5

ell.stackexchange.com:
(1) What would my family and friends say is the driving force of my life?

my variant:
(2) What, as my family and friends would say, is the driving force of my life?
I think (2) is correct too and "as my family and friends would say" functions as a parenthetical construction.

I'm interested in whether "as" can be omitted here or not:
(3) What, my family and friends would say, is the driving force of my life?
Is (3) correct?

4
  • 1. What, in my family and friends' opinion, is the driving force of my life? 2. What, using a phrase my family and friends are fond of, is the 'driving force if my life'? 3. Same as (1). Apr 3 at 18:36
  • Since it's a question, I'd use ask rather than say. "What, my family and friends would ask, is the driving force of my life?"
    – barbecue
    Apr 4 at 18:46
  • @barbecue That's a completely different meaning. The question is asking you what you think the people who know you best would say about you. Apr 4 at 22:22
  • @SpehroPefhany That's my point. It's a different meaning.
    – barbecue
    Apr 5 at 13:24

2 Answers 2

16

(1) and (2) are both correct, but do not have the same meaning. (This may already be obvious, but for the sake of completeness or for future readers). Consider:

(1) "What would Socrates say is a man?"
(2) "What, as Socrates would say, is a man?"

(1) asks "How would Socrates define a man?" It is looking for a factual answer about what Socrates wrote. (2) asks the reader for their own opinion on "What is a man?", and simultaneously asserts that "Socrates often asked the question 'What is a man?'".

So your (2) means "My friends and family often ask me 'What is the driving force of your life?' I'm asking myself that same question now."


(2) and (3) mean the same to me. (3) is, I believe, correct but confusing. Michael in the comments says it means the same as (1), so you have a real-life instance of at least one of us being confused by the meaning.

Beyond that, if you say "What, my family and friends would say, is the driving force of my life?" out loud, it's hard to distinguish it from the incomplete sentence:

(Wrong in writing:) "What my family and friends would say is the driving force of my life?"

That's an important distinction, because in spoken English, you might hear an incomplete sentence like that used to prepare to answer a question. For instance, in a job interview:

INTERVIEWER: If I asked your family and friends what the driving force in your life was, what would they say?
APPLICANT: What my family and friends would say is the driving force of my life? Hmmm... I think they'd say I love to travel and explore.

Most commas you don't really need to pronounce. "I play checkers, and she plays chess" doesn't need a pause before "and". (2) would have a bit of a pause or change in tone. To make (3) clear in spoken English, you need to do a lot with your voice (and even body) to make clear. "What [looking aside, lower voice] my friends and family would say [looking at audience again] is the driving..."

Using "as" makes it clear that "my family and friends would say" is a parenthetical.

2
  • I disagree that 2 asserts that this is a question "family and friends" often ask. I would see this as a rhetorical question and that the answer that is about to be given is how "family and friends" would answer.
    – Dale M
    Apr 4 at 10:29
  • I think (2) is a bit subtler. Since the verb is "say" rather than "ask", to me the implication is that it's a rhetorical question, so the meaning is less that the reader is invited to respond with their opinion, and more invited to contemplate on how it is difficult to say what a man is.
    – kaya3
    Apr 4 at 15:24
3

Yes, there is often opportunity to rearrange words and phrases. It doesn't always mean it's a good idea, style-wise, but there are options. There are some problems with your proposed versions, but they have more to do with these specific words and their uses than they do with the structure of the sentences.

First, the phrase "as X would say" has a more specialized use. It's often used not to mean "X would be likely to have this opinion" but rather "I'm using a style of talking or choice of words X is known for." Like "Honey, as Ricky Ricardo would say, 'you've got some splainin' to do.'"

Your number 3 example comes very close to being idiomatic, and I could imagine it being said. But it might be better with a rewording, like "What, in my family and friends' opinion, is the driving force of my life?" or "What, according to my family and friends, is...."

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .