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English has no morphological optative, but there are various constructions which impute an optative meaning. One uses the modal verb may, e.g. May you have a long life! Another uses the phrase if only with a verb in the past or past subjunctive, e.g. If only I were rich! Another uses the present subjunctive, e.g. God save the Queen!
The optative is one of the four original moods of Proto-Indo-European (the other three being the indicative mood, the subjunctive mood, and the imperative mood). However, many Indo-European languages lost the inherited optative, either as a formal category, or functional, i.e. merged it with the subjunctive, or even replaced the subjunctive with optative.
In Albanian, the optative (mënyra dëshirore, lit. "wishing mood") expresses wishes, and is also used in curses and swearing.
- Wish: U bëfsh 100 vjeç! (May you reach/live 100 years)
- Curse: Të marrtë djalli! (May the devil take you)
In Ancient Greek, the optative is used to express wishes and potentiality in independent clauses. In dependent clauses (purpose, temporal, conditional, and indirect speech), the optative is often used under past-tense main verbs. The optative expressing a wish is on its own or preceded by the particle εἴθε (eithe). The optative expressing potentiality is always accompanied by the untranslatable particle ἄν in an independent clause and is on its own in a dependent clause.
- Εἴθε βάλλοις (Eíthe bállois) "If only you would throw."
- Χαίροιμι ἄν, εἰ πορεύοισθε (Khaíroimi án, ei poreúoisthe) "I would be glad, if you could travel."
Its endings are characterized by οι (oi) in thematic verbs and ι in athematic verbs.
Some Germanic verb forms often known as subjunctives are actually descendants of the Proto-Indo-European optative. The Gothic present subjunctive nimai "may he take!" may be compared to Ancient Greek present optative φέροι "may he bear!" That the old Indo-European optative is represented by the subjunctive is clear in Gothic, which lost the old, "true" Indo-European subjunctive that represented a fixed desire and intent. Its function was adopted by the present form of the optative that reflected only possibilities, unreal things and general wishes at first.
A Germanic innovation of form and functionality was the past tense of the optative, which reflected the irrealis of past and future. This is shown by evidence in the Gothic language, Old High German, Old English, and Old Norse. This use of the (new) optative past tense as an irrealis mood started apparently after the Proto-Germanic past tense that had been once the perfect tense supplanted the Indo-German aorist (compare Euler 2009:184).
Likewise in Latin, the newer subjunctive is based on the Indo-European optative. With this change in Latin, several old subjunctive forms became future forms. Accordingly, the prohibitive (negative desire and prohibition) was formed with the combination of *ne + verb form in the optative present.
In Sanskrit, the optative is formed by adding the secondary endings to the verb stem. It sometimes expresses wishes, requests and commands: bhares "may you bear" (active voice) and bharethās "may you bear [for yourself]" (middle). It also expresses possibilities (e.g. kadācid goṣabdena budhyeta "he might perhaps wake up due to the bellowing of cows") or doubt and uncertainty (e.g., katham vidyām Nalam "how would I be able to recognize Nala?"). The optative is sometimes used instead of a conditional mood.
In Finnish, the optative is archaic, mainly appearing in poetry. It is used as an "archaic" or "formal imperative", and it denotes a more subtle and polite request. It is formed using the suffixes -os and -ös, depending on vowel harmony; for instance, kävellös is the active voice second person singular in present optative of the verb kävellä (to walk). Altogether there are 28 verb inflections in the optative mood, complete with active and passive voice, present and perfect, three person forms both in singular and plural and a formal plural form. Most, if not all, of these forms are, however, utterly rare and are not familiar to non-professionals. Only some expressions have remained in day-to-day speech; for instance, one can be heard to say ollos hyvä instead of ole hyvä ("you're welcome" or "here you go"). This form carries an exaggerated, jocular connotation.
The Finnish optative expresses formality. For example, the ninth Article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights begins with Älköön ketään pidätettäkö mielivaltaisesti, "Not anyone shall be arrested arbitrarily", where älköön pidätettäkö "shall not be arrested" is the optative of ei pidätetä "is not arrested". (Also, using the conditional mood -isi- in conjunction with the clitic -pa yields an optative meaning, e.g. olisinpa "if I only were". Here, it is evident that the wish is not, and probably will not be, fulfilled.)
The Japanese optative is formed by using a conditional such as ba (-ば) or tara (-たら). For example, "I wish there were more time" is expressed literally as "If there were time, it would be good." (時間があればいいのに jikan ga areba ii noni), where aru, the verb expressing existence, is in the ba conditional form areba. Ii is the present tense of "good," but if expressed in the past tense yokatta よかった, the sentence expresses regret instead of a wish or hope. The above example would become "If there had been time, it would have been good" 時間があればよかったのに, as might be said of an opportunity missed because of a lack of time.
The optative mood can also be expressed by using ように youni after the polite form of a verb. For instance, "may you have a pleasant trip" 楽しい旅になりますように.
The Mongolian optative or "wishing form" (Хүсэх Хэлбэр) is used largely to "tell another person about a wish not connected to the listener". Colloquially, however, it can also be used for a wishful second person imperative. It is formed by joining the suffix -аасай/-ээсэй/-оосой to the root stem of the verb. e.g. Үзэх= to see. үз—ээсэй.
Миний дүнг ээж үзээсэй Minii düng eej üzeesei. "If only mum could see my results."
It can also be used to form wishes in the past tense.
Чи ирсэн баиж ч болоосой Chi irsen baij ch boloosoi. "If only you had come."
Бороо чи ороосой Нулимс минь урсаасай Болзоо хожимдоосой Чи битгий ирээсэй
"Boroo chi oroosoi, Nulims min' ursaasai Bolzoo khojimdoosoi Chi bitgii ireesei."
"If only you would fall, rain. If only my tears would flow. If only (you) would be late for our rendezvous. If only you wouldn't come."
In Sumerian, the optative of the 1st person is formed differently from the other persons:
|1.||Cohortative/hortative||ga-na-b-dug||I want to say it to him/her|
|2./3.||Precative||ḫe-mu-ù-zu||You should experience it|
Thereby, take note that the "normal" indicator of the 1st person in the cohortative (would be a suffix -en) is mostly omitted, as with the cohortative prefix, the 1st person is already expressed. In the case of the precative, the personal indicator has to be used to differentiate between the 2nd and 3rd person.
The optative in Turkish is part of the wish case (dilek kipi) which reflects the command, desire, necessity, or wish. It has several semantic nuances. For instance, the word for "to come" (infinitive: gelmek) is modified in the optative to geleyim. This creates also a one-word sentence and means according to the context
- I may come.
- I come (sometime).
- I want to come (sometime).
- I should (sometime) come.
Takes the -a or -e suffix.
- geleyim, kalasınız
- may [I] come, may [you] stay
It takes the -sa or -se suffix. The following example reflect a wish:
- gelse, kalsanız
- if [he/she/it] would come, if [you] would stay
- Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary (1972 ed.)
- Joseph Wright. Grammar of the Gothic language. page 137, paragraph 288: derivation of present subjunctive.
- Gonda, J., 1966. A concise elementary grammar of the Sanskrit language with exercises, reading selections, and a glossary. Leiden, E.J. Brill.
- A Texbook of The Mongolian language, 2002:142, Ulaanbaatar, National University of Mongolia.