2

A1. I was both unhappy with your work and your time keeping.

A2. I was unhappy with both your work and your time keeping.

B1. We were both unhappy with your work and your time keeping.

B2. We were unhappy with both your work and your time keeping.

I have some doubts on the use of both in both sentences under the letter A and under the letter B.

Can anybody explain what are the differences and what is the "correct" way to use both in these cases?

  • I'm not sure my last sentence "Can anybody explain what are the differences and what is the "correct" way to use both in these cases?" is "standard" English. Please, feel free to modify it. – user114 Feb 9 '13 at 20:52
  • Both can be correctly applied to any grouping of exactly two things, and is very often incorrectly applied to groupings of three or more things. Thus it could be applied to either we or your work and your time keeping but not to other parts of this sentence, including I, and care should be taken to avoid placing it where ambiguity would result. – hippietrail Feb 10 '13 at 0:28
6

A1. I was both unhappy with your work and your time keeping.

A1 does not quite make sense. As a sentence-beginning, “I was both” leads one to expect a sentence structure of form “I was both X and Y”, where X and Y are parallel in form. In A1, X is “unhappy with your work” (an adverbial phrase, I think) and Y is “your time keeping” (a noun phrase) hence X and Y are not parallel.

The other three are syntactically and semantically sound:

A2. I was unhappy with both your work and your time keeping.

A2 means I was unhappy with your work and I was unhappy with your time keeping.

B1. We were both unhappy with your work and your time keeping.

B1 implies each of two parties was unhappy with your work, and likewise unhappy with your time keeping.

B2. We were unhappy with both your work and your time keeping.

B2 states that some group was unhappy with your work, and likewise unhappy with your time keeping. In English as typically understood, it implies each of us in some group was unhappy with your work and unhappy with your time keeping, and to some extent implies that none of us was unhappy with one item but satisfied with the other.

2

A1 appears to anticipate a parallel word to 'unhappy', and, when it doesn't come, the reader feels let down. B1 suggests that 'both' goes with 'we'. Only A2 and B2 are satisfactory.

  • Any reason why both can't go with we? – TRiG Feb 9 '13 at 23:13
  • 2
    I don't see why B1 isn't "satisfactory". Sure, it attaches "both" to "we", but so what? The word "both" is superfluous whichever word you attach it to. All it does is emphasise the plurality of either "we" or the two shortcomings. If "we" were two people who don't normally make the same judgement on such matters, B1 might be the most appropriate. – FumbleFingers Feb 10 '13 at 1:07
  • @FumbleFingers: I agree that both is superfluous in such sentences, but because so many love pleonasms, it behooves them to know where to insert them so that they do the least semantic & aural damage. Strictly speaking, B1 means only the two of us were unhappy with X & Y. Spoken in a certain way, it might tell the listener that "both" attaches to "X & Y" instead of to "we", but not for my inner grammarian. I agree with Barrie: "Only A2 & B2 are satisfactory". This might pass muster: B3. We were unhappy both with your work & with your time keeping. But it's even more verbose. – user264 Feb 10 '13 at 4:05
  • @FumbleFingers. Well, yes, it's fine if that's the intended meaning, but not if the intended meaning is the same as that attempted in the other examples, which I took it to be. As for we both instead of just we, I don't agree that it is invariably pleonastic. There will be occasions when a speaker or writer wants to emphasise the togetherness of the parties involved. – Barrie England Feb 10 '13 at 7:30
  • @Barrie: Well, we don't actually know the "intended meaning", nor does OP necessarily presuppose the same meaning has to apply to all his permutations. But I accept "superfluous" probably wasn't the best word to use there. It's optional, but if it is used, it can validly emphasise the fact of there being either two critics, or two things being criticised. – FumbleFingers Feb 10 '13 at 16:09

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