0

This could seem to be a stupid question to natives but I'll just try. Recently I found out that the most difficult kind of sentence in English are none other than the simple declarative sentences. (I have no clue that which grammar subject I should look up.)

I was wondering how come just stating the current state can have so many different meanings, especially when the subject is You or We. Such as...

(A) We are running away.

(B) Let's run away.

When someone says (A), how could natives take that as (B) in some contexts? Where does the "Let's" come from? When you say like "It's running away", you do not expect that that phrase would mean "Let it run away". Do you? I'm not a native, so I don't have much confidence in this. But anyway, how do you tell which is (A) or (B) just by hearing(or reading) the (A)?

Similar examples are so many.

In a video game, Overwatch, there's this character who yells "Nerf this!" which means "Just you try to nerf this". How do you tell this from "Nerf this(= Please do me a favor and be sure to nerf this)"?

In a TV show, Modern Family, a mom says to her daughter that "You're not wearing that outfit" meaning "I won't have you wear that outfit". How do you tell this from "You're not wearing that outfit(= I know what you're wearing now and it seems you didn't try that one though)"?

3

"Let's" is a contraction of "Let us" and is an indirect suggestion or proposal for a group of two or more people (of which the speaker is one) to do something (in this case "run away") so (b) is a contraction of:

"Let us run away."

However the non-contraction version of the sentence would rarely be used in general conversation - usually only in more formalized speech such as in Church (e.g. "Let us pray") unless the person being spoken to is not part of the "us", in which case the term is used as an imperitive to that person and in that scenario you can't use the contraction.

So for an example:

Dorothy and Toto are being held by the Wicked Witch, if Dorothy is talking to Toto and says

Let us run away!

Toto is part of the group (the "us") so she's saying

I propose we run away!

and she could equally use the contraction. If she says it to the Wicked Witch however the witch is not part of the group she intends to run away so she is saying:

Allow us to run away!

the contraction can't be used and she is demanding the Witch let them go.

(A) wouldn't be taken to mean the same as (B) by a native - (A) is talking expressly in the present tense, and indicates that it is either something that is in progress as they speak or as something that is presumed to be inevitable. In the latter case if the "We" includes the person you're speaking to then it can be similar to the "Let's" example but it's a much more strongly expressed imperative.

So back to Dorothy and Toto, if Dorothy were to say to Toto:

We are running away!

Then unless they are currently in the process of doing so she is giving a firm imperative to Toto that running away is something that is going to be happening, either to calm Toto's doubts or to tell him he doesn't really have any choice in the matter.

Which is what you correctly interpreted as happening in the Modern Family example (As for how you distinguish that from the statement of fact that someone is not wearing a given outfit at that point in time, well there's no grammatical rule for that - the difference in meaning would be conveyed purely through context and tone of voice).

  • I initially thought that A couldn't equal B until I read Tᴚoɯɐuo's answer. But it is a very niche usage. – WendyG Jan 21 at 16:00
  • @WendyG I've edited to make it a bit clearer that A can be similar to B in some cases (niche ones as you say) – motosubatsu Jan 21 at 16:14
2

We are running away can be intended to mean Let's run away when the speaker enjoins the listener to accept the advice or the action proposed.

C'mon, we're running away.

That can mean: "I propose we run away" or "I say we should run away"
and "C'mon" (come on) is an imperative that means "Come along" or "Do as I say".

Intonation and tone of voice in conversation carry meaning.

You're not wearing that outfit!

is spoken not with the intonation and tone of voice of a simple declaration of fact but with that of an admonition, "Ohhh, no you don't!"

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.