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In the Lord of the Rings, Gandalf yells this famous line:

Fly, you fools!

Now, I am wondering what the function of 'you' is. Is it an exclamation? The Collins Dictionary uses the examples 'what' and 'how' in a similar way (link here). I believe 'such' could also fall under this categorisation.

2 Answers 2

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"You" in this position functions as a determiner. (examples adapted from Wiktionary)

Have you gentlemen come to see the house?

You idiot!

Determiners function to identify the thing referred to by a noun. So the determiner "these" identifies it as "the ones close to me" "These fools are....". But the determiner "you" identifies the noun as being the person addressed by the speaker.

So "You fools" means "the fools, who are you." But it is an emphatic form, used most often with an epithet (like "fool")

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  • Probably its most common usage is in phrases such as “you guys”. Oct 21, 2021 at 15:00
  • Is this a demonstrative determiner? That is the only category I think it fits in.
    – MJ Ada
    Oct 25, 2021 at 18:10
  • It's a determiner. I don't feel the need to subcategorise in this case.
    – James K
    Oct 25, 2021 at 18:37
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Maybe the more important question is: what is the role of "fools" in the sentence?" Whatever "you" is doing here, it's doing it together with "fools" as a phrase. The phrase "you fools" is directly mentioned in this book about syntax. Although the discussion is way above my pay grade, one phrase jumps out: "you fools" is "a kind of integrated appositive." (Appositives, oversimplified, add one noun to another to help clarify.) It's also clear that, since Gandalf is addressing the party directly, the phrase is a vocative. A vocative is simply a direct address (so, in the sentences "Run, Forrest!" or "Bring out the ring, Frodo," Forrest and Frodo are vocatives, as well as the subjects of their imperative sentences.

In an earlier edit of this answer, I suggested that the vocative "you fools" was functioning as a subject in the sentence. However, vocatives cannot be subjects. So the answer to the original question is simply: "you" is an appositive in the vocative phrase "you fools."

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    Although the implied subject of an imperative is “you”, when it’s expressed, it must precede the verb, not follow it.You can get both in the same sentence: You stop it, you! Oct 21, 2021 at 15:38
  • @Araucaria-Nothereanymore. Thanks, that makes sense. Oct 21, 2021 at 15:40
  • @Araucaria-Nothereanymore. So wait, what is the subject? A second, implied "you"? Oct 21, 2021 at 15:43
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    Yes, that’s right. Oct 21, 2021 at 15:50

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