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"What do you have me do?" or perhaps "What do you have me to do?" Which one is correct and could you please anyone tell me the meaning of the phrase? Thanks

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    Where did you hear/read that, in what context (edit)? Did you perhaps mean to write What would you have me (to) do??
    – user3395
    Commented Mar 28, 2019 at 13:55
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    What meaning are you trying to express? There's dated / formal What would you have me do? (What is it that you want me to do? - advise / command me), and What do you have for me to do? (What task can I perform for you? - employ me, set me to work). Commented Mar 28, 2019 at 13:57
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    You should edit your question text to provide a link to the specific text that's confusing you. But almost certainly if if's Elizabeth I, she'll have been asking her council of advisers What would you have me do? - with the sense of What is your (considered, professional) advice as regards how I should proceed? It's not a usage you'd expect to hear in a modern colloquial context., but it might still occur naturally in some formal contexts. Commented Mar 28, 2019 at 14:01
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    According to imsdb.com/scripts/Elizabeth-The-Golden-Age.html, there are no instances of what do you have me do in that movie, but there is one of what would you have me do. ELIZABETH: What would you have me do? 'Cut out' half the people of England?
    – user3395
    Commented Mar 28, 2019 at 14:05
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    @FumbleFingers: +1, with the possible additional shading of defensiveness or outrage, as in "What exactly do you geniuses think I should do in such a case [where my hand is forced, or all other outcomes are bad, etc.]?"
    – Robusto
    Commented Mar 28, 2019 at 14:06

2 Answers 2

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I agree with the tendency of the many comments to your question.

Userr2684291 directs our attention to a scene in which Elizabeth I says the line "What would you have me do?"

As I read that scene, Elizabeth means to ask "What would you like me to do?" But her implication is rhetorical. She means that if you consider that question, "What would you have me do," you will realize that the proposed answer ("Cut out" half the people of England) is obviously a bad answer; and therefore Elizabeth has no real alternative to the plan she favors.

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Just to be clear, "What do you have me do?" and "What do you have me to do?" are both incorrect English. I think @FumbleFingers has it right.

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  • "What do you have me do?" is grammatical but only in rare contexts. If you've already started doing a job, but had a sudden moment of doubt, you could ask your employer "What do you have me do?" meaning "What do you normally have me do as a job?" with the habitual sense of the simple present.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 19:28

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