What Is a Jussive Clause?

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A jussive is a type of clause (or a form of a verb) that expresses an order or command.

In Semantics (1977), John Lyons notes that the term "imperative sentence" is often "employed by other writers in the broader sense that we have given here to 'jussive sentence'; and this can lead to confusion".

Etymology: from the Latin, "command"


"Jussives include not only imperatives, as narrowly defined, but also related non-imperative clauses, including some in subjunctive mood:

Be sensible.
You be quiet.
Everybody listen.
Let's forget it.
Heaven help us.
It is important that he keep this a secret.

The term jussive is, however, used to some extent as a syntactic label, and in this use would not include commands expressed as straight declaratives, e.g.

You will do what I say.

In popular grammars, where the term is not used, such structures would be dealt with under an expanded imperative label and under subjunctives." (Sylvia Chalker and Edmund Weiner, Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar. Oxford University Press, 1994)


  • "Jussive: A term sometimes used in the grammatical analysis of verbs, to refer to a type of mood often equated with an imperative (leave!), but in some languages needing to be distinguished from it. For example, in Amharic, a jussive paradigm is used for wishes ('May God give you strength'), greetings, and certain other contexts, and this is formally distinct from the imperative." (David Crystal, A Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics, 4th ed. Blackwell, 1997)
  • "Imperatives constitute a subclass of a somewhat larger class of jussive clauses. . . . Non-imperative jussives include main clauses like The devil take the hindmost, God save the queen, So be it, and subordinate clauses like [It is essential] that he accompany her, [I insist] that they not be told. The construction exemplified here is productive only in subordinate clauses: the main clauses are virtually restricted to fixed expressions or formulae. Like imperatives they have a base form as first verb... A number of other relatively minor main clause constructions might be included in the jussive category: May you be forgiven!, If that is what the premier intends, let him say so, and so on." (Rodney Huddleston, English Grammar: An Outline. Cambridge University Press, 1988)
  • "[John] Lyons [Semantics, 1977: 747] argues that the imperative can only be, strictly, second person, and never third person (or first person). This may, however, be no more than a terminological issue, since first and third person 'imperatives' are often simply called 'jussives.' Bybee (1985: 171) suggests that where there is a full set of person-number forms the term 'optative' is used, but this is not entirely suitable in view of the fact that the term is used traditionally for the 'optative' mood in Classical Greek (8.2.2)... The term 'Jussive' (plus Imperative) is preferred here." (F. R. Palmer, Mood and Modality, 2nd ed. Cambridge University Press, 2001)
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Nordquist, Richard. "What Is a Jussive Clause?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/what-is-a-jussive-1691089. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 27). What Is a Jussive Clause? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-jussive-1691089 Nordquist, Richard. "What Is a Jussive Clause?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-jussive-1691089 (accessed March 30, 2023).