Imperative, declarative

Today’s Bizarro, with an imperative-declarative ambiguity:

A intends You have a nice one as an imperative (a conventional farewell), but B hears it as a declarative (a compliment on some aspect of his appearance). Several things conspire to yield the ambiguity.

(1) A could have said Have a nice one, and that would have been understood as an imperative. But he chose to express the subject you, and that gives us a sentence that can be understood as a you-subject declarative, thanks to the phonological identity of the BSE form of the verb (used in the imperative) and the 2nd-person PRS form; for all verbs except BE, these forms are identical. (The pragmatic differences between subjectless and you-subject imperatives are subtle and complex; they don’t do quite the same things.)

(2) A could have said You have a nice day, and though this is potentially ambiguous between imperative and declarative, the declarative reading takes a great deal of contextualization; without this, the sentence would be understood as an imperative. But A chose to use the indefinite pronoun one rather than the noun day — an option available in colloquial English (as in Hope you have a good one) — thereby introducing an ambiguity between this use of one and its use for reference to something in the context of speech.

You have a good one, hear?

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