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But the boy was trying to fight off the dementors, even though Harry could see their cold, draining power starting to affect him. The crowd was jeering, some of them on their feet, as the woman swept out of the dungeon, and the boy continued to struggle.

“I'm your son!” he screamed up at Crouch. “I'm your son!”

“You are no son of mine!” bellowed Mr. Crouch, his eyes bulging suddenly. “I have no son!”

The wispy witch beside him gave a great gasp and slumped in her seat. She had fainted. Crouch appeared not to have noticed.

“Take them away!” Crouch roared at the dementors, spit flying from his mouth. “Take them away, and may they rot there!”

What does "may they rot there" mean? Is it let them rot in the prison Azkaban?

-- From Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

  • What exactly do you not understand about this phrase? Have you ever seen a subjunctive of the form may God bless you, may the force be with you? What you have in your quote is the same thing. – Michael Rybkin Dec 29 '18 at 4:07
  • @MichaelRybkin, thanks. So it's saying "wish they rot there" or "wish they stay there forever"? – dan Dec 29 '18 at 4:11
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    Yes, may the force be with you basically means I hope that the force will be with you. May they rot there! would then mean I hope that they will rot there! – Michael Rybkin Dec 29 '18 at 4:12
  • Originally, I thought it's probably similar to "May you succeed", but I'm not really sure about it. So, "there" here refers to Azkaban, right? – dan Dec 29 '18 at 4:16
  • Probably. I can't know that because I've never read the Harry Potter books. – Michael Rybkin Dec 29 '18 at 4:17
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What you have there is nothing more than a subjunctive of the following form:

May God bless you.

May the Force be with you. (this is the most quoted line from the Star Wars movies)

All these expressions can simply be paraphrased like this (at least, that's the way I think of them):

I hope that God blesses/will bless you.

I hope that the Force is/will be with you.

I also think that this is by far probably the most commonly used form of the subjunctive mood in Modern English.

Therefore, you can think of "Take them away, and may they rot there!" as meaning "Take them away, and I hope that they will rot there!" (possibly, in prison, as you mentioned earlier).

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When uttered by a person who has the power to render judgment autocratically (a king, say, or an emperor, or a war-lord) the set phrase Take them away! usually implies that they are to be taken to a dungeon or prison. away means "someplace else" but the usual meaning of this particular set phrase is something like "Get them out my sight! (and bring them to the place you would normally bring people when I issue that command)".

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