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I was wondering if a native could say which sentence from among the following sentences does not sound correct:

  1. That child does nothing but watch TV.

  2. That child does nothing except watch TV.

  3. That child does nothing except for watch TV.

For me only #3 does not work. Because after 'for we have to use a noun or a gerund, whereas here according to the sentence we have to use infinitive without to (...does watch) Am I right?

  • 2
    Yes. 1 and 2 are OK. As you say, 3 should be "That child does nothing except for watching TV." But I think 3 is less common as we tend not to add unnecessary extra words (in speech anyway). – user3169 Oct 19 '14 at 22:21
  • @user3169 but anyway I guess "That child does nothing except for watching TV" is incorrect. Because whereas we had 'does' before except for, we must use a bare infinitive. This is in the manner that after 'for' we have to use a noun and these two are quite contrary to each other. Am I right? :) – A-friend Oct 19 '14 at 22:29
  • For instance I think in the following example, all of these three can be used: "She is not interested in anything (but / except / except for) skiing." Because according to the sentence we have the verb 'interested in' which should be followed by a gerund. Or as another example in the sentence: "I like all fruits (but / except / except for) oranges", all of these three can be used interchangeably without even a slight nuance. Could I make myself understood? If yes do you agree with me? ;) – A-friend Oct 19 '14 at 23:01
  • All I can say is that "That child does nothing except for watching TV." sounds natural for me. I did not write any answer, because someone else would better describe the grammar involved. – user3169 Oct 19 '14 at 23:10
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Statement #1 is perfect. #2 and #3 strike me as somewhat awkward, although I've heard them used this way often enough. So I won't say #2 and #3 are outright ungrammatical, but if #1 is available, use it.

Here's why it sounds awkward to me.

"Except and except for" are synonymous with "with the exception of".

Everyone had a fun time except for me. I couldn't swim because I had poison ivy.

"Everyone...except for me" makes sense. The set is {people having a good time} and I am the sole exception. I don't belong in the set. The set contains everyone but me.

But "Does nothing ... with the exception of" doesn't establish a set-with-exception in the same way. With "does nothing" the set is non-action {does nothing}. The empty set. I suppose one could say that "doing something" doesn't belong in the set of doing nothing, but that doesn't feel quite right to me.

Except and except for work better with noun phrases than verb phrases.

  • Except for 'but' which can be used either with noun or verb phrases perfectly. Am I right? ;) – A-friend Oct 20 '14 at 1:28
  • Correct. Everyone but you did nothing but complain. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Oct 20 '14 at 13:06

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