Re: 3d person imperative in English

From: James H. Vellenga (
Date: Mon Jun 10 1996 - 14:03:29 EDT

> >> .... Since English does not
> >> use a third person imperative, it's a bit awkward to translate the Greek
> >> third person imperative into the English. We make a brave attempt by
> >saying
> >> "let", although "let" is actually 2nd person imperative.
> >
> >Although not widely recognized, there _is_ a third person imperative
> >in English, namely, "have" as in
> >
> > "Have your secretary call me."
> >
> >or
> >
> > "Have each of you be baptized ...."
> >
> >Regards,
> >j.v.
> >
> >

>From Don Partain (representative of other comments);
> No, this is second person imperative. In each case, unspoken "you" is the
> subject: "(You) have your secretary call me." "(You) have each of you
> baptized..."
> Right?

An automatic parsing engine would agree with you, as would my
high school English teacher. However, my point is really that
the King James "let him come to me and drink" and the more
modern equivalent "have him come to me and drink" fulfills the
function of a 3d person imperative. In effect, "let him X"
in King James's time and "have him X" in our own is
a periphrastic construction having imperative force. The
third person imperatives in the the Greek NT are (almost?)
never address to the person being commanded, and so are always
at best relayed through the second person party as well.

Here I go with an analogy again. If my wife gets in the
passenger seat of our car and says, "OK, let's go!" this is
a phrase with the force of a first-person imperative. The fact
that the same construction can be used less forcefully, as
in "Let's go dancing tonight," doesn't mean that it isn't
semantically imperative -- I could suggest to a colleague
"Go dancing tonight!" with the same reduced level of force.

I'm perhaps overstating the case, but what I really want is
to argue that 3d person imperatives from the Greek, when translated
using a construction such as "Have him X", have a much more
natural feel than the conventional "Let him X" or "He should X".
For example,

  If anyone is thirsty, have him come to me and drink.

  Have the one who keeps stealing not keep stealing any longer,
  but have him work by crafting something good with his own hands....

  Don't have every kind of rotten statement keep coming out of
  your mouth ...


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