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It looks like imperative singular, but its meaning is obviously not imperative. Maybe it's actually some other verb form mostly absent in modern Russian? What is the origin of usage of imperative (or what is it?) to express conditional mood?

Thanks for your answers!

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  • It is like English "Be he home..."
    – Anixx
    Nov 11, 2016 at 14:38
  • @Anixx, does such construction really exist in English?
    – Lara
    Nov 11, 2016 at 23:52
  • I think a similar construction in English would be the subjunctive 'should' as in "Should it happen, I'll deal with it".
    – Ruslan
    Mar 28, 2020 at 15:27

1 Answer 1

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Conditional subordinate clauses contain a condition from which the realization of the content in the main clause depends. Subordinate clauses usually begin with conjunctions, but such relationship can be formed without conjunctions using the imperative which is not used in its usual function.

Явись теперь на Руси поэт, который был бы неизмеримо выше Пушкина, его появление уже не могло бы наделать столько шума (Белинский).

The imperative is used to denote a contrary to fact condition. The construction is informal and its usage is rather limited:

(Будь я) на вашем месте, я не отвечал бы на это письмо.

Знай я ремеслo – жил бы я в городе.

И не случись бы в моей судьбе тех перипетий, кто знает, как бы оно и что бы… И вообще, какой бы я стала. Л. Гурченко. Аплодисменты.

Будь бы другие времена, я бы по нём настоящую панихиду отслужил, как у нас в монастырях служат. С. А. Еремеева. Лекции по русскому искусству .

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  • Thanks! Good point that "будь" instead of "был бы" in conditional mood emphasizes that the condition is false. Maybe you know, what is the origin of such usage?
    – Lara
    Nov 7, 2016 at 19:42
  • 1
    There's no reference to this particular case, but in general conditionals originated from желательное наклонение, which is the first known form of this sort.
    – V.V.
    Nov 8, 2016 at 4:23
  • 1
    More information on optative mood (желательное наклонение) is available here: pravoslavie.ru/73084.html
    – Vitaly
    Nov 8, 2016 at 17:12
  • @Vitaly, thank you very much, you should add it into your answer
    – V.V.
    Nov 8, 2016 at 18:01

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