Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Random lesson - Non-assertive words plus a purposeful and

On his blog, Literal Minded, linguist Neal Whitman recently discussed something he had said earlier that day, which was:
Oh crap! I forgot to go the store and buy any club soda.
Not everyone who commented on his blog accepted this as being a natural sentence, and I have a bit of doubt about it myself. But as this sentence throws up a couple of interesting language points, I thought I'd make a lesson from it.
Learn a bit about non-assertive words plus purposeful and with five exercises.

American / British differences

Club soda - this is basically carbonated (fizzy, sparkling) water which is often added to spirits such as whisky and brandy. In Britain it is known as soda water, or simply soda. I think Americans call it club soda to differentiate it from a sweeter carbonated drink usually drunk on its own, cream soda.
The store - in Britain we would usually say - the shop. So in North America you would find a candy store, but in Britain it would be a sweet shop. We do use the word store, but mainly for larger shops, and in certain fixed expressions - department store, chain store. The word shop would sound strange in those examples.


Exercise 1 - In each sentence there's one word which could be replaced by another word to make the sentence better. Enter the existing word in the left hand column of boxes, and the new word in the right hand column. Note:

  • You need to change one word in each sentence
  • In most cases you will only need one word to replace it
  • In one case you'll need two words
  • In one case you'll need no word (leave the box empty)
1. She can't drive, and I can't too.
2. I'm going to the shop to buy any bread.
3. We've hardly no milk left.
4. If you have some questions at all, please just ask.
5. She's yet in bed, the lazy thing.
6. I don't how we're going to get some sleep with all that noise
7. I think there's anybody at the door.
8. I was surprised that someone bothered to go to the meeting.
9. We're going anywhere sunny for our holiday. Majorca.
10. She has a total of three sisters at all.
11. He drinks much at the weekends
12. The train's all booked up, but we'll get there anyhow.
13. That's all I know. There isn't something else I can tell you.
14. She was too tired to do some work.
15. More than something else I'd like to visit India.
16. It's the fastest train you'll find somewhere in the world.
17. I've ever been to Paris three times.
18. She totally refused to do some work.
19. This is really urgent, I need you to do it without some delay.
20. Anybody who knows something about this will tell you I'm right.
Based on an idea at A Grammar of Errors (link below)

Non-assertive words

As you know, the word any and the other any words - anybody, anything etc are usually used in negative sentences and questions. It is one of a group of words and expressions such as ever, still and at all, which in linguistic jargon are called NPIs (negative polar items), but I'll follow the practice of Michael Swan in Practical English Usage and others and refer to them as non-assertive words.
We use non-assertive words mainly in negative statements and questions, when making comparisons and in conditionals. We also use non-assertive words after certain words having a negative implication.
The opposite, assertive words, include some, somebody, something etc and already. These are usually used in positive sentences.

Contexts where we use non-assertive words

  • Questions - Have you any brothers or sisters?
  • Negative statements - She hasn't got much money at all.
  • Indirect negatives - I don't know if I want any of this soup.
  • After non-affirmative verbs like forget, doubt, deny, refuse etc-
    I forgot to get any milk.
  • After negative prepositions - He did it without any fuss.
  • After be + certain adjectives like sorry, surprised, bothered etc - - I'm sorry if there's been any misunderstanding.
  • After everybody etc -
    Everyone who has any experience of
  • With comparatives - It was better than any other holiday I've ever had.
  • With superlatives - It was the hottest day that anybody could remember.
  • After an expression with too - I'm too tired to go any further.
  • In the if clause of a conditional - If anybody wants any more cake at all, just help yourselves.
Adapted from Glottopedia (link below)

Exercise 2 - Fill the gaps with the words in the box. Click on a word in the box and then click on a suitable gap. If you change your mind, just repeat.

at all   · denied   · doubt   · ever   · forgot   · hardly   · refused   · sorry   · surprised   · without
1. I asked him to help me, but he to do anything at all.
2. She did it any hesitation at all.
3. She to buy any stamps.
4. He was that anything like that could happen.
5. I if he knows any more than I do about it.
6. Have you been to Marseilles ?
7. She was for any problems she might have caused.
8. He ever having been anywhere near the bank.
9. He has any time left before his exams.
10. If you're in this neck of the woods again, give me a call.

Back to the problem of the club soda.

We've seen that it's perfectly OK to use any after forget, so the sentence - I forgot to buy any club soda - would be perfectly OK (although not all those who commented seemed to agree). But I still had a problem with Neal's longer sentence. I thought it might be that any was too far removed from forget, but then I saw what I think is the problem.

Exercise 3 - Look at these sentences and decide what two-letter word could replace and in all of the sentences.

  • I'll try and phone you tomorrow if I get the chance.
  • Be sure and come and see us next time you're in town.
  • We'll just have to wait and see, won't we?
  • I'll just go and get some more coffee.
  • They often come and see us at the weekend.
  • Won't you stay and have something to eat?
In all these sentences and could be replaced by .

Go and get etc - and with a purpose

In spoken English we often use and after certain verbs to connect them to another verb to suggest intention or purpose. These verbs fall into two groups.

1. try, be sure, wait

We only use these with the simple base form of the verb.
  • Future simple - I'll try and find some more tissues.
  • Going to future - She's going to try and call me later.
  • Imperatives - Be sure and keep warm.
  • Present simple - They try and see us when they can. (But not with he, she, it)
  • Infinitives - We need to try and do better next time.
We don't use these verbs in any other forms with this construction; we don't use and after tries, trying or tried. And be sure is only used with be, not am, is are, was, being. Wait is really only used like this in the expression wait and see.

Come, go, stay etc

These verb are also commonly used in spoken language followed by and to suggest a reason or purpose, with a similar meaning to a to-infinitive structure.

Exercise 4 - Complete each gap with one word.

1. Won't you come and sit here beside me.
2. I'll go and get to write with.
3. Are you going to stay and have lunch with us?
4. Could you hurry and close that door. It's freezing.
5. Run and get me a tissue, would darling?
6. She goes and fetches the kids from school afternoon.
7. He thought going and buying a new suit in the sales. (Not about)
8. He stayed and had drink before setting off. (Not a)
You'll notice from the last three questions that we can use and with these verbs in forms other than in the base form. This construction is often used with following verbs like get and buy.

So what's this got to do with the original sentence?

Look at the original sentence again
  • I forgot to go the store and buy any club soda
At first this looks like a parallel sentence, as in
  • I forgot to go the store and (I forgot to) buy any club soda
But the reason Neal wanted to go to the store was precisely (in order) to buy some club soda. So it's about intention or purpose as in:
  • I forgot to go the store (in order) to buy any club soda
And if we're talking about intention or purpose, that any won't do; it has to be some. We don't say - I went to buy any soda. So in my opinion the original sentence should read
  • I forgot to go the store and buy some club soda
I posted a comment about this on Neal's blog, and while taking my point, he wasn't entirely happy that and always = to in these circumstances, giving the example - I went to the store and got some club soda … but they were all [sold] out. And he rightly says that this doesn't work; it's illogical. It has to be - I went to the store to get some club soda … but they were all [sold] out. So what's happening?

With past tenses it depends on context.

If I say I went and did something, we know I did it, whether it was my intention or not. Therefore we can't contradict that by saying I went and did something and I didn't do it. (which is an exaggeration of Neal's example). It makes no sense. So Neal has brought up an interesting point. In past tenses and may imply intention, or it may just be linking two actions. It depends on context.

Exercise 5 - Where it is possible use and plus a past form of the verb in brackets. Where and is not possible use the to-infinitive.

1. She came for lunch (stay) all afternoon.
2. He's just gone out (buy) some milk. He'll be back soon.
3. There was no whisky in the house so I went to the shop (buy) some. But it was closed.
4. I went to the shop (buy) some whisky while I was there.
5. She stayed (have) lunch with us.
6. They had gone (get) some tickets for the show, but when they got there it was sold out.
7. The plumber came specially (mend) the pipes.
8. The pipes? He's already been (do) them.

So in conclusion:

  • We can use and with verbs like come and go in the past, but but only when the action of the second verb has been successfully completed.
  • In those circumstances, and can sometimes express intention, but it often just links two consecutive events .
  • When we want to really stress intention in the past, or when that intention wasn't fulfilled we use the to-infinitive.
  • It all depends on context.



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