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Which parts of speech does Conjunction Reduction work with? (and which parts doesn't?)


Does it work with identifiers and adjectives before a noun?

1a. the two running men and the two running women
1b. the two running men and women

I think 1b means there are two identified running men and two identified running women resulting four people in total (similar to the two running men and the two running women).

2a. the two running man and running woman
2b. the two running man and woman

I think 2b means there are one identified running man and one identified running woman resulting two people in total (something like the two running man and running women? Does that makes sense?).

3a. the two running men and the running woman
3b. the two running men and woman

Can 3b mean there are two identified running men and one identified running women?


Does it work with the participle verb after have?

4a. I have been to China and I have gone shopping (there).
4b. I have been to China and gone shopping.

Is sentence 4b grammatical?

  • 1
    The problem with "I have been to China and gone shopping" is that it doesnt necessarily tie the two actions together if that is the intention, so it's a little unclear. I'd say "I have been shopping in China". Although, as said earlier, I'm not sure what the intention of that sentence is. – EyeOfTheHawks Jul 4 '14 at 18:24
  • What do you think your examples are reduced from? – snailcar Jul 5 '14 at 7:17
  • the two running men and women - the two running men and the two running women, the two running man and woman - the two running man and running woman, the two running men and women - the two running men and the running woman, I have been to China and gone shopping - I have been to China and I have gone shopping (there). – Santi Santichaivekin Jul 5 '14 at 7:22
2

How effectively these sentences convey your meaning will depend a lot on context. And on what variety of English you are trying to speak. (I speak North American English, but I'm not very familiar with many other dialects.)

General Rule

Conjunctions combine two words of the same part of speech into one unit. Modifiers that describe every part of that unit equally, and are grammatical when applied to the unit members, may be reduced as you describe, but only if they apply unambiguously to the complete unit.

Discussion

Runners

It is much more clear to refer to the total number. "The four runners, two men and two women..." or "The two runners, a man and a woman..." or "The three runners..." (you get the idea).

For your examples:

1b the two running men and women

I would not understand this and I think it sounds awkward. "Men" and "women" sound like you're referring to general categories, but that makes "two" unclear. Hopefully you would have specified earlier in your context that there are, say, two couples running, or whatever is actually happening. (It is not clear that the modifiers "two" and "running" both apply to the full combined unit.)

2a the two running man and running woman 2b the two running man and woman

"Two running man" is ungrammatical in the original, un-transformed sentence (what would "two man" mean?) So both 2a and 2b are ungrammatical to me.

3b the two running men and woman

Grammar is fine but meaning is unclear. It could have your intended meaning, but without context it would not be clear to me whether the woman was running. I would also assume that either 1) there were other men present who were not running, or 2) you had already told me they were running and you were repeating it for some kind of emphasis.

Regarding China:

4b. I have been to China and gone shopping.

Grammatically fine, but confusing unless you include the "there".

Digression

This question reminds me of one of my favorite linguistic arguments (courtesy Mark Johnson)--even if it isn't marked in the grammar, words have conceptual categories. It is confusing, maybe ungrammatical, to join words from separate categories with a simple conjunction. To see this, note that we can say:

I broke the window with a hammer.

and

I broke the window with my friend Bob.

but not:

I broke the window with a hammer and my friend Bob.

...because it sounds like you used your friend as a blunt object. Typically you will want to avoid this kind of possible confusion!

  • So simply, you are saying that conjunction reduction works with all part of speech, but one should avoid writing in a way that may possibly cause confusion. Something like that? – Santi Santichaivekin Jul 5 '14 at 13:11
  • Something like that. I think of it as conjunctions forming a single unit out of the joined words, so that they are collectively modified by the modifier: "the running men and the running women" -> "the running (men and women)". But it's not a simple mechanical process in cases where it is unclear whether the modifier would affect all of the combined unit (of words joined by the conjunction). – Tiercelet Jul 5 '14 at 16:46
  • How about the four running men and women? Is it okay when the context clearly states that there are four people in total? – Santi Santichaivekin Jul 6 '14 at 15:44
  • "Four running men and women" seems equivalent to "four running people" to me. – Tiercelet Jul 6 '14 at 15:48
  • but two running men and women sounds confusing? – Santi Santichaivekin Jul 6 '14 at 15:51

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