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Why do you say

Have a nice trip!

but the Frank Sinatra song goes:

Have yourself a merry little Christmas!

What's the motivation for adding yourself?

I know the motivation for adding for yourself (Do it for yourself!). I have a notion, but is it correct? Is yourself added to express 'you as well' or 'you too'? Kind of:

(Look, I'm having a merry little Christmas).
Have a merry little Christmas too / as well.

3 Answers 3

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I think it was more to do with the song. It isn't a commonly used construction.

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  • Nevertheless, there was certainly a reason for adding it into the song text and there should be a common understanding of what it expresses resp. a common understanding of how the statement would change if yourself were missing. I'd like to know more about it.
    – Ben A.
    Commented Jan 8, 2020 at 10:52
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Give yourself a treat

In this sentence, Give has two objects- that's OK, because give is a ditransitive verb, and can take two objects. See this line in the entry for give in the Cambridge Dictionary:

[ + two objects ] She gave us a set of saucepans as a wedding present.

have is not ditransitive, as you can see from the entries in the Cambridge Dictionary:

have verb (EXPERIENCE)
to experience something:
- We're having a wonderful time here in Venice.
- We didn't have any difficulty/problem finding the house.
- He hasn't been having much luck recently
.

It is therefore grammatically incorrect to use have yourself something. It is used informally, particularly in the US, though many of the references found in this NGram graph are actually references to the song. The expression first occurred in writing in 1940, so it does pre-date the song, which was first recorded in 1943 by Judy Garland.

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  • Dictionary examples aren't exhaustive and don't define a rule. Your examples don't address the imperative form, and if native speakers use it, others understand it, and it doesn't feel wrong to them, then from the standard descriptivist linguistic standpoint, it's correct. Have yourselves a good debate about this though. :)
    – gotube
    Commented Jun 30, 2021 at 21:06
  • @gotube the question asked why yourself is added. My answer deals with the question from both the prescriptivist approach (there is no grammatical reason for adding it), and from the descriptivist point of view (people in the US do add it in informal speech and there doesn't have to be a reason). Regarding imperatives, check out this NGram graph: books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – JavaLatte
    Commented Jul 1, 2021 at 0:32
  • Dictionaries aim to reflect common usage, so if this is found in common usage it may just be missing from the dictionary. :)
    – nschneid
    Commented Nov 1, 2021 at 4:17
  • As for why "have yourself" could have entered the language despite being grammatically exceptional, <s>I suspect it was adapted from imperative uses of ditransitive verbs with reflexive pronouns, like "Make yourself comfortable!" and "Get yourself something nice!"</s>. I take this back—there are many nonimperative examples in the OED so it may not be the best explanation. Consider: "We have ourselves a winner!".
    – nschneid
    Commented Nov 1, 2021 at 4:22
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    I managed to find a dictionary entry in the OED, under have: "colloquial (chiefly U.S.). With emphatic reflexive pronoun as indirect object, as to have oneself (something): to provide or indulge oneself with (something); (also) to be in possession of (something pleasant or desirable)."
    – nschneid
    Commented Nov 1, 2021 at 4:23
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It's not used for a "you as well" effect, it's used more to emphasise the personal aspect of the statement, usually to enhance the amount of affection it conveys; you're letting the person know that you mean them (as a corollary, it's often said that if you use a person's name when you communicate with them, you can increase feelings of rapport, closeness, trust, etc.).

You can even go a step further in the addition of personal references:

You have yourself a nice day!

Although, the above can also be said sarcastically and somewhat aggressively, and the personal references may serve to subtly enhance the conveyance of a feeling of dislike or even a threat.

We may interpret this (via a word change and some punctuation), in a grammatically correct way, as a sort of command or order:

[You] take, for yourself, a nice day (i.e. the experiences that would lead to one enjoying the day)!

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  • @jonathanjo: True, although I would say that what also might not be specified is who it's for, not how to get it, i.e. where the meaning would be "Get, for yourself, a drink". But, yes, this also exists alongside your version, which could also be expressed as "Get a drink yourself".
    – Chris Mack
    Commented Jan 9, 2020 at 12:25
  • There's also a connotation of get it for yourself, rather than be given it: "Get yourself a drink" (help yourself) vs "Get a drink" (not specified who it's for).
    – jonathanjo
    Commented Jan 9, 2020 at 12:29
  • Of course you're correct, edited.
    – jonathanjo
    Commented Jan 9, 2020 at 12:29
  • I think it's also valid as an expression of "how" the drink is to be gotten, which would often be heard as a rebuttal, with "yourself" providing contrast to some other idea, e.g., "Will you get me a drink?" - "No, get yourself a drink!"
    – Chris Mack
    Commented Jan 9, 2020 at 12:33

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