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I was engaged in some informal but I hope grammatical conversation with a friend who is less fluent in English than me (so I didn't want to confuse them!). It went:

  • So why are you so upset?
  • You really want to know?
  • Sure!
  • Well, you know how I was telling you how I sold my car?
  • Yeah
  • I was excited about driving up to Manchester...
  • OK.
  • But, I later realized, have no car.

Is "But, I later realized, have no car" grammatical?

I think maybe, and with the following reason.

"But, I later realized, have no car"? sounds better than "But I later realized, have no car". I think the former sounds better due to the grammar, and one answer for why that is, is that it's grammatical (rather than, say, more rhetorical or I'm not interested in their reply).


I am concerned with the elided "I" in what would be the independent clause "have no car", and so I'm guessing it may be grammatical because in the latter the phrase "I later realized" is parenthesized (so that the conditional conjunction 'but' belongs to the independent clause "[I] have no car"), if that's not a misunderstanding.

Or perhaps it's because the conjunction 'but' in the former, used, example need not be read as set off with a comma.


The question seems a difficult one, as wikipedia says:

the dropping of pronouns is generally restricted to very informal speech and certain fixed expressions, and the rules for their use are complex and vary among dialects and register

I would be asking for BrSE, at least foremostly.

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  • 6
    you can't elide the i
    – Toothrot
    Apr 22 '19 at 23:20
  • 5
    You are asking "why does A sound better than B?" when to me, they both sound ungrammatical, and neither is particularly better. So it seems really a matter of opinion. Apr 22 '19 at 23:54
  • 2
    Why does lemon cake seem better than strawberry ice cream? This answer is a matter of opinion, because it only seems better to me. Apr 22 '19 at 23:59
  • 1
    Please clarify who has no car.
    – Dan
    Apr 23 '19 at 0:12
  • 1
    Dropping pronoun is problematic because it makes unclear who has no car.
    – Dan
    Apr 23 '19 at 0:22
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I was excited about driving up to Manchester...

OK.

But, I later realized, have no car.

If we consider only the last line then, after removing the "parenthetical clause", we get "But have no car." This is clearly non-grammatical (though comprehensible).

However, if we consider the first line, and regard the two lines as simply being a single (though disjointed) sentence, we get "I was excited about driving up to Manchester but have no car." This is valid syntax and semantics.

Often in speech a perfectly valid sentence can get disjointed in this fashion, especially when the listener interjects an "OK" or some such to acknowledge his comprehension. Within reason this doesn't affect the validity of the overall statement.

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  • thank you for your answer, which, along with dan's comment, was helpful... i am still concerned that the your claim "is clearly non-grammatical" cites no-one. but feel that my question is answered now. Apr 23 '19 at 0:26
  • and thanks for noticing how the interjection was working!! Apr 23 '19 at 0:33
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I am willing to bet you imagined something like below but didn't type it out as such because is quite esoteric outside of train-of-thought writing (disclaimer: I am including the book here merely as an example):

"But I -- I later realized -- have no car."

There should be 2 "I"s; it is a interjected independent clause, the subject does not carry over.

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  • no, not at all! see my edit. anyway, you didn't address my use of 'pro-drop', so i'm concerned that your answer isn't even an answer to my question (which must still be unclear?) Apr 23 '19 at 0:18
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Why does it seem okay with the comma, but not without? When you have two parallel clauses with the same subject, you can drop the subject from the second one.

I had a book I was reading, but left it on the airplane.
I was excited about driving up to Manchester, but have no car.

When you add an interjection, it's still grammatical.

I was excited about driving up to Manchester but, I later realized, have no car.

Now, in dialog, when somebody interrupts that sentence, you still might be able to argue that it's grammatical:

I was excited about driving up to Manchester ...
OK
... but, I later realized, have no car.

On the other hand, if you have a main clause and a dependent clause with the same subject, you cannot leave the subject off the dependent clause. The following are ungrammatical. (Asterisks indicate ungrammaticality.)

*I told him would drive him home.
*I realized have no car.

So if I later realized is not an interjection (which it isn't unless you put a comma after the but), the whole thing is ungrammatical:

*I was excited about driving up to Manchester, but I later realized, have no car.

Without the first part of the interrupted sentence, "I was excited about driving up to Manchester," the second half of the interrupted sentence, "but, I realized, have no car" is ungrammatical whether or not there is a comma after the but.

0

The dropping of subject pronouns in spoken English is analysed as a phonological phenomenon, following work by Gerken (1991); specifically, that the first syllable in an intonational phrase, if unstressed, can be deleted in English

'I have no car' can be analyzed as a separate intonational phrase, dependent on what is meant. There's a difference between

  • I later realized | I have no car

and

  • I later realized I have no car

The former intonation suggests I still have no car. Because the "I" is not stressed (the speaker is not emphasizing that they rather than someone else lack a car) in spoken English you can use pro-drop there.


In writing it would be an example of "diary drop" (the dropping of subject pronouns in informal written English, common in diaries), which some claim is permitted if the dropped pronoun (I) is the "topic" of the sentence, which it is here (the topic is myself).

4
  • Best explain what is a "diary drop" to users/learners, I have no idea what it is myself.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 29 '19 at 8:32
  • Worth emphasizing that no native English speaker would consider "I later realized have no car" to be grammatical, no matter how many commas are added! It just sounds completely wrong. I think it fails for the same reason as Weir's (ungrammatical) example 9b: "When I was in Paris, (e) visited the Louvre.", from the paper you linked. For the benefit of any English learners here: avoid dropped pronouns - it's intensely colloquial, and slightly sloppy. It'll make you sound like you don't know basic sentence construction!
    – SusanW
    Nov 23 '20 at 21:03
  • You don't ever drop pronouns? I find that hard to believe @SusanW Nov 24 '20 at 22:07
  • @user3293056 I do, oh yes. Do you mean about how I'm advising people to avoid them?
    – SusanW
    Nov 24 '20 at 22:46

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