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Kindergarten Imperative

Ben Yagoda has an article in Slate on a “currently very popular tense” which he calls Kindergarten imperative (as in “I need you to put away your crayons now”). He sees the last remaining preserves of the old imperative in traffic signs (“Stop”), farewells (“Take care now”), and song titles, especially Beatles songs (“Come Together,” “Don’t Let Me Down,” “Get Back,” “Please Please Me”).

The Kindergarten imperative, he observes, is a construction also favored by flight attendants, who often inexplicably add the phrases “go ahead and” and “for me,” as in:

I need you to go ahead and put your seat backs in the upright position for me.

I need to check my grammar books. Somehow I thought that the imperative was a mood, not a tense. But perhaps it is different in English.

One Response to “Kindergarten Imperative”

  1. Imperative is a mood, and he goes on to call it that (rather than a tense). However, he gives “No Smoking” as an example of a traditional imperative – “Do not smoke” would be a true imperative. “No smoking” is only a shortening of the existential that he mentions, “There is no smoking,” and a gerund isn’t functioning as a verb anyway, so there.

    As for the lack of directives in public life, a bunch come to my mind: “Please stand clear of the doors” is a common announcement on US subways (akin to Yagoda’s “mind the gap” example from the Tube), “Watch your step” and “Watch out” I hear all the time, and the post office still stamps “Do not bend” on fragiles-full envelopes. It may be that we are less likely nowadays to use negative imperative constructions of the “DO NOT verb” variety, replacing them with “need to” which goes along with English’s tendency toward increased hedging. But there are still lots of command forms running around; get a clue.

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