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A Grammarian's Guide to Asking, "Will You Be My Valentine?"

Luke Holm earned bachelor's degrees in English and philosophy from NIU. He is a middle school teacher and a creative writer.

Analyze the syntactical form of common Valentine's Day phrases.

Analyze the syntactical form of common Valentine's Day phrases.

Love-Hate Relationship

“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.

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 to 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 third century.

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."

This is a diagrammed sentence frame of the much anticipated Valentine's Day question, "Will you be my Valentine?"

This is a diagrammed sentence frame of the much anticipated Valentine's Day question, "Will you be my Valentine?"

Be Mine

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 want to know.

While imperative sentences typically demand 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.

To be, or not to be...mine.

To be, or not to be...mine.

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!

© 2018 JourneyHolm


JourneyHolm (author) on March 16, 2018:

Amanda Leitch, I dreaded diagramming, but it's kind of like a fun game now :) Amanda-Anderson, thanks! Thank you both for the read and comment! Hope you enjoyed!

Amanda Lorenzo from Florida, living in SC on March 15, 2018:

I love the diagram! That was one of my favorite things in English grammar.

Amanda-Anderson from Marquette, MI on March 04, 2018:

This was a very clever article. Congratulations!

JourneyHolm (author) on March 02, 2018:

Liz, I learned through osmosis too. It was actually pretty tough to learn the technical structure of the language (and I still don't understand it all) in high school and college. As a middle school teacher, I teach grammar within context of reading and writing (rather than stand alone lessons). I agree that diagramming sentences is bullshit, but maybe it's the bullshit that says something about the essence of the cow? Ha, probably a stretch. Thanks for reading :)

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on March 02, 2018:

I had to chuckle all the way through this article. Well done, and congratulations on the honorable mention.

It's rather funny that I, an English major in high school, should to this day, struggle with sentence diagramming. I just never 'got' it; it seems so arbitrary, and turns things all topsy-turvy.

When I was in college, a professor in a creative writing class I took declaimed, "Diagramming sentences is bullshit!" Several of us applauded.

I learned sentence structure through osmosis, as it were, given that I was a voracious reader. My father refused to have a TV; we all read.

Because of this, I am able to proofread, fixing incorrect word choices, improving structure and flow, (sometimes for pay), all without knowing squat about diagramming a sentence. ;-)

JourneyHolm (author) on February 28, 2018:

Kathy, I'm glad you enjoyed your article. I think "husband" status says a lot ;)

Kathy Burton from Florida on February 21, 2018:

I enjoyed this article. Now, I have to clarify with my husband that he meant more than Valentines day to valentines day!

Congratulations on runner up status. It is well deserved

JourneyHolm (author) on February 15, 2018:

Thelma, thank you! It was an honor to be nominated. I hope you learned something on this Valentine's Day takeaway :)

Thelma Alberts from Germany on February 15, 2018:

Congratulations on being one of the runner-ups. Thanks for the informative story of this Valentine´s Day.

JourneyHolm (author) on February 15, 2018:

Thank you, Chitrangada, for your kind words :) I hope you had a wonderful day.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on February 15, 2018:

Congratulations for being nominated as runner up in the contest!

I like this day of showering love, pampering your sweetheart and so on.

Thanks for enlightening me about the brief history of Valentine’s Day.

Thanks for sharing!