Monday, February 11, 2008

Either…Or


‘Every dish in this restaurant is either grilled, roasted or baked in a wood fire oven’ (subheading, Sunday Times Lifestyle, 10 February 2008, p. 26).

Careless sub-editor?

The correlative conjunctions either…or and neither…nor may be used with only two options, but in the above example there are three (grilled, roasted, baked).

Simply omit the word either — it serves no purpose anyway.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi there, I would like to know whether the following sentences are correct since we are on the topic of conjunctions.

'John as well as Peter love to play basketball.'

'John, as well as Peter, loves to play basketball.'

It was explained in stomp but I am not quite convinced with the explanations.

http://english.stomp.com.sg/english/articleList.jsp?month=5&year=2007&page=11

The Grammar Terrorist said...

I don't think the Stomp expert was very clear, but she/he is right in saying that the "as well as X" expression should be separated by commas (so your second sentence is preferred).

The commas mark out the expression as an afterthought which you can remove from the sentence, and which has no grammatical effect on it.

Hence, we should be able to remove or replace "as well as Peter" from your sentence without affecting the grammar: this gives us "John LOVES to play basketball" (note the singular verb).

This is because "as well as" -- unlike "and" -- is not a conjunction and hence doesn't make the subject of the sentence plural (compare: "John AND Peter LOVE to play basketball").

This also applies to phrases like "in addition to X", "along/together with X", and "including".

Another point the Stomp expert was trying to make is that the person or thing introduced by the "as well as" phrase is usually the more expected, less "newsy" one.

Hence, in British English for instance, one might say "Toothpaste is useful for sealing windows, as well as for cleaning one's teeth" -- but not "Toothpaste is useful for cleaning one's teeth, as well as for sealing windows". In Singapore English, however, this distinction is not made -- "as well as" is simply used as a conjunction like "and".

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for the explanation. It really helps to clear up a lot of doubts. I have to bother you with another question.

Nowadays, there seem to be a new 'trend' in the use of conjuctions. Authors are putting them right infront of sentences. "And Jerry decided..." or "But he didn't..."

Is this a writing style which students should adopt? How should I explain to them if they shouldn't?

The Grammar Terrorist said...

There's actually no grammatical reason why one shouldn't begin a sentence with 'and', 'but', 'or' or 'because'.

The belief that it grammatically wrong is a myth perpetuated by the teaching profession (!) -- in fact it is one of the 30 discussed in Adam Brown's excellent book (English Language Myths: 30 Beliefs About English That Aren't Really True; McGraw-Hill, 2003).

Brown believes that it arose in Singapore as a result of teachers encouraging (forcing?) pupils to answer questions in full sentences (but, interestingly, this 'rule' also appears quite widespread in America).

The trouble, however, is that it produces sentences that are often unnatural or unnecessarily repetitive. 'Real' people, in 'real' conversations, often begin sentences with those conjunctions, simply because it is the most natural thing to do. Brown also points out that it is often very effective to start sentences with those words because they help signpost contrasts clearly.

I'm not sure that this is a rising trend, but if so, it may be a sign of authors writing to reflect spoken rather than written language. If you look at The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Mark Haddon), for instance, there is a stretch of several pages where sentences all begin with 'and' (first-person narration). This is clearly done for effect -- maybe he was trying to say something about Christopher's thought processes, or trying to convey the fact that this is a child speaking (the conjunction 'and' is acquired first by children because it is the easiest and most basic).

In the final analysis, I think one should strike a balance -- clearly, formality is a consideration (i.e. avoid beginning sentences with those conjunctions in formal writing, even though to do so would not be wrong).

Sadly, often it comes down to what the school/English HOD mandates!

Anonymous said...

Hi, I have a question regarding conjunction. I have checked the dictionary and it says that the word 'despite' is a preposition while all along I thought that it is being used as a conjunction/connector. The dictionary should be correct but am I wrong?

The Grammar Terrorist said...

Hi there,

Yes, the dictionary is right. Prepositions typically come before nouns and noun phrases or other chunks that aren't nouns (e.g. other phrases; clauses) but behave like nouns.

For a start, let's look at "to" as a simpler example. When using the verb "prefer", the pattern is "prefer X to Y", where X and Y are usually nouns or noun phrases. Hence, we say "Mary prefers JAZZ to ROCK".

But instead of simple noun phrases, we can also say "Mary prefers WAKING UP EARLY than SLEEPING IN LATE". Here, the "things" we're talking about are actually clauses -- but they behave as if they were nouns (hence, they're called "noun clauses").

Going back to "despite", note that you can follow this word only with nouns/noun phrases or noun-like phrases or clauses. Hence, "John was tired despite HIS LONG SNOOZE" ("his long snooze" is a noun phrase) or "John was tired despite HAVING A LONG SNOOZE" ("having a long snooze" behaves like a noun here).

If "despite" were a conjunction, it should link the main clause "John was tired" to another main clause, because this is what conjunctions mostly do: link one constituent to a like constituent (e.g. clause + clause, noun phrase + noun phrase). But note that we can't do this here: *"John was tired despite he had a long snooze". That's because "despite" isn't a conjunction.

Another fact about prepositions in English: English has prepositions only, because they come before the noun position (that's why they're called "pre-positions"). But other languages like Japanese have postpositions. Broad Singlish has them in a limited way, e.g. "I live that school behind" (this is obviously from Chinese).

Although we think of prepositions as being typically words like "to", "for", "at", they are in fact a much larger group comprising others like "despite", "according to" and "including", to name a few.

Sorry for this wordy response -- I hope it clarifies rather than confuses!