In a sentence like this:

He read a book and he discussed it with his friends.

Is it correct to leave the second "he"? (He read a book and discussed it with his friends.) I suppose it is, because I've encountered multiple examples.

However, I am not sure if it is still correct for the following sentence:

He read a book but he didn't understand it.

Is it correct to leave the second "he" in this case? (He read a book but didn't understand it.) Is there a rule explaining this?

EDIT: I would like to add another example that doesn't sound natural at all:

You've never been to New York, but (you) know what you'll find there.

Different tenses, positive and negative parts. Is it still possible to leave out the subject in the second part?

  • 1
    Your "never" example is quite good; that does seem to make it harder to leave out the second subject for some reason: You never planted tulips but (you) will this spring; you never played golf but (you) think you'll like it. Those are both grammatical either way, but it is peculiar how they seem to sound much better with the subject left in, whereas He read "War and Peace" but never understood it sounds just fine without the second he. – J.R. Nov 22 '13 at 23:20
up vote 8 down vote accepted

Generally, if you use a noun/pronoun in a compound sentence, you don't need to mention it again unless the noun in subject changes.

I would call it grammatically correct to say:

He read a book but didn't understand it.

and

He read a book and discussed it with his friends.

Since there is a coordinating conjunction between the two sentences, leaving out the pronoun is fine.

  • I like the way this answer explains how one can leave out the repeated subject, but doesn't go so far as to say one should leave it out. – J.R. Nov 22 '13 at 16:00

When you have a compound sentence where both parts have the same subject, it is common to omit the subject from the second part (and later, if there are more than two parts). But it is not required.

I laughed and I cried.

I laughed and cried.

Both are correct. We USUALLY leave out the subject on the second part. It is sometimes included for emphasis or rhythm. In some cases it should be included for clarity, like if the sentence is long and complicated and the intended subject is not clear, or if it is arguably unambiguous but the reader may lose track.

Robert talked to Mary about the problem, and how the committee had examined this in the past, but decided to do nothing.

Who "decided to do nothing"? Robert, or the committee? While it wouldn't be grammatically valid, a reader might also suppose it was Mary. The sentence has gotten complicated enough that we really need to specify a subject.

  • 1
    The second example is a real gotcha. Even if you use "they" in the final clause, it would be ambiguous if you mean the committee, or Robert and Mary. – The Photon Nov 23 '13 at 19:45
  • Photon: Good point. That's the sort of sentence that one can say or write thinking he is clear, but a reader comes along and misinterprets it. – Jay Nov 25 '13 at 15:54

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