A Grammarian's Guide to Asking, "Will You Be My Valentine?"
“Will you be my Valentine?” Do you long to hear this line, or are you over the heartless holiday? Could these five words shape your love life forever, or are they seven sickening syllables reserved for fools and fairytale fails? Find out the truth behind the fervent phrase that sends February 14th fans into a crimson craze.
Do you celebrate Valentine's Day?
History of Valentine's Day
Brief History of Valentine's Day
A quick Google search will give you all you need to know about Valentine’s Day. The holiday is named after 1-3 early Italian martyrs named Valentinus. All were said to be executed by Roman Emperor Claudius II on February 14th of different years in the 3rd century AD. When the emperor prohibited engagements and marriages for soldiers, Valentinus continued marrying young couples. Claudius II found out and had Valentinus beheaded. Legend states that he left a note behind for his daughter which read, "From your Valentine."
Due to coinciding dates, some people suggest the holiday was influenced by the Roman hedonistic festival of Lupercalia from February 13-15th. They suggest that fifth century Pope Gelasius I combined Lupercalia with St. Valentine’s Day in an attempt to eradicate paganism. Others claim this fact is completely untrue.
In either case, the two events tend to blend together over time. The holiday became somewhat of a drunken debauchery, and antics resulted in matchmaking of all sorts. Eventually the Normans referred to the day as Galatin’s Day, meaning ‘lover of women.’ "It was a little more of a drunken revel, but the Christians put clothes back on it. That didn't stop it from being a day of fertility and love" (Noel Lenski, Historian at CU Boulder), and it still hasn’t.
Today, Valentine’s Day nets billions of dollars each year from markets around the world. The holiday thrives thanks to Chaucer and Shakespeare romanticizing its themes in their poetry. The holiday became so popular that early English gentlemen began a tradition of giving handcrafted cards to fair maidens. By the early 19th century, this romantic exchange was embedded into Western culture. Now, February is colored red and chocolate hearts are everywhere.
To-morrow is Saint Valentine's day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
Then up he rose, and donn'd his clothes,
And dupp'd the chamber-door;
Let in the maid, that out a maid
Never departed more.— William Shakespeare; Hamlet
Will You Be My Valentine('s Day Date)?
While there is much more one could learn about the history of Valentine’s Day, it’s my purpose to address the grammatical structure of this romantic request. While 19th century suitors may have courted their Juliets with ‘thine’ and ‘thou,’ Modern-folk ask, “Will you be my Valentine?” or, simply, “Be mine.” To someone unaware of the tradition, these phrases might be unclear or even insulting. What do you do when you find yourself lost in translation? Examining the syntactical frame might help to clarify any confusion your loved ones might have. Or maybe you'll just use this information as a conversation piece during a date with your sweet Valentine.
"Will You Be My Valentine?"
The question is an interrogative sentence asking about the future. 'Will’ sets off the question, suggesting a question mark at the end of the sentence. 'Will' is also a modal auxiliary verb adding a future condition to the linking verb ‘be’ midway through the sentence. 'Be' is a linking verb that connects the subject and direct object together. It's the "Yes" you're hoping for.
Unless you are telling a story from a third person narrative point-of-view, the pronouns ‘you’ and ‘my’ are revealing a 2nd person audience and 1st person speaker. 'You' is the subject, but 'my' is not the object. Rather, 'Valentine' is the direct object of the subject. 'My' is an adjective that modifies the direct object, 'Valentine,' and 'Valentine' is an allusion to the aforementioned Italian saints persecuted in early Rome.
Technically if someone asks, “Will you be my Valentine?” and the response is “Yes” then either a follow up question about “When?” should be asked, or it might be assumed that the agreeing party will only “be your Valentine” on Valentine’s Day. You see how this could get tricky. Because of the confusion, some people have forgone the February phrase and instead state simply, "Be Mine."
Diagramed Interrogative Sentence
While it is more polite to ask a question, some people skip the formality and simply demand a response. They shell out heartless hearts stating “Be Mine” to any and all prospects. While this is not my preferred method for obtaining a date, it has become part of the February tradition. “Be mine” is not up for debate. It is the self-assured ultimatum of chalk candy enthusiasts everywhere, and some may argue the phrase goes too far.
The statement “Be Mine” is an imperative sentence assuming an obedient, 2nd person audience. It is a demand. For this reason, some Valentine’s Day apologists might argue that the phrase is counterintuitive to 21st century expressions of love. Today's men and women should have a right to choose their Valentine and not be forced into love. What's the ultimatum? "Be mine, or be..." I don't know want to know.
While imperative sentences typically demand an action, I believe this sentence is actually up for debate. Assuming 'Be' is an action verb and the only option up for discussion, it would require somewhat of a transition from the audience. You are essentially saying, "Become mine," which seems extremely demanding and time consuming for the agreeing party. Also, how does one become someone else's (property)?
Perhaps 'Be' is a linking verb, joining together the assumed audience and the speaker. 'Mine' would be the direct object of the implied subject 'You.' Or, finally, maybe 'Be' is in its infinitive form, 'to be.' "To be mine" assumes the transition has already been made, and that both parties have already been struck by Cupid's arrow. What a lovely conclusion.
Happy Valentine's Day!
For those who celebrate it, Valentine’s Day is a flirtatious holiday filled with gift-giving, hand-holding, and candle-lit dinners. Sometimes the moment is too perfect for words. However, if you do end up asking, "Will you be my Valentine?" be sure to clarify the details of the agreement. Are they your Valentine from then until Valentine's Day, or just on Valentine's Day? The future of your love life could depend on their answer.
Maybe it is better to just demand "Be mine," and be done with it. Some people might even like it. Either way, Happy Valentine's Day!
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