LINGUIST List 12.2947

Mon Nov 26 2001

Sum: Past Imperatives in English

Editor for this issue: Marie Klopfenstein <>


  1. Wolf, Past imperatives

Message 1: Past imperatives

Date: Mon, 26 Nov 2001 11:08:54 +0100
From: Wolf <>
Subject: Past imperatives

Last week I posted a query on past imperatives (quoted in the footer of this 
message). I received cooperative and informative responses from Laura Callahan, 
Murakami Madoka, Earl Herrick, J.L. Speranza, John Dunnion, Ya'ar Hever, 
Raphael Mercado, Martha McGinnis, Yves Roberge, Rudy Troike, Johannes Reese, 
Clyde Hankey, Larissa Chen, Hans-Werner Hatting and Leor Alcalay.

None of the people who responded accepted true past imperatives in English. 

Yves Roberge informed me about French constructions like (1):
(1) Aie termin´┐Ż quand je reviendrai.

Although apparently referred to as 'past imperatives' in the literature, these 
constructions in fact express "present" perfect imperatives with future reference.

Yves also provided me with the following reference:
"Romanian, Objects and Imperative Constructions", in J.-M. Authier, B.E. Bullock 
and L.A. Reed (eds.) Formal Perspectives on Romance Linguistics. John Benjamins, 
Amsterdam. 1999

Ya'ar Hever brought the following construction in Hebrew to my attention:
(2) Ha'item kan.

This sentence contains a preterite verb form, but apparently with present reference. 
The construction needs some more looking into.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to respond.

- ---
Original query:

In a restricted set of contexts, Frisian and Dutch seem to exhibit
past imperatives. I'm wondering, whether the same holds for
English. If anyone accepts at least one of the sentences below, I'd be
obliged to receive his native judgements.

(1) That day our teacher started showing us old railway stations on
the map. (you) Better paid attention, for that was usually followed by
a test.

(2) When such clouds appeared in the sky, (you) better were careful,
because that indicated a thunderstorm.

(3) Were a good sport!

(4) Did be a good sport!

- ---------------------------------------------------------
Henk Wolf (Fryske Akademy) (Fryske Rie) (privee)
Fryske Akademy, Postbus 54, NL-8900 AB Ljouwert
tel. 058-2336918 / 058-2131414, faks 058-2131409
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue