"You could just leave me here," Harry put in hopefully (he'd be able to watch what he wanted on television for a change and maybe even have a go on Dudley's computer). Aunt Petunia looked as though she'd just swallowed a lemon. "And come back and find the house in ruins?" she snarled. (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)

Is the ‘come back and find the house in ruins’ an imperative sentence, or is ‘you could’ omitted before come back?


No, it's an elided sentence without an implied "you" as subject, which is what an imperative is. This sentence should be something like this:

We should go and just leave you here and then we should come back and find the house in ruins? Are you out of your mind? [= crazy]

The bold font is what's missing.

  • I believe that "and then we would come back ..." is a slightly better choice. – Scott Mar 2 '13 at 6:51
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    @Scott: You might be right about that, but I don't think so. The problem, it seems to me, it that with two hypotheticals in the sentence, two "should"s are called for. To use "would", I'd have to turn the sentence into a conditional: "If we go and just leave you here, we would come back and find the house in ruins! Are you out of your mind?" This isn't quite the same as my sentence, which is merely different in structure, mood, and tense. I make no judgment about its being better or worse than yours. There's always more ways than a month of Sundays to skin a skunk. – user264 Mar 2 '13 at 7:25
  • Well, maybe, but you’re the one who brought the word “should” into the equation. It doesn’t appear in the original quote; rather, Harry says, “You could just leave me here.” I interpret Aunt Petunia’s response as short for, “Yes, we could just leave you here, and then we would come back and find the house in ruins.” You’re the one who ‘turned the sentence’ into –– well, I don’t know what to call it, because I don’t really understand why it would even be considered correct –– “We should go and just leave you here and …” How do you explain that sentence structure? – Scott Mar 2 '13 at 21:16
  • @Scott: It seems to be a matter of interpretation, then. I'm looking at the semantics in context: "Yes, we could do X, and then Y would happen" means, using a different grammatical structure, "But if we do X, then Y will occur. We won't do this this, because we're not crazy". Another way for Harry to suggest a possibility & Petunia to reject it is to put it into hypotheticals using should. That shouldn't be difficult to understand, but "is a slightly better choice" is almost a bludgeon because it's an expression of your blind faith in the verity of your personal judgment. – user264 Mar 3 '13 at 1:23
  • There really are a few possibilities here, not just mine & not just yours. But discussing it at the level of "Well, that's not how I see it" is akin to 20th-century art criticism about the meaning & value of Jackson Pollock's "action paintings": Tales told by idiots, "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing". – user264 Mar 3 '13 at 1:32

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