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I had doubts on this so I asked this on Quora and Englishforums but to my surprise they gave conflicting answers. I want to know which of these sentences are grammatically correct in formal and informal Written & Spoken English. Even though these examples are quite a few, a few general points should encompass them all, I think.

  1. He is the patient and/(as well as) the doctor.
  2. He is both the patient and/(as well as) the doctor
  3. He is a patient and/(as well as) a doctor [too].
  4. He, the patient and/(as well as) the doctor, is a good guy.
  5. The patient and the doctor is a good man.

Now, I am quite sure that in all of these sentences, if we remove the second "the", the sentence would be grammatical but I want to know whether these sentences are grammatical at present. So, the most credible response I got was that all of these sentences are grammatically correct but the last one is 'odd' without some context. But he didn't say whether this is so for formal English too or just for informal English.

On the other hand, most of the others said that these sentences are not grammatically correct because the second "the" in each of these sentences makes the phrase plural -- i.e., as if 2 persons were being referred to there. I countered that they seem to be valid examples of parallelism, but they said they're not.

So, what is the truth here? I would really appreciate your help.

EDIT: I'm totally ignorant about this. I don't know what place to look at to gain some knowledge regarding this. It would really help me if someone cites a website article or book where I can read up on this.

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    Well, #5 is definitely weird. Certainly a doctor can be a patient, but expressing the situation that way is deliberately confusing. – Andrew May 21 '18 at 16:51
  • @Andrew, what about the rest? Are they grammatical? – Mr Reality May 21 '18 at 16:52
  • I'm reminded of an English aphorism, "The man who represents himself (in court) has a fool for a client." I wonder if the same is true for patients who act as their own doctors? Anyway, the short answer is the rest of the sentences are fine, but they mean different things. What exactly are you trying to say? – Andrew May 21 '18 at 16:54
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    The two assertions He is both the patient and the doctor AND He a good guy are simply too "different" to be crammed together into a single "sentence". That's why example 4 is weird - just a matter of what ideas can be logically coupled together, nothing to do with the grammar/syntax (which in principle is fine; it effectively falls down on semantic grounds). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica May 21 '18 at 17:24
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    @MrReality: If you're listening to people telling you the repetition of articles ... in "The director and the producer of the movie are not present" makes that example ungrammatical, you're listening to people who don't know what they're talking about. Context is everything, and we often repeat articles in such constructions. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica May 21 '18 at 17:27
5

The last is very odd, without context. There are "and" phrases which we understand to mean a single item:

Fish and chips is my favourite meal.

If I changed this to "Fish is my favourite meal, and chips are my favourite meal", the meaning has changed. "Fish and chips" is a singular item.

Your example isn't like that. So (5) is at least very odd, and I'd say ungrammatical.

The other are ok, but 4 is odd, and could probably be misunderstood, at least on first hearing.

As a rule of thumb, if you can split the sentence into two coordinate clauses then the subject is plural (Source). However, the situation you describe is awkward, as is the producer/director one in the comments. So avoid it if possible. It is nearly always possible to rephrase.

This is a confusing situation, so more writing to explain would help.

I would write:

In his role as a doctor and as a patient, he is a good man.

"Role" is a key word here, it emphasises one man with two positions.

Don't say "The director and producer of the movie was not present." Say "Speilberg was both producer and director, but he wasn't present." It is hard to think of a situation in which you would have to use a plural subject as singular.

I don't recognise a rule based around articles. The "rule" is "verb agrees with subject" and 1-4 all obey this rule.

  • Thanks for answering. Now, my main point of confusion is that I have studied in school that the repetition of articles, like in, "The director and the producer of the movie are not present", makes the subject plural; whereas it's not so in "The director and producer of the movie was not present". So following this logic shouldn't all of the sentences above be grammatically incorrect -- or is there something I'm missing? Also, can you cite a reference for your answer? – Mr Reality May 21 '18 at 17:23
  • @Mr Reality: Yes, there is something you are missing. By the rule you were taught, the subject of your last sentence is plural yet your verb is singular. The patient and the doctor is a good man. The patient and the doctor are good men. – Tᴚoɯɐuo May 21 '18 at 17:47
  • Does that mean, in all such situations we can place or replace the other articles apart from the first, and the sentence would remain grammatical. Like in, "He is a good boy and a bad student"/ "He is a good boy and bad student"? Because just have to care about the subject and the verb in the sentence, in this regard; right? Also, by this logic #5 is definitely ungrammatical, with or without context, right? – Mr Reality May 21 '18 at 17:56
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    If "the patient" and "the doctor" are two separate people (which is usually the case in a patient-physician relationship), then you say it as @Tᴚoɯɐuo says: The patient and the doctor are good men. However, if you are talking about two titles for the same person, then the sentence is singular: The owner and manager is a good man. My two cents: by using "doctor" and "patient" you have really muddied the waters with an unfortunately confusing example. – J.R. May 21 '18 at 18:02
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    I would not call it a "rule". What I would say is that the speaker reveals his or her thought when using articles, and most listeners would infer that the speaker is speaking about two different people if the speaker says the patient and the doctor or the screenwriter and the director. – Tᴚoɯɐuo May 21 '18 at 18:05
4

Grammatically, there isn't anything wrong with your sentences. You've simply chosen a vexing example (because doctors and patients are usually not one in the same person). However, we can tweak your sentences and make them all work, by changing the roles and adding just enough context to make them all sound sensible:

  1. He is the author and the illustrator of the book.
  2. He is both the author as well as the illustrator.
  3. He is an author and an illustrator, too.
  4. He, the author as well as the illustrator of this book, is very talented.
  5. The author and illustrator of this book is a very talented man.

Of course, if a different book was illustrated by someone other than its author, we could modify the last sentence so that it uses the plural:

  1. The author and illustrator of this book are [both] very talented.
  • I guess what I'm asking is: is there a subtle difference between the phrases like the ones here(shown in bold) -- "He is the author and the illustrator of the book" and "He is the author and illustrator of the book". – Mr Reality May 21 '18 at 18:31
  • Here's a source which says exactly what my textbook said: englishgrammar.org/repetition-article . Why, exactly, considering the points in this link, aren't the 5 example sentences in the question ungrammatical? – Mr Reality May 21 '18 at 18:50
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    @MrReality All of these answers and comments are about avoiding confusion. Certainly you can say The author and illustrator was present but most of the time people will question whether you mean one person or two. Remember even native English speakers frequently make mistakes, so sometimes you have to guess what someone meant to say rather than just interpret what they actually said. – Andrew May 21 '18 at 19:01
  • @Andrew, what about the link I gave here -- that is, more or less, what my textbook had to say on the matter too -- and is the source of my confusion. – Mr Reality May 21 '18 at 19:04
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    @MrReality englishgrammar.org is just a website, and one person's opinion. If you read what everyone else has written here, we all agree you should avoid writing confusing compounds, even if they are grammatical. – Andrew May 21 '18 at 19:09
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I'm going to paraphrase some of these comments into a different kind of response.

  • All of the sentences given in the question are grammatical—however, some of them are unusual.

  • Using one or two articles does not, on its own, have anything to do with something being grammatical or a subject being plural or singular. Making such a modification may change the sentence in such a way, but it depends on the sentence—and how its meaning is received.

  • You may be able to add or remove a second article from a sentence and have it remain grammatical with the same meaning, but it depends on the sentence. There is no "rule" that can be applied to every situation.

  • The meaning of a sentence is not the same thing as the grammar of a sentence. A grammatical sentence can be ambiguous, having multiple meanings: they are cooking apples. A sentence can also be nonsensical, having no meaning at all: colorless green ideas sleep furiously. Just because it is ambiguous or nonsensical does not make it ungrammatical.

There is no single source that can be used to determine what happens when you do or don't use a second article. (Or more than two articles.) It's something that will need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and knowing what happens in each case is a matter of learning many different rules of grammar and understanding various idiomatic usages.

  • Here's a source which says exactly what my textbook said (a.k.a. source of my confusion): englishgrammar.org/repetition-article .Why, exactly, considering the points in this link, aren't the 5 example sentences in the question ungrammatical? – Mr Reality May 21 '18 at 19:01
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    @MrReality That article says nothing about grammar (directly). It discusses meaning. Language does not work in the way you're trying to make it work. Re-read the last bullet point in my answer. They are cooking apples can mean either those are apples that they are cooking OR those are apples meant for cooking. Exactly the same words but two different meaning. The words used in a sentence do not necessarily determine the meaning of the sentence. – Jason Bassford Supports Monica May 21 '18 at 19:13
  • Ok. So, there is no rule regarding this. Then, is there no difference at all between the phrases like the ones here(shown in bold) -- (a) "Care about the syntax, the semantics and the typos", (b) "Care about the syntax, semantics and the typos", (c) "Care about the syntax, the semantics and typos", or, (d) "Care about syntax, semantics and the typos" ? – Mr Reality May 21 '18 at 19:22
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    I see no difference in meaning, and I see no violation of grammatical rules; however, there is this thing called parallelism that would say some of those are sloppier than others. (Note that parallelism is not a grammatical "rule," just guidance for better writing.) What you are asking about here – whether subsequent articles should be repeated or omitted – is more of a stylistic matter than a grammatical one. – J.R. May 21 '18 at 19:27
  • @MrReality The last sentence could be interpreted differently than the others because there is no initial article. It could be talking about syntax in general terms rather than a specific instance of syntax. As for the rest, the inclusion or exclusion of the article is irrelevant for anything other than style because of something called "suspension," in which syntactic elements of an initial item can be assumed to apply to subsequent items. (In other words, the is used in front of the first item, so it can be assumed to apply to all items—whether or not it's actually present.) – Jason Bassford Supports Monica May 21 '18 at 19:33

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