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(From A Terrible Kindness by Jo Browning Wroe)

Part I, Aberfan, chapter 2 (The end of the dinner party)

"Please share with gathered institute members." . . . "Embalmers needed urgently at Aberfan. Bring equipment and coffins. Police blocks surround village; password Summers." . . . 'I suggest, gentlemen, those who feel able to answer this call for help, have a strong cup of coffee and be on your way. The rest of us will try and enjoy the remainder of the evening on your behalf.

My problem is the bare infinitive of "have" and "be" in this sentence. Do you take this bare infinitive to be the base form of the verb of an imperative clause or do you complement "should" to the sentence - . . . those who feel able to answer . . . , should have a strong cup of coffee and be on your way.?

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You can take it either way. I first read have and be as imperative; and the vocative gentlemen, supports that reading.

But they could also be so-called "subjunctive" (i.e. base form) after "suggest". That reading will take those who feel able to answer this call for help as the subject of the dependent clause, rather than another vocative.

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It's an imperative... Gentlemen, have a coffee and be on your way.

The phrase "those who feel able to answer this call for help" is an appositive to "gentlemen".

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    I feel like this reading would have trouble explaining "I suggest." We wouldn't say "I suggest, gentlemen, sit down." (I mean, we might in the vagaries of impromptu speech, but it wouldn't be usual.) Apr 5 at 18:05
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    I can imagine ,though, saying "I suggest, let's sit down and talk it over". It's as if "I suggest" is separate from the suggestion, framing it. Apr 5 at 18:48
  • @AndyBonner: I’d agree your very short example is clear enough that it’d be relatively unusual even in casual speech, and noticeable as — if not exactly an error — a change of horses in midstream. But in OP’s example, the imperative is separated from the “I suggest…” by a long modifying phrase, and at least to my ear, that brings it well back into the realm of ordinary speech. As long as the overall semantic intent is consistent and clear through the sentence, a minor syntactic mismatch between the start and end can happen very easily, and isn’t particularly noticeable as a listener.
    – PLL
    Apr 7 at 20:07
  • I wouldn't take "those who feel able to answer this call for help" to be an apposition to "gentlemen". I take "gentlemen" to be a vocative in this sentence and "those" a "new" subject of a "that"- clause: . . "(that) those (who . . . ) have a strong cup of coffee and be on your way."
    – philphil
    Apr 7 at 22:13
  • @philphil That seems the most likely meaning to me as well. The only problem with it is the comma: “I suggest that those who can answer the call for help, be on their way” is badly mispunctuated, with a comma separating subject and verb. The additional verbiage may have misled the author (and/or editors) to add in a comma because the sentence was getting long, but it shouldn’t be there. If the relative clause is an appositive, though, the comma is exactly where it should be. Apr 8 at 0:11
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ORIGINAL

I suggest, gentlemen, those who feel able to answer this call for help, have a strong cup of coffee and be on your way.

The speaker seems to be making a centaur of a sentence, part direct-address with imperative, and part declaration of a suggestion.

Gentlemen, those (of you) who feel able to answer this call for help, have a strong cup of coffee and be on your way.

I suggest, gentlemen, (that) those who feel able to answer this call for help have a strong cup of coffee and be on your [their] way.

Possibly the semantic issue is that not all of the gentlemen feel able to answer the call for help, so there's two groups of gentlemen.

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    I don’t really see why it’s a centaur of a sentence. You can have direct address in declarative sentences no problem. “I suggest, gentlemen, that you have a coffee and be on your way” is perfectly fine an natural, and “I suggest, gentlemen, [that] those [of you] who feel able to answer this call for help have a strong cup of coffee and be on your way” no less so. The only thing that is a real issue with this interpretation is the comma after help in the sentence as quoted in the question – that seems to indicate that ‘those who… help’ is not the subject, but a parenthetical. Apr 8 at 0:05
  • @JanusBahsJacquet The human-beast interface is at the word those. What if it said simply "Those who feel able to answer this call for help, be on your way" -- do you consider Those a proper form of direct address? It doesn't say "those of you who". Is it perfectly grammatical to say "Friends, those who are here tonight, I ask you ..." ?
    – TimR
    Apr 8 at 10:44
  • To say to a crowd "Those who feel able to answer this call for help, ..." would result in some in the crowd thinking at first "I guess he's talking about me ... " and then correcting themselves, "Nope, I was wrong, he's talking to me. He's told me to be on my way".
    – TimR
    Apr 8 at 10:52
  • Those does not by itself imply those of you, but it also does not preclude it; it’s just that ‘of you’ may be either explicit or implied when used in direct address appositives. In speech, intonation would make it clear whether the vocative is “gentlemen” or “gentlemen, those who feel able…”. And yes, I find “Friends, those who are here tonight, I ask you…” perfectly grammatical and unremarkable (apart from the fact that I wouldn’t start a direct address with just ‘friends’ – I would always say ‘my friends’, ‘dear friends’ or something like that). Apr 8 at 12:16
  • I hear in the original quotation a not-so-subtle insult. "Those" refers to a group obliquely; it is not a proper form of direct address. I will concede that "those" is used in perfunctory forms of direct address: All those in agreement, say 'aye'
    – TimR
    Apr 8 at 13:22
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We can see the structure better in a simpler form:

I suggest you have a cup of coffee.

Functionally, yes, this is a request or order. We could use the same structure even more forcefully:

I demand you answer me!

Grammatically, though, it's a declarative sentence. I'm just telling anyone who happens to be interested about the demand that I'm making. Both examples could be said to contain an implied "that": "I demand [that] you answer me."

(Note, in case there's any confusion, "be on your way" is a phrasal idiom).

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I suggest, gentlemen, those who feel able to answer this call for help, have a strong cup of coffee and be on your way

This sentence uses the rather formal construction "...suggest [that] direct-object bare-infinitive...". According to the Cambridge Dictionary, that can be omitted. and it is in this sentence.

Normally, when somebody makes a suggestion in a formal register like this, it best to treat it as almost an imperative. In this case, that doesn't apply because it is said by the chairman at a formal dinner, hence the formal tone.

He is asking for volunteers for a very unpleasant task, and making a very practical suggestion to the volunteers that they sober up a little before setting off on their mission.

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