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'Death' is a single form or at least an uncountable noun. Why is the wedding vow 'until death do us part' rather than 'until death does us part'?

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    It was written over 400 years ago, in a style that was even then old fashioned. Don't expect it to be "normal grammar"
    – James K
    Jan 4, 2023 at 15:45
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    The phrase comes from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (earlier editions had till death us depart). Jan 4, 2023 at 15:50
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    Okay "over 350 years" my point remains
    – James K
    Jan 4, 2023 at 16:47

2 Answers 2

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Because in Early Modern English, various subordinators, including if, though, until and while, took what was historically a subjunctive verb (though for every single verb in the language it is identical with the base form, even be).

If you look at older books, you will find plenty of

though he be ...

while they be ...

etc.

A more normal form of the clause in Early Modern English would be

until death part us

(again with that "subjunctive" part)

In modern English we always use "do" support for questions and negatives, but only use it in an affirmative sense for emphatic or contrastive meaning:

Yes, I do want to go.

But Shakespeare uses it sometimes without any such reason, eg "Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May": I suspect this is mostly for the sound, the rhythm.

Perhaps the writers of that prayer chose to use it for the same reason; this might also account for the unusual placing of "us".

Until death part us -> until death do part us -> until death do us part.

with the whole sentence leading towards the strong word "part".

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What you're thinking of is 'until death parts us' (or maybe 'until death does part us'?).

The phrase 'until death do us part' is like 'until we part through death'.

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    Where have you seen "until death do we part" used?
    – stangdon
    Jan 4, 2023 at 15:47
  • @stangdon oh right thanks
    – BCLC
    Jan 4, 2023 at 16:01

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