13

Popcorn is the only acceptable snack to consume while watching a movie.

Is this sentence really grammatically correct?

I think it doesn't, because "watching" looks like referring to the behavior of the popcorn if there isn't no subject such as "people".

I think that sentence should be "Popcorn is the only acceptable snack to consume while people are watching a movie" so that it makes sense.

So, my questions are,

  1. Is it grammatically correct to omit "people are"?

  2. Could you make some sentences similar to this sentence?

  • 2
    it should be noted that what makes the most sense ( or is the most natural way to say something) need not be the same as what is technically grammatically correct (particularly for informal communication)! – eps May 23 at 17:26
  • 1
    An syntactically equivalent construction with your semantics could be "Rats are the only acceptable species to hunt while breeding". (Although in the context of this question it could evoke images of breeding hunters, admittedly. Now how do I get that out of my head ;-). So maybe I actually created an argument against your objection. Hm.) – Peter A. Schneider May 24 at 10:26
  • Not related to the actual question, but I might reorder the sentence as "Popcorn is the only snack acceptable to consume while watching a movie", since "acceptable" modifies "to consume" a little more closely than "snack to consume". This is a very minor difference, though, and there's nothing really wrong with the original sentence. – aschepler May 26 at 3:47
57

I agree with this answer and this comment answer that say the original sentence is grammatical. Your proposed correction,

Popcorn is the only acceptable snack to consume while people are watching a movie

is no good. The inclusion of "people are" makes it sound like the people who are watching the movie are different from the people who should consume popcorn. It's like saying:

Popcorn is the only acceptable snack for these people to consume while those other people are watching a movie.

In the original sentence, a subject like "one" is understood. You could also be more explicit:

Popcorn is the only acceptable snack for one to consume while one watches a movie.

This version might sound pompous in spoken English as it is more formal than normal speech tends to be. In writing it would be more acceptable. It's also less pompous without the "for one" :

Popcorn is the only acceptable snack to consume while one watches a movie.

We can also use "you" instead of "one". “You” and “one” are both pronouns that can stand for “a person”:

Popcorn is the only acceptable snack to consume while you watch a movie.

  • 7
    "Popcorn is the only acceptable snack to consume while you watch a movie." is also good, right? – ypercubeᵀᴹ May 23 at 9:52
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    @ypercubetm - yes, I think your sentence with “you” works, too. Or “Popcorn is the only acceptable snack to consume (or eat/have) while one watches a movie.” It’s ok to leave out the “for one” or “for you” that I mentioned in my answer. “You” and “one” are both pronouns that can stand for “a person”. The plural “people” doesn’t seem to work in this context. – Mixolydian May 23 at 12:20
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    Thnx, I made a suggestion along those lines. – ypercubeᵀᴹ May 23 at 13:41
16

The sentence is grammatically correct as is. If you wanted to make it explicit, you could say

Popcorn is the only acceptable snack for people watching a movie.

or

Popcorn is the only acceptable snack for people to consume while watching a movie.

or

For people watching a movie, popcorn is the only acceptable snack.

I agree that the original sentence is a bit ambiguous, but ambiguity is not ungrammatical in English, just confusing.

The "to consume" is unnecessary in that sentence. What else would one do with a snack? It is necessary in my second version; otherwise, the "for people" sounds stilted.

  • 4
    +1 for "ambiguity is not ungrammatical in English", but I really can't see any ambiguity with the original phrasing -- it's hard to imagine anyone would interpret it in any other way than what was intended. – eps May 23 at 17:14
9

There are no immediate issues with the sentence that I can see. Adding in "while people are" is redundant, as it's implied that people are watching the movie while eating popcorn. Your dog or pet fish are not watching a movie and eating a popcorn, so you don't need to specify people.

  • 1
    Seconding. In fact, the sentence being asked about is phrased in exactly the way that I, as a native English speaker, would say it, if I were to express that sentiment. – Hearth May 23 at 15:43
4

The sentence is fine. One can perform one action (consuming food) while performing another (watching a movie). so 1. Yes, 2. A newspaper is useful to read while riding in a bus; an umbrella is useful to carry while walking in the rain; no gentleman wears a hat while making love to a lady.

4

There is a construction in English that has the form

<action> while <condition>.

The "condition" in this construction could be a simple adjective, a word form that serves as an adjective, or an entire descriptive phrase; generally, it would be something that would also fit in the blank in the sentence, "I was _______."

The condition applies to the person performing the action. So we have such things as driving while intoxicated, which means that the person doing the driving was intoxicated. If you are sober and you are driving a car with a passenger who is intoxicated, you are not driving while intoxicated. You are, however, driving while someone is intoxicated.

You could also drive while texting, although this is also dangerous and may be illegal. Here it is implied that the person driving is also texting at the same time. Driving while people are texting is a very different thing that people generally do not mind so much, as long as you aren't the one doing the texting.

In fact, you could drive while answering questions on StackExchange. That's a very dangerous combination, I'm sure, although driving while people are answering questions on StackExchange is generally not considered so dangerous.

  • 1
    I think this answer is the only one which gives the actual reason why the sentence is correct as it is: The construction "To do something while doing" something else implies the same subject for both actions. That's why my sentence from above, "Rats are the only acceptable species to hunt while breeding", is probably rather funny. If the subject for the second action is different it must be made explicit: "Rats are the only acceptable species to hunt while they are breeding". – Peter A. Schneider May 24 at 10:31
1

An alternative might be

When watching a movie, the only acceptable snack is popcorn.

0

It is 100% grammatical if you parse it as follows

Popcorn is the only acceptable snack to (consume while watching a movie).

Now, this may not be the exact meaning you had in mind, although I think it is close; but the string of words you typed, has a perfectly correct interpretation.

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