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An example of the optative mood in English


A category of grammatical mood that expresses a wish, hope, or desire.

In English, sometimes the subjunctive form of the verb is used in optative expressions, such as "God help us!"

See also:


From the Latin, "to wish"

Examples and Observations:

  • "'May the best rat win!' bellowed an inebriated Tretiak, and a dozen large rats began racing on a neon-lit mini-track in Tretiak's private club."
    (Burl Barer, The Saint. Pocket Books, 1997)

  • Long may you run.
    Long may you run.

    Although these changes
    Have come
    With your chrome heart shining
    In the sun,
    Long may you run."
    (Neil Young, "Long May You Run." Long May You Run, 1976)

  • "Adieu, my dearest friend--may you be happy!--and then your Clarissa cannot be wholly miserable."
    (Samuel Richardson, Clarissa, 1748)

  • "Would that he were gone!"
    (Fairy in William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, 1594 or 1596)

  • "May God bless and keep you always,
    May your wishes all come true,
    May you always do for others
    And let others do for you.

    May you build a ladder to the stars
    And climb on every rung.
    May you stay, forever young.
    (Bob Dylan, "Forever Young." Planet Waves, 1974)

  • Optative May
    "Optative clauses express hopes and wishes . . .. This inverted construction with may generally belongs to formal style, though it is also found in various fixed phrases such as May the best man win! or May you be forgiven!"
    (Rodney Huddleston and Geoffrey K. Pullum, The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2002)

  • "(I.181) a. May he not regret it! . . .
    "(I.181) expresses the optative mood also associated with subjunctive idioms such as God save the king! The former construction is not lexicalized or routinized to the extent of the latter, however. The specialized mood interpretation of may is associated with 'inversion.' . . . Apart from in idioms there is no morphological expression of optative mood in English.

    "There is, however, a further optative expletion . . .:
    Would that it would/were to rain.
    But again this is apparently a dedicated optative form with no corresponding morphological expression. . . . It is the whole expression that expresses optative mood."
    (John M. Anderson, The Substance of Language: Morphology, Paradigms, and Periphrases. Oxford Univ. Press, 2011)

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