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I'm just wondering why do we say:

God bless

Or

God damn

Rather than:

God blesses

Or

God damns

Is this because of respect to God?

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2 Answers 2

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"God Bless" is a request, one is asking God to bless something or someone. Similarly, "God damn" is normally asking God to damn someone or something, at least in metaphor. "God damn" is not as often used in its original literal meaning these days. These are in the imperative and that is the form used.

One could say:

God blesses those who do good work in the world.

or

God damns those who defy god's word.

This is describing God's actions, or what the speaker believes are God's actions.nd so the simple present is used (although one can construct similar expressions using the past or future or other tenses). This is much less common than the previous case.

Saying simply "God bless" is normally a reduced form of "God bless you" and so is again in the imperative, which is sued for such requests as well as for commands.

Also "God bless you" can be short for "May God bless you", a wish or desire, which would also use the imperative.

This is not a matter of respect for God as such. One could say

Judge convict this criminal.

or

Pass this law!

Again it is a request (or demand) of an authority to act in a certain way, so it is in the imperative. Direct orders such as "Go Home", "Stop that!" or "Company halt!" also use the imperative

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    Were it a request or order, there would be a comma: Judge, (do) convict this criminal. God, (do) help me! Correct me if I'm mistaken, David:)
    – Victor B.
    Sep 26, 2021 at 20:36
  • @Victor B. This is speech we are talking about, not writing. In a significant sense three is no such thing as comma placement in speech, and where ther is it is not exact. Also "God bless you " can be short for "May God bless you" a wish or desire, which would also use the imperative. I will add that to the ANSWER. Sep 26, 2021 at 21:33
  • I don't think "May God bless you" is imperative. "May God bless you" reads as an inverted form of "God may bless you", and if so then "may" is finite, "bless" is nonfinite, and neither is imperative. "May" is a modal verb and modal verbs lack nonfinite forms (including imperatives) in standard English. You can't order someone about with "will", "must", "shall" without a subject. You can say "go!" and you can say "you shall go", but you can't say, imperatively, "shall go!" or even "may go now!".
    – rjpond
    Sep 26, 2021 at 21:49
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    @rjpond "May God bless you" is a wish or desire that God will so act; "God may bless you" is a statement of possibility. Not the same meaning at all. Consider other forms such as 'May you live long and happy"; "May it come speedily and soon (from the mourner Kaddish); "May he recover promptly"; "May your marriage be fruitful"; "May he rest in peace"; "May it be Gods will that ..." "May her return to us safely" All these are requests or wishes, not statements of possibility. Many are implicitly addresses ed to a deity. This formal usage, once common, is now mostly heard in religious ceremony. Sep 26, 2021 at 22:05
  • I didn't say that they were statements of possibility or that they had the same meaning. Inversion here results in a change of modality and of meaning - consider "I had gone" versus "Had I gone..." (=if I had gone). "May" here is quasi-subjunctive rather than imperative.
    – rjpond
    Sep 27, 2021 at 8:03
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This is not specific to God; it’s simply about the uncommon tense of the verb.

“[May] God bless” and “[May] God damn” are in the subjunctive (you’re hoping He blesses or damns the object), which does not add the “s” in the third person singular as in the simple present.

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    I would say they are definitely subjunctive. First of all, there is no comma after "God". Secondly, "God bless you" as an imperative would make no sense. If you were addressing God then "you" would have to refer to God as well.
    – rjpond
    Sep 26, 2021 at 20:25
  • @rjpond I could see it as “[Let] God damn you”, which would be imperative, but I agree the subjunctive makes more sense. Edited.
    – StephenS
    Sep 26, 2021 at 20:29