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A Grammar question

sejintenej

A quote from a story:
Rosita grabbed a couple of more baskets ....

In context a basket of eggs had already been collected and there were many more for Rosita to collect.

To me the word "of" is wrong here - I would say "a couple more baskets" (or even omit the word "couple") but I recognise that that the first alternative is also probably wrong.

Is the original quote an Americanism or deemed proper grammar?

Switch Blayde

@sejintenej

Rosita grabbed a couple of more baskets ....


I try to eliminate "of," but it's needed in this sentence.

I'm not sure "couple" is the right word, though. It means two and you said there were many more.

Why not simply leave it as:

Rosita grabbed more baskets…

Replies:   sejintenej  REP
sejintenej
Updated:

@Switch Blayde


It means two and you said there were many more.


It says there were many more eggs. I agree couple suggests two but that c o u l d be sufficient and the story does not indicate if that was sufficient.

I agree with your conclusion.

BlacKnight

"a couple of baskets", "a couple more baskets", but not "a couple of more baskets".

awnlee jawking

@BlacKnight

I see this sort of thing quite often when editing stories for others. It usually indicates the author decided on one option then changed their mind halfway through writing it, and didn't proofread the final copy thoroughly enough.

AJ

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
REP

@Switch Blayde

It means two and you said there were many more.


Actually it means a small, undefined number.

Your rewrite is good.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
awnlee jawking

@REP

Actually it means a small, undefined number.


Only informally. If you use 'couple' in a story, it should mean two (unless, perhaps, a character says it).

AJ

Crumbly Writer

@awnlee jawking

I see this sort of thing quite often when editing stories for others. It usually indicates the author decided on one option then changed their mind halfway through writing it, and didn't proofread the final copy thoroughly enough.

I concur with your grammatical prognosis, awnlee, it's a botched fix.

Zom

@sejintenej

a couple of more baskets

This can be regional, especially southern US. Not recommended for a wider readership.

Dominions Son

@BlacKnight

"a couple of baskets", "a couple more baskets", but not "a couple of more baskets".


Unless the story has something called a "more basket", though I have no idea what that would be.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Dominions Son

Unless the story has something called a "more basket", though I have no idea what that would be.

The story of the famous detective, Moore Basket. His most famous case, classically referred to as Moore Basket's more baskets basket case.

robberhands

... the usual disclaimer

Ross at Play

@sejintenej

Rosita grabbed a couple of more baskets ...

... To me the word "of" is wrong here ...

Is the original quote an Americanism or deemed proper grammar?

This is more of a usage question - how do most people use a phrase - rather than one of grammar.

Try an ngrams search for ' a couple * '. That will list the ten words most frequently used after "a couple". It will tell you that 'of' is more common than the total of all the others. That applies almost equally if you select either American English or British English.

Alternatively, you could rely on CMOS, which says:

couple of. Using couple as an adjective is poor phrasing. Add of, e.g. we watched a couple of movies.


The evidence suggests to me that "a couple more baskets" is not an Americanism, but rare, even within America, and probably only prevalent in a few regions within America.

awnlee jawking

@robberhands

The evidence suggests to me that "a couple more baskets" is not an Americanism, but rare, even within America, and probably only prevalent in a few regions within America.


Did that go wrong somewhere? There's nothing uncommon about saying 'a couple more' eg 'Harry Kane only needs to score a couple more goals to break his record for a season'. I think you had 'one more' for the road before you wrote it ;)

AJ

robberhands

@awnlee jawking

I think you had 'one more' for the road before you wrote it ;)

Maybe even a couple drinks.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
awnlee jawking

@robberhands

Maybe even a couple drinks.


Excellent - an example of where leaving out the 'of' creates ambiguity, another reason to avoid this bad practice ;)

AJ

robberhands

... not the usual disclaimer this time. I am definitely not responsible for the opinions expressed below.

Ross at Play

@Awnlee Jawking

DO YOU HAVE ANY FACTS TO SUPPORT THAT?


Sejintinej asked a legitimate question and all he got was a lot of blowhards spouting off guesses as if they knew the answer. I quote actual evidence and get insulted for that - I was not drunk, it is 359 months since the last time I was drunk. On the other hand, your opinions on many subjects are obviously worthless, whether you're drunk or sober.

My guess is ignorance will win out in the long run, and eventually use of 'a couple' without the mandatory 'of' will be considered acceptable, but I have found four references and all suggest a large majority would still consider "a couple more goals" is poor English, wherever it is spoken.

Consider the distinction between 'couple' and 'few'. You could say 'a few goals' or 'a few more goals' - but would you say 'a couple goals'. You cannot say 'a couple more goals' either; the usage of the phrase 'a couple of' DOES NOT CHANGE simply because you add the word 'more' to the beginning of the noun phrase it precedes.

Do you want any more evidence? How about what dictionaries say?

Dictionary.com provides this definition of an idiom at #14 for it's entry on 'couple':

a couple of, more than two, but not many, of; a small number of; a few
Examples:
It will take a couple of days for the package to get there.
A dinner party, whether for a couple of old friends or eight new acquaintances, takes nearly the same amount of effort.


Or perhaps, this definition of 'couple (noun)' from the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary:

couple noun

In British English a plural verb is usually used in all 3 senses.

1 [singular + singular or plural verb] couple (of something) two people or things
I saw a couple of men get out.

2 [singular + singular or plural verb] couple (of something) a small number of people or things
SYNONYM a few
a couple of minutes
We went there a couple of years ago.
I've seen her a couple of times before.
I'll be with you in a minute. There are a couple of things I have to do first.
There are a couple more files to read first.
We can do it in the next couple of weeks.
The last couple of years have been difficult.


3 [countable + singular or plural verb] two people who are seen together, especially if they are married or in a romantic or sexual relationship
married couples
a young/an elderly couple
Several couples were on the dance floor.
The couple was/were married in 2006.

Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary 9th edition © Oxford University Press, 2015

Replies:   awnlee jawking
robberhands
Updated:

@Ross at Play

My guess is ignorance will win out in the long run, and eventually use of 'a couple' without the mandatory 'of' will be considered acceptable, but I have found four references and all suggest a large majority would still consider "a couple more goals" is poor English, wherever it is spoken.


Merriam-Webster:

Definition of a couple

informal

1 : two or a few (of something)

Can you give me a couple more examples?

This one costs a couple dollars less than that one.

In informal U.S. English, a couple can be used like a couple of

I lost interest in the book after a couple chapters.

We met a couple years ago.

2 : two or a few

"How many drinks have you had?" "Oh, just a couple."

Replies:   PotomacBob
awnlee jawking

@robberhands

There are a couple more files to read first.


Why is it permissible to say that but not, in your opinion, 'a couple more goals'?

Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary is remiss in not making clear that 'couple' only means more than two in informal circumstances eg "Honey, I'm powdering my nose. I'll be a couple more minutes."

In British English, the presumption is that couple means two, unless the context customarily allows otherwise.

AJ

Dominions Son

@awnlee jawking

In British English, the presumption is that couple means two, unless the context customarily allows otherwise.


I would say that the same applies in American English.

PotomacBob

@robberhands

What year is the Merriam-Webster from which those definitions come? Just trying to find out whether the definitions might have changed over time - which could be the source of the disagreement.

awnlee jawking

@PotomacBob

I can think of an example of that.

The Royal Mail used to deliver first class post the next day on most of the UK mainland, and the day after for second class post. So once upon a time, saying a letter would arrive in a couple of days specifically meant two and implied second class.

Nowadays, the length of time it takes the Royal Mail to deliver anything, even using its "guaranteed next day delivery" service, is rather volatile. We still say letters will arrive in a couple of days but now it means a few days.

AJ

AJ

robberhands

Ross at Play

@robberhands


Thanks for Mirriam-Webster definition you provided.

I can now agree there exists evidence it is an acceptable informal usage - after failing to find any in the four references I use most often.

If only there were a few more here interested in finding actual answers, rather than just mouthing off their opinions, which prove nothing, and searching for gotchas in what others contribute.

robberhands

@PotomacBob

Merriam-Webster

Switch Blayde

@awnlee jawking

Why is it permissible to say that but not, in your opinion, 'a couple more goals'?


First, a disclaimer. I don't know for sure, but…

"Couple" means two.

It's also used informally to mean "an indefinite small number." However, to do so requires the "of" after "couple."

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
sejintenej
Updated:

@awnlee jawking


Maybe even a couple drinks.

Excellent - an example of where leaving out the 'of' creates ambiguity, another reason to avoid this bad practice ;)


Questionable; context is everything.

When caught in our cups we might say "but officer I only had a couple drinks" (for our US friends this is pronounced cupla

Couple versus few. In the context under discussion IMHO few is some but not many and couple means some without limitation as to number.

Replies:   Capt. Zapp
Crumbly Writer

@robberhands

This is more of a usage question - how do most people use a phrase - rather than one of grammar.

The usage is an example of all that we've lost—even as we've gained a lot—by switching to informal narrators in fiction. Previously, the narrator spoke 'proper' English. Now, the narrator is treated as just another character, speaking as anyone else would. While I use this as a way of tailoring how the story is presented, more often, it just induces laziness and confusion in the narration instead of adding value to the story.

I'm not suggesting that we all return to formal story narration, just that we all, as authors, need to be aware of the potholes in our use of informal narrators.

Crumbly Writer

@awnlee jawking

I think you had 'one more' for the road before you wrote it ;)

We should all be sure to stop for a couple more baskets before we get behind the wheel!

Crumbly Writer

@awnlee jawking

Excellent - an example of where leaving out the 'of' creates ambiguity, another reason to avoid this bad practice

Although my editors flag this type of use, I don't see the dropping of the "of" in "a couple drinks" harms the sentence in the slightest. Again, it's informal dialogue (this time, a forum dialogue), so it's allowed and it doesn't lead to any confusion.

But this is clearly a case where authors need to be conscious of the choices they make in choosing to use informal writing.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

"Couple" means two.

It's also used informally to mean "an indefinite small number." However, to do so requires the "of" after "couple."

I'm a bit more of a formalist in this regards. "Couple" always means exactly two, except when you're unsure of the exact number, and you use "couple" to imply 'close to two'. Using "a couple" as a synonym for "a few" or even for "another 30 minutes to finish applying my makeup" is clearly a misuse of language.

If you want to say "a few", then damn well say a few!

Capt. Zapp

@sejintenej

IMO a couple in most cases means two and a few is more than two, but not a large quantity.

Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Capt. Zapp


IMO a couple in most cases means two and a few is more than two, but not a large quantity.


Yes, those are the definitions (IMO).

But you can say "a couple of" informally when you're not referring to an exact number, but it's a small number.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@Switch Blayde

But you can say "a couple of" informally when you're not referring to an exact number, but it's a small number.


In that context, I would read "a couple of" as probably 2, but certainly more than one and no more than 4", where I would read "a few" as anything from 3 to 10.

awnlee jawking

@Crumbly Writer

Although my editors flag this type of use, I don't see the dropping of the "of" in "a couple drinks" harms the sentence in the slightest.


IMO it's the equivalent of dropping case endings in Latin - it makes a story harder to read. But you're the author so it's your decision.

AJ

awnlee jawking

@Capt. Zapp

I vaguely remember a very heated argument from another forum (usenet?) where the opposing views were about whether 'couple' and 'few' could include one, ie less than two.

I don't think any mortal injuries were sustained ;)

AJ

PotomacBob

@Capt. Zapp

Sixth-grade teacher Mrs. Higginbotham taught that "Couple" means two, "Few" means four. "Several" means seven.

Zom

@PotomacBob

Sixth-grade teacher Mrs. Higginbotham taught that "Couple" means two, "Few" means four. "Several" means seven

Imaginitis.

Crumbly Writer

@awnlee jawking

I don't think any mortal injuries were sustained ;)

That's only cause Usenet is too damn polite! 'D

awnlee jawking

@PotomacBob

Sixth-grade teacher Mrs. Higginbotham taught that "Couple" means two, "Few" means four. "Several" means seven.


Mrs Higginbotham's surname includes a couple of 'g's, a few vowels and almost several consonants ;)

AJ

Crumbly Writer

@PotomacBob

Sixth-grade teacher Mrs. Higginbotham taught that "Couple" means two, "Few" means four. "Several" means seven.

And "four score and seven" means 87. There's a use for general terms, but just like the example "I just need a couple minutes to put on my makeup", there's a big difference between a general expression and outright lies (even if you're lying to yourself). But, even worse than outright lies, is being too damn lazy to give a damn about precise language. You expect assholes to lie, but you expect proper grammar from authors (at least in print, as some of us tend to post to forums without doing a proper grammar check first).

sejintenej

@awnlee jawking

I vaguely remember a very heated argument from another forum (usenet?) where the opposing views were about whether 'couple' and 'few' could include one, ie less than two.

IMHO no way, no how, no when. For a singleton it should be "a" or "another" or "one" etc. Couple and few are always plural, the only question being how plural.

Switch Blayde

@sejintenej

I just checked dictionary.com

"a couple of" is an idiom meaning "more than two, but not many, of; a small number of; a few"

Whereas

"a couple" is the informal version.

The phrase a couple of, meaning "a small number of; a few; several," has been in standard use for centuries, especially with measurements of time and distance and in referring to amounts of money

Replies:   awnlee jawking
PrincelyGuy

Funny, but I have heard of a lot of cases where a third broke up a couple which later turned into a couple of couples.

Geek of Ages

https://xkcd.com/1070/

awnlee jawking

@Switch Blayde

I just checked dictionary.com

"a couple of" is an idiom meaning "more than two, but not many, of; a small number of; a few"


That would be better expressed: "a couple of" can be an idiom meaning "more than two, but not many, of; a small number of; a few"

It's very much a minority usage.

Whereas

"a couple" is the informal version.


The dictionary.com definition implies that if you say "a couple" without the "of", it's the informal way of saying: 'more than two, but not many, of; a small number of; a few'

I'm not sure the crypto-English fans who like to delete every "of" from their stories would be too happy to know dictionary.com thinks they're changing their meanings.

Dictionary.com's principal source is the Random House Unabridged Dictionary. Never heard of it! I think I'll stick with the OED.

AJ

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@awnlee jawking

Dictionary.com's principal source is the Random House Unabridged Dictionary. Never heard of it!


I went to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Pretty standard for Americans.
When I searched on "a couple of" it came back as an idiom.

I'm not sure the crypto-English fans who like to delete every "of" from their stories would be too happy to know dictionary.com thinks they're changing their meanings.


Removing the "of" does not change the meaning. According to the dictionary.com site, it's an informal way of saying the same thing. It sounds odd to my ear because, I guess, I'm used to the idiom.

I remove "of" when not needed. But that doesn't mean I remove all occurrences of "of." I also remove many "that"s. But in one of Crumbly's posts I suggested it needed a "that."

awnlee jawking

@Switch Blayde

When I searched on "a couple of" it came back as an idiom.


Their idiom definition is 'two or a few' which is nonsense because if it meant two, it wouldn't be an idiom. Sloppy!

Removing the "of" does not change the meaning. According to the dictionary.com site, it's an informal way of saying the same thing.


According to the dictionary.com site, it's an informal way of saying the same thing as the idiom, where 'couple' means more than two. But dictionary.com does not also list it as an informal way of saying the same thing as the non-idiomatic meaning of 'a couple of' where couple means exactly two cf the Merriam-Webster usage example 'needed a couple of bookends'.

AJ

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

But in one of Crumbly's posts I suggested it needed a "that."

You need a LOT of that's, but generally, nowhere as many as you think you do. The key is to try eliminating them, and learning what works and what doesn't. If you remove them, and your editors don't shove them back in, then those are cases where they weren't necessary. But, if it changes the meaning to take it out, it IS necessary.

Crumbly Writer

@awnlee jawking

According to the dictionary.com site, it's an informal way of saying the same thing as the idiom, where 'couple' means more than two. But dictionary.com does not also list it as an informal way of saying the same thing as the non-idiomatic meaning of 'a couple of' where couple means exactly two cf the Merriam-Webster usage example 'needed a couple of bookends'.

"I spent a couple of bucks at the racetrack," obviously means they spent a bundle, but the speaker is clearly lying to both you and himself. However, you'd never refer to a harem as a 'couple' if they keep trading partners. At some point, it moves beyond the central couple and becomes an extended 'family'.

"Couple", when used to describe more than two, is often a diversion, meaning the speaker either doesn't know how many, or is unwilling to admit to something. That's hardly a valid definition of a term. It may be a legitimate usage, but it's a contrary usage, meaningful precisely because it contradicts the inherent meaning. In that case, it's a mistake to assume that the word therefore "means" whatever uses it's forced into. You use the contrary definitions in situations where they fit, NOT in every usage of the term!

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer

Grammar Girl addresses when to leave out "that." https://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/when-to-leave-out-that


I'm all for cutting unnecessary words, but I often like to keep my that if it helps the rhythm of the sentence. You'll have to judge whether using that in your particular sentence improves or hurts its flow.



Sometimes "That" Is Necessary

Here's an example of a sentence that leads the reader down the wrong path when you omit the word that:

Aardvark maintains Squiggly's yard is too big.

Without a that, the reader is initially led to believe that Aardvark maintains, as in mows, Squiggly's yard. If you add in a that, it's clear from the beginning that Aardvark just has an opinion.

Replies:   robberhands
PotomacBob

@sejintenej

The 1948 Merriam-Webster Unabridged dictionary (it weighs a ton), was the last prescriptive dictionary I am aware of. (The edition that came out in the early 1960s was "descriptive," in that it only told you how educated people used each word, not what was right or wrong.) In any event, the 1948 edition requires "couple of" for educated writing, and compares "couple" as a synonym to "pair" - noting that you'd never correctly omit the "of" when using the word pair and shouldn't do so when using the word couple.

sejintenej

PotomacBob

I disagree with the early 1960's version of the Merriam-Webster Unabridged dictionary. This thread is about the phrase Rosita grabbed a couple of more baskets ....
If the quoted dictionary compilers really think that this phrase is good may they sink in the Marianna Trench.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@sejintenej

This thread is about the phrase Rosita grabbed a couple of more baskets ....
If the quoted dictionary compilers really think that this phrase is good may they sink in the Marianna Trench.

I still contend that a couple as 2, and a couple as a few are two separate cases, and are handled independently. Fiction is not formal writing. According to you, you wouldn't be allowed to say "That's a cute couple" without tacking on "of people", which is awkward, at best.

"A couple of more" is wrong however you dice it, but I refuse to add "of" to every usage meaning "two" in dialogue because I don't know anyone who's that formal in their speech. Although, now that I know the distinction, I'll be more careful about when I use "couple" and "of" (i.e. IF there's any confusion, I'll add the "of").

Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

you wouldn't be allowed to say "That's a cute couple" without tacking on "of people"


"Couple" in that sentence is a noun. It's a perfectly good sentence the way it is.

Replies:   sejintenej
robberhands

@Switch Blayde

Sometimes "That" Is Necessary

Here's an example of a sentence that leads the reader down the wrong path when you omit the word that:

Aardvark maintains Squiggly's yard is too big.

Without a that, the reader is initially led to believe that Aardvark maintains, as in mows, Squiggly's yard. If you add in a that, it's clear from the beginning that Aardvark just has an opinion.

I really like Grammar Girl and agree with her premise but her example is bad. 'That' isn't needed in that sentence.

awnlee jawking
Updated:

@robberhands

I bet you're Chinese and naturally parse sentences from right to left ;)

I parse from left to right:

Aardvark (need more)
Aardvark maintains (need more)
Aardvark maintains Squiggly's (need more)
Aardvark maintains Squiggly's yard (makes sense, Aardvark mows the grass)
Aardvark maintains Squiggly's yard is (Aaarrrghh! Stop and rewind)

AJ

Geek of Ages

@awnlee jawking

I bet you're Chinese and naturally parse sentences from right to left ;)


Isn't Chinese an SVO language and largely head-initial?

Replies:   Dominions Son
robberhands

@awnlee jawking

I bet you're Chinese and naturally parse sentences from right to left ;)

Nope, I'm not a Chinese, apparently I just read faster than you.

I guess Grammar Girl was too lazy to find a good example proving her point, so she gave a bad one. A missing 'that' isn't responsible for the misunderstanding a slow reader might face. It's the verb she chose and her choice was deliberate.

The sentence "Aardvark insists Squiggly's yard is too big" wouldn't need a 'that'.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
Dominions Son

@Geek of Ages

I bet you're Chinese and naturally parse sentences from right to left ;)


Nope.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horizontal_and_vertical_writing_in_East_Asian_scripts

It turns out that even Chinese when written horizontally is read left to right.

Traditionally it was written vertically, read top to bottom with successive lines of text proceeding from right to left.

awnlee jawking

@robberhands

You're German - you usually put the verb at the end of the sentence IIRC so there's no danger of anything being modified by what follows.

Grammar girl found a very good example IMO, as my post shows.

With 'insists' instead of 'maintains', 'that' is less important because it doesn't adjust the meaning of what follows: "Aardvark insists Squiggly's yard" on its own does not make sense because you cannot insist a yard whereas you can maintain a yard.

AJ

Dominions Son

@awnlee jawking

Grammar girl found a very good example IMO, as my post shows.

With 'insists' instead of 'maintains', 'that' is less important because it doesn't adjust the meaning of what follows: "Aardvark insists Squiggly's yard" on its own does not make sense because you cannot insist a yard whereas you can maintain a yard.


IF "Aardvark maintains Squiggly's yard" still means Aardvark does yard work for Squiggly after you add "is too big" to it, the "is too big" makes no sense at all

Or do you imagine that the sentence "Aardvark mows Squiggly's yard is too big." makes sense?

Your interpretation would require a that between yard and is to make sense.

"Aardvark maintains Squiggly's yard that is too big."

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Dominions Son

IF "Aardvark maintains Squiggly's yard" still means Aardvark does yard work for Squiggly after you add "is too big" to it, the "is too big" makes no sense at all


Which I believe was Grammar Girl's point. When you get to the last part of the sentence, you have to stop and figure out what the sentence means. That's the ambiguity she's talking about. Simply adding the that solves the problem.

robberhands

@Switch Blayde


Which I believe was Grammar Girl's point. When you get to the last part of the sentence, you have to stop and figure out what the sentence means. That's the ambiguity she's talking about. Simply adding the that solves the problem.

The ambiguity is caused by a deliberate verb choice, meant to cause ambiguity.

Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer

you wouldn't be allowed to say "That's a cute couple" without tacking on "of people", which is awkward, at best.


I agree with the basic concept you're trying to express, because you need to define what the That is in the sentence. However, it would be OK to say - They're a cute couple - because it implies two people to most people, and if you mean anything else it needs to be qualified before or after it.

As to the use of the word that - there are many situation where not using that will make the sentence disjointed, but there are far more situations where the use of formal English demands the use of the word that while it would totally disrupt a sentence in informal English.

robberhands

@awnlee jawking

You're German - you usually put the verb at the end of the sentence IIRC so there's no danger of anything being modified by what follows.

No, in German, the same as in English, the verb is usually placed behind the subject of the sentence, followed by the object - if there is one.

"Aardvark behauptet Squigglys Garten ist zu groß."

Replies:   awnlee jawking
Dominions Son

@Switch Blayde

Which I believe was Grammar Girl's point. When you get to the last part of the sentence, you have to stop and figure out what the sentence means.


Total nonsense. You can't figure out what ANY sentence means without reading the complete sentence.

The complete sentence is unambiguous, because any interpretations other than "Aardvark insists Squiggly's yard is too big" makes the complete sentence into meaningless gibberish.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Dominions Son

Total nonsense. You can't figure out what ANY sentence means without reading the complete sentence.


The problem is when you have to go back and re-read the sentence again to figure out what it means.

robberhands

@Switch Blayde

The problem is when you have to go back and re-read the sentence again to figure out what it means.

As DS correctly pointed out, there is no ambiguity in the sentence. Grammar Girl tried to cause abiguity through her verb choice and then solved the 'problem' by adding 'that'. She provided a failed example to prove an undisputed premise.

awnlee jawking

@robberhands

Grammar Girl tried to cause abiguity through her verb choice


You don't know that. She may have taken a live example and changed names to avoid shaming the author.

One meaning of 'maintain' is somewhat synonymous with 'insist' but the latter is much more forceful and aggressive. Authors shouldn't deny themselves the most appropriate word for the job in order to justify writing crypto-English.

AJ

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands

@awnlee jawking

Authors shouldn't deny themselves the most appropriate word for the job in order to justify writing crypto-English.

Look at the sentence in question and try to say it again with an earnest expression.

awnlee jawking

@robberhands

You've just trashed a joke I've heard several times, which depends on German verbs normally being at the end of a sentence. It goes something like this:

A much-vaunted German scientist is giving a talk to a packed lecture theatre. He gets to the last sentence and it goes on and on before he finally stops. He expects the usual rapturous applause but instead is greeted with dead silence.

"Do you have any questions?" the scientist asks.

One of the audience timidly raises his hand to speak. "Please sir, what is the verb?"

AJ

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands
Updated:

@awnlee jawking

You've just trashed a joke I've heard several times, which depends on German verbs normally being at the end of a sentence

An untenable accusation. The joke doesn't depend on the verb being the last part in a sentence.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
sejintenej

@Switch Blayde

Crumbly Writer

you wouldn't be allowed to say "That's a cute couple" without tacking on "of people"

"Couple" in that sentence is a noun. It's a perfectly good sentence the way it is.

Um, err... It's a perfectly good sentence IF the surrounding context is known - it could be about people, cats, dogs, babies or even statuettes. Given that caveat I agree with Switch Blayde because if the subject had been about the two then repetition would be superfluous (the word tendentious came to mind)

Geek of Ages

The term a lot of you are looking for is "garden path sentence".

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands

@Geek of Ages

The term a lot of you are looking for is "garden path sentence".

That's true, although 'garden path sentences' usually can't be solved with an added 'that'.

Dominions Son

@Switch Blayde

The problem is when you have to go back and re-read the sentence again to figure out what it means.


No rational person should have to do that with that sentence. When you get to the end of the sentence, there is only one plausible interpretation.

Replies:   sejintenej
Dominions Son

@robberhands

As DS correctly pointed out, there is no ambiguity in the sentence. Grammar Girl tried to cause abiguity through her verb choice


No, even with her verb choice, there is zero ambiguity in the complete sentence. You only get to ambiguity by irrationally insisting on independently interpreting fragments of the sentence.

Replies:   robberhands
sejintenej

@Dominions Son

When you get to the end of the sentence, there is only one plausible interpretation.


Not to a lawyer!

Replies:   Dominions Son
robberhands

@Dominions Son

No, even with her verb choice, there is zero ambiguity in the complete sentence.

That's why I wrote she 'tried', since I agree she didn't succeed.

Dominions Son

@sejintenej

Not to a lawyer!


Not to some lawyer, and I would argue that those lawyers like that are irrational.

awnlee jawking

@robberhands

I'm not good at recounting jokes and I left out the preamble about German verbs being at the end of sentences. My bad :(

AJ

Replies:   Hopeless Writer
Hopeless Writer

@awnlee jawking

I don't know the joke and whether telling it perfectly it would make you point, but Mark Twain wrote something in this vein in "The Awful German Language", describing "an average sentence" as consisting of multiple parentheses, and "finally, all the parentheses and reparentheses are massed together between a couple of king-parentheses, one of which is placed in the first line of the majestic sentence and the other in the middle of the last line of it — after which comes the VERB, and you find out for the first time what the man has been talking about; and after the verb — merely by way of ornament, as far as I can make out — the writer shovels in 'haben sind gewesen gehabt haben geworden sein,' or words to that effect, and the monument is finished."

Half of Mark Twain's point, however, is just the bad style to shove a lot of things between subject and verb, and that can be easily found in English as well.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Hopeless Writer

Half of Mark Twain's point, however, is just the bad style to shove a lot of things between subject and verb, and that can be easily found in English as well.

Rather than parentheses, most of our (English-speaking fiction writers) distracts fall between linked commas.

awnlee jawking

@robberhands

Sometimes "That" Is Necessary

Here's an example of a sentence that leads the reader down the wrong path when you omit the word that:

Aardvark maintains Squiggly's yard is too big.

Without a that, the reader is initially led to believe that Aardvark maintains, as in mows, Squiggly's yard. If you add in a that, it's clear from the beginning that Aardvark just has an opinion.


Wow, I've just learnt some new jargon. Without the 'that', it qualifies as a Garden Path Sentence: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garden_path_sentence

AJ

Replies:   Crumbly Writer  REP
Crumbly Writer

@awnlee jawking

Wow, I've just learnt some new jargon. Without the 'that', it qualifies as a Garden Path

I would love to see an example of a Garden Path sentence used properly (i.e. by design as a style choice, rather than merely by accident). That would be better for understanding than a clearly badly written sentence with little regard for language to begin with (Ardvark and Squiggly? Really?).

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

I would love to see an example of a Garden Path sentence

... which actually still matters when the sentence is viewed in context.

The examples I've seen all seem to rely on a potential misinterpretation of which of multiple meanings for the verb applies in the sentence. In Grammar Girl's example, the verb 'maintain' could mean Squiggly does work as a gardener or that he holds firm opinions. Viewed as an isolated sentence that example example is a Garden Path sentence, but I find it hard to imagine an example of what context could come before that sentence which might result in readers choosing the wrong path when they encounter the word 'maintain'.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
awnlee jawking

@Ross at Play

I find them not uncommon on SOL, but I didn't know the fault had a name until now.

I've found a couple in the novel I'm beta-reading. I've noted them for the benefit of the author, but obviously I can't share them here.

AJ

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
REP

@awnlee jawking

Aardvark maintains Squiggly's yard is too big.


A reader can figure out what the sentence means without the "that", but it takes a bit more effort. I agree it is easier to read with the "that".

The sentence has two verbs and "Squiggly's yard" has to be the object of "maintins" or the subject of "is". If you work the two out, one makes sense and the other doesn't.

Crumbly Writer

@awnlee jawking

I've found a couple in the novel I'm beta-reading. I've noted them for the benefit of the author, but obviously I can't share them here.

Ross was responding to my wondering about examples of the Garden-Path sentence used by design, rather than by accident. It sounds like what you found are the traditional accidental Garden Path variety, or rather, to invent new literary term, domesticated Garden Path sentences rather than wild Garden Path ones.

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