The word jussive may be used as an adjective or as a noun. As an adjective, it means ‘expressive of, or related to, a command or order’; and as a noun, it denotes a word, clause, sentence, or the like, which is expressive of, or related to, a command or order. (Jussive (pronounced 'dʒʌ sɪv) comes from the Latin iussus, the past participle passive of the verb iubēre, ‘to order’).
Grammarians define the category of the jussive in different ways. At one extreme, some regard any sentence, irrespective of its grammatical form, as a jussive if it expresses an order: for them ‘Read the account carefully’, ‘It is vital that you report the matter to the authorities’, ‘Let him come in’, ‘Let us put the matter behind us’, ‘Never reveal your credit card details to a stranger’ are all examples of jussives. At the other extreme, some contrast jussives with (second-person) imperatives and hold that the only genuine jussives are sentences of the form ‘Let them return immediately’, ‘Let him see if he can do better’.
In a small number of languages (among them Arabic and Hebrew) there is a jussive mood of the verb, i.e., a mood co-ordinate with the indicative and subjunctive, with its own distinctive forms and its own distinctive uses.
For example, in Arabic in the first person singular of the present tense, in addition to the indicative aktubŭ (‘I write’) and the subjunctive aktubă, there is the jussive aktub; in the third person singular feminine, in addition to the indicative taktubŭ (‘she writes’) and the subjunctive taktubă, there is the jussive taktub; and in the third person plural masculine, in addition to the indicative yaktubūna (‘they write’), there is the subjunctive and jussive yaktubū. (The changes in the final short vowel which differentiate moods in, e.g., the first and third persons singular, are not represented in Arabic script but are respected in the formal spoken language, i.e., in the pronunciation of Modern Standard Arabic.)
The jussive mood has three uses in Arabic:
- to express an order in the first or third person - used in this way, the verb is always prefixed by the particle li, as in li-yaktub al-taqrīr, ‘let him write the report’; li-nashrab al-qahwa , ‘let us drink the coffee’; li-yusāfir ila bāris, ‘let him travel to Paris’;
- to issue a prohibition or negative command - used in this way, the verb is always negated by lā (‘not’), as in lā taktub al-taqrīr, ‘do not write the report’; lā tashrab al qahwa ‘do not drink the coffee’; lā tusāfir ila bāris, ‘do not travel to Paris’;
- to negate an action in the past, i.e., to say that the action did not take place – used in this way, the verb is always negated by lăm (‘not’), as in lăm yaktub al-taqrīr, ‘he did not write the report’; lăm yashrab al-qahwa, ‘he did not drink the coffee’; lăm yusāfir ila bāris, ‘he did not travel to Paris’.