 'may' expresses a wish/prayer; in the second it doesn't.


Yes, they are two different constructions. I think they are respectively analogous to:

1. Long live the king!
2. Our aim is that he live longer.

or

1. Perish the thought!
2. We should preserve the world lest it perish.

In each pair, (1) and (2) are different uses of the subjunctive.


With regard to the Wiktionary entry, I note that a few lines lower it says:

Quote:
The simple past (both indicative and subjunctive) of may is might.


This implies that 'may' itself can be subjunctive. In my opinion, the mood of 'may' in the following sentences is as shown in brackets:

He may come tomorrow. [indicative, in independent clause]
I think he may come tomorrow. [indicative, in dependent clause]
May he come tomorrow! [subjunctive, in independent clause]
I will rearrange my schedule, in order that he may come tomorrow. [subjunctive, in dependent clause]
May he come tomorrow? [indicative, in independent clause]
Audiendus
Posted: Tuesday, October 03, 2017 10:13:24 AM
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TheParser wrote:
1. O had he only been here!

2. O might I have known it in time!

3. O could I have understood him better!


So I am wondering: Instead of saying the natural sentence of "I wish that he had never won," maybe we could use the formal and elegant sentence of "O had he only lost the election!"


I think these forms are more suited to poetry.
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