I don’t mind what you do. (1)
Let me know who wins. (2)

-- Cambridge Grammar of the English Language

CGEL says the two examples’ subordinate clauses are written as ‘deictic futures’. There would be no ambiguity in (2), but there seems to be one between present and future time in (1). Can (1)’s subordinate clause be used only as a deictic future, or can it be used as a deictic present in some contexts?

  • Can you provide a reference supporting "In CGEL, the two examples’ subordinate clauses are written as deictic future"? I don't understand the terminology in this context - in fact, I don't see how deixis relates to these two sentences any more than it does to any utterances. Sep 14, 2013 at 16:38
  • @FumbleFingers Tense is regarded as a deictic category because it involves 'pointing' in a specific temporal 'direction' from the moment of utterance, just as this and that or I and you point in specific spatial directions. Deictic tense is apparently current jargon for the simple (or direct or absolute) tenses which locate the event at the time at which you're pointing, as opposed to relative tenses like perfects which locate the event before the time at which you're pointing. Sep 14, 2013 at 17:55
  • @StoneyB: Not your fault, I'm sure, but that's about as clear as mud to me. Is it just a roundabout way of OP asking whether his examples can be semantically identical to what you are doing and who is winning in certain contexts? I still don't understand the question. Sep 14, 2013 at 18:09
  • @FumbleFingers You got it. Can "what you do" point to the immediate present? My answer (below) says "No, but it can refer to the generic, indefinite present we use in "FumbleFingers does this sort of thing very well". Sep 14, 2013 at 20:23
  • @StoneyB: Well, we seem to have exposed a "deictic" dimension to the imperative Let me know [something]. On your part, at least, since you say it always means tell me in the future in your dialect (never tell me now). I don't really see that anyway, but I find it hard to believe such an obscure and sporadically-observed nuance could be the focus of OP's enquiry here. Sep 14, 2013 at 20:55

1 Answer 1


I think characterizing (1) as a deictic future is dubious. It may be deictic future in the right context:

I know you haven’t decided yet, but I wanted to tell that I don’t mind what you do.

But in another context it may be a ‘generic’ present, signifying the addressee's habitual practice:

Usually I don’t mind what you do, but in this case I think you’re behaving badly.

For a deictic present, however (if I’m understanding the CGEL use of this term—I take it to mean a construction which indicates specifically present action), I think you have to use the progressive construction:

Go right ahead. I don’t mind what you’re doing at all.

Context is everything. (2), for instance, is unambiguous only because the imperative let me know necessarily points to a future action. In another context, who wins may have generic force. For instance, Grantland Rice's famous verse “For when the One Great Scorer comes/ To mark against your name,/ He writes - not that you won or lost -/ But how you played the Game” may be paraphrased

What matters in any contest is not who wins but how the game is played.

  • Actually, #2 is unambiguous only because of the verb form "wins". If I said "Let me know who won", that would imply a reference a past winner. But if I said "Let me know the winner", I could be referring to a past, present or future winner. Sep 14, 2013 at 16:44
  • @FumbleFingers Hmmm ... All imperatives are inherently futurive; and in US usage, "let me know" implies futurity even more strongly - "let me know when you find out". But in that respect it accommodates both 'wins' and 'won' in a futurive sense, because WIN is an achievement verb which can only be known and communicated after the fact. Cisatlantically, at least, I can say while the game's in progress "I'm going to bed now. Let me know who won." Sep 14, 2013 at 17:50
  • I can't really argue with that final example, but it does rely on interpreting "let me know" as a request to be informed at some future time. I was thinking in terms of it being an "immediate" instruction - Tell me right now who won (I'm asking about a past event, and I want an answer within the present conversational context, not sometime in the future). Sep 14, 2013 at 18:03
  • @FumbleFingers That appears to be a difference between your dialect and mine. "Let me know" would not be used as an immediate demand over here; it's used when "tell me now" is precluded. Sep 14, 2013 at 20:20
  • Weird. It's certainly not a US/UK split though - I can find plenty of examples in Google Books like “I can't get into details right now. Just let me know what you discovered.” which are obviously American, and obviously expect an immediate answer. Sep 14, 2013 at 20:48

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