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mesmark Jan 18th, 2007 06:29 am

Help with "May God have mercy on your soul"
In "May God have mercy on your soul." how is the 'may' acting.

It's not a command or a question. What is it?

I had a student ask about it and all I said was it is a way of wishing/praying/hoping to mean 'I hope that...'

'May the force be with you!'

Other than religion and Star Wars movies do we use this form?

michèle 2 Jan 18th, 2007 09:49 am

Re: Help with "May God have mercy on your soul"
Isn't it a subjunctive form?

susan53 Jan 18th, 2007 11:07 am

Re: Help with "May God have mercy on your soul"

Quote michèle 2
Isn't it a subjunctive form?

No - English doesn't have a subjunctive as such. The same idea would be expressed in other languages (eg Italian) with a subjunctive form, but that's just how those languages express the concept of a wish. In a sense it is a command - or at least, grammatically it's an imperative. It's connected to the use of may in English to express possibility of occurrence and could be glossed as "let it be possible that ..." or "let it be the case that.." If you turn it back into an ordinary affirmative which expresses possibility in the sense of permission you can see a connection between the wish and the statement - for example :

Yoda : Luke - trained hard you have and ready to become a Jedi knight you are. Passed you have - and from now on, the force may be with you.

ie Yoda "consents" that the force may be with Luke- "you are permitted to have the force with you". Turn that into a wish and, as I said you get something like "let it be the case that ..."

Clear it is I hope ...

As for Mesmarks query about other expressions, some which stagger to mind include : May you rot in hell (sorry but you did ask), May I never live to see the day when ..., May all your problems be little ones, and the Clapton song : May you never lay your head down without a hand to hold, May you never make your bed ... May you never lose your temper if you get hit in a bar room fight ...

susan53 Jan 18th, 2007 11:13 am

Re: Help with "May God have mercy on your soul"
Sorry clicked the wrong button - Eric, can you delete this please.

susan53 Jan 20th, 2007 02:06 am

Re: Help with "May God have mercy on your soul"
This one has been driving me crazy and I've been awake half the night thinking about it - may you be forgiven, Mark!

Seriously, it was that example that started me off - it has a clearer relationship with the normal affirmative form than the Star Wars example I gave last time :

Oh well, I'm feeling generous - you may be forgiven Mark.

The inversion of the subject and verb (May you ..) gives it the imperative function I talked about before, even though it's clearly not imperative in form (or there'd be no subject.) I glossed it before as Let it be the case that ... but it occurred to me that May it be the case that is equally feasible.

OK, that didn't take me all night, but it led me on to all sorts of similar sentences which were a lot more complex, for example - in the first and third persons you can use both let and may with similar meaning - eg Let him be forgiven or May he be forgiven - but why in the second person can you only say May you be forgiven and not *Let you be forgiven?

And then there were examples of other modal verbs acting strangely - Would that I knew for example. That kept me going for a couple of hours (PM me if you really want the analysis, but don't say I didn't warn you).

Having got that off my chest, I'm now going back to bed (good job it's Saturday). And may all my dreams be non-linguistic ones ....

Laurent55 Oct 23rd, 2013 12:59 pm

Re: Help with "May God have mercy on your soul"
If the subjunctive does not exist in English what then is 'If I were you, I would…"?

Laurent55 Oct 23rd, 2013 01:24 pm

Re: Help with "May God have mercy on your soul"
How about 'May God have mercy on his soul.' or 'Let God have mercy on your soul.' or 'Let God have mercy on his soul.'?

The difference between 'let' and 'may' must have something to do with what Michael Swan (and others?) calls interpersonal uses:

'may' would be one such 'interpersonal' verb (1st person wishing 2nd person sth)

whereas 'let' would not (1st person wishing 3rd person sth).

susan53 Oct 25th, 2013 12:52 pm

Re: Help with "May God have mercy on your soul"
If I were you is the regular second form of the verb "be"
Rule - form: second form verbs are not marked for person or number - eg I played, he played, they played / I went, he went, they went
Rule - use : second form verbs can be used to express A) past events - I lived in Finland for a year B) hypothetical events - I wish I lived in Japan

The verb BE is unusual in that for use A (past events) it uses an irregular form which is marked for person/number - I was /He was/We were/They were in Japan last year - but for use B (hypothetical events) it uses the regular form with no person/number marking - I wish I /he/they were in Japan

See Palmer Grammar Penguin

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