Contrastive vs noncontrastive you

Imperatives with a Visible “You” Subject

Imperatives with a visible you subject are quite common and are classed based on two basic purposes, depending on whether the you is contrastive.

CONTRASTIVE YOU

You can be used to mark a contrast when two or more roles are being assigned to different agents.

In 1), we see examples in which the speaker singles out two people who are supposed to carry out two distinct tasks or roles.

Noncontrastive You

Imperatives with you subjects that are noncontrastive are used when the speaker feels he or she is in a position to claim some authority over the person who is being addressed.

The use of a you subject can convey several different emotional tones, which depend upon the circumstances in which the imperative is uttered.

Impatience or Irritation

The presence of you may indicate that the speaker is irritated or impatient with the person being addressed. In this case, the you subject imperative can have an “aggressive, hectoring effect,” as shown in 2).

Comfort or Encouragement

The use of a you subject can also convey a tone of friendly encouragement as in 3a), in which the cheers from the stands are meant to comfort and encourage the person at whom they are directed.

Again, in 3b) and 3c), the you subject imperatives clearly have the function of comforting and reassuring.

Admonishment, Threat, or Advice

A speaker may use a you subject imperative to admonish someone to do something or to threaten or advise someone. The you subject adds an extra element of emotion to the imperative.

In 4), the you subject makes the imperative sound more like a command than if the speaker had used a simple subjectless imperative such as “Don’t ever forget what we swore to do.

As the last sentence demonstrates, this extra emotional tone is interpreted negatively by the person who is addressed. It offends her.


A you subject imperative can have several other interpretations.

The sentence in 5) is an emphatic directive. Again, it has more emotional impact than it would without the visible you subject. The same can be said for 6), which is a threat, and 7), which conveys friendly advice.