August 6, 2013

Third Person Imperatives

In Hindi, a subjunctive verb form can be used to indicate a third person imperative. There are no third person imperatives in English, so some ingenuity is required to translate these imperatives.


चोट न लग जाये! – “Don’t let (someone) get hurt!” (This could be a warning said about a child, etc.)
गिर न जाए! – “Don’t let (someone) fall!”
बच्चे सड़क पर न खेलें – “Make sure the children don’t play on the street”
जिसने कभी पाप न किया हो वह पहला पत्थर मारे – “Let the one who has never sinned cast the first stone”

This idiom is generally used when issuing a warning (e.g. चोट न लग जाये) or when the person commanded is unknown and therefore cannot be addressed with a second person imperative (e.g. जिसने कभी पाप न किया हो वह पहला पत्थर मारे).

  • nilaya_shogun

    very interesting indeed!

    in all of your examples given the commands request some sort of prevention (i.e. negation); so how is it without न and asking someone to make sure a third person DOES something rather than not? Do we simply omit the न, and also: could we use मत as well to emphasize the urgency of this command?

    बच्चे मकान में खेलें — Make sure the children (do) play inside the house. (same: Children should play inside the house) (?)
    बच्चे सड़क पर मत खेलें — Make sure the children do not play on the street (under any circumstances)! (?)
    बच्चे सिग्रेट न पिएँ — Don’t let the children smoke cigarettes / The children shouldn’t smoke cigarettes.
    बच्चे सिग्रेट पिएँ — Let the children smoke cigarettes. (?)
    बच्चे मत पिएँ — Don’t let the children smoke (/drink)!
    बच्चे पिएँ — Let the children smoke (/drink)।

    बच्चे पिए — The children smoked (/drank)।

    And when it comes to certain subjunctive forms I would like to know something else you might be able to shed some light on here… How does the तुम command or the subjunctive तुम-form of a verb change when its stem ends in -ओ ??
    would it be like this:

    सोना —> सो (तू) / सोओ (तुम/subjunctive) ‘sleep!’
    धोना —> धोओ ‘wash!’
    रोना —> रोओ ‘cry!’

    I originally had lots more questions involved here but they were answered one by one as I went along. Now I am not even sure any more whether any of this makes sense… so to make things a little simpler for you to answer this block of question marks, perhaps you’ll find it easier to simply translate these sentences for me:

    a) ‘Let the children smoke/drink’
    b) ‘Let me understand’ (does this only seem intransitive because we take the object as given??)
    c) ‘Wash your clothes first!’ (using तुम)
    d) ‘Let us drink’ (हम/masc. and not meant as a toast)

    Thanks for tuning in!! Thumbs up for this small article!

    • Thank you! Great questions. I should have included an example without a negation. Yes, this can be used for positive commands. You’re right: negative commands have न and positive commands don’t . For example: जिसने कभी पाप न किया हो वह पहला पत्थर मारे (“Let the one who has never sinned cast the first stone”). We cannot use मत because that is only used with the imperative mood and with infinitive commands (e.g. देखना मत). However, in colloquial Hindi, speakers sometimes use the negative particles from one mood with other moods. You might hear someone say “नहीं रो” instead of “मत रो”. I’ve never heard मत used with the subjunctive mood, though. Even though the subjunctive mood can be used to make 2nd and 3rd person commands, we still use न. When a verb stem ends in -ओ, no additional -ओ ending is added when forming the 2nd person imperative, so सोना –> सो, धोना –> धो, रोना –> रो, etc. Translations: a) this sentence doesn’t seem natural in Hindi; instead we’d probably say बच्चों को पीने दो (= “allow the children to drink”) b) मुझे समझने दो (although this is also awkward) c) पहले अपने कपड़े धो d) पीते हैं / पिएं (this is an exhortation, not a command, e.g. “let’s go” in English. None of those sentences seem appropriate for a third person imperative. In my experience, third person imperatives are most often used for warnings like the example sentences above, or for indefinite commands (e.g. “the one who has never sinned” is not definite; how would we address that person in any other command?). The warnings are pretty common, but otherwise third person imperatives aren’t common. Let me know if you have any more questions. Great questions – they made me think a lot more about third person imperatives.

      • nilaya_shogun

        thanks so much for the prompt reply! Seems you have clarified all remaining questions for me here…
        It is likely you inadvertently didn’t include ‘positive’ third person commands because they would actually be ‘awkward’ and one would rather refer to the imperative in such cases…
        उन्हें जाने दीजिए — ‘please let them go’
        वे न जाएँ — ‘make sure they don’t go’ / ‘they shouldn’t go’
        and thank you for the answer to the तुम commands as well!

        • You’re welcome! I’ll update the article with the outcome of our discussion. Thanks again!