From the book Thinking in Java:

The .NET platform is roughly the same as the Java Virtual Machine (JVM; the software platform on which Java programs execute) and Java libraries, and C# bears unmistakable similarities to Java. This is certainly the best work that Microsoft has done in the arena of programming languages and programming environments. Of course, they had the considerable advantage of being able to see what worked well and what didn't work so well in Java, and build upon that, but build they have.

I'm not sure how to properly understand that part. First of all, is that even correct? I mean build, shouldn't it be built?

  1. and build upon that, but build they have. -- [original]

  2. and build upon that, but built they have.

Is version #1 with build, as in the original, correct? Or is version #2 with built correct? Or are both correct?

Clear things up for me, please.

  • 2
    How come I expect built, not build..?
    – Stephie
    Apr 21, 2015 at 8:34
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    I have plargiarised your question, kind of, here. It's really an experiment to see how the answers here compare to the answers on ELU. Apr 24, 2015 at 14:15
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    @Araucaria That thread over there is interesting. Maybe soon there be some actual answers. Then again, perhaps that thread could be marked as duplicate and linked to this thread? :D
    – F.E.
    Apr 24, 2015 at 20:14
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    @pazzo Hmm, but the real life example from CGEL in F.E.'s post reads "It's odd that Diane should have said that, if say it she did". Apr 25, 2015 at 10:02
  • 1
    I've put a picture of you in my post here. I hope that's ok. (Maybe you'll become famous!) Apr 30, 2015 at 9:55

5 Answers 5

  1. and build upon that, but build they have. -- [original]
  2. and build upon that, but built they have.

In general, both versions are acceptable in today's standard English.

But in this specific example, there would often be a preference for version #1, which is the original version that had used "build":

    1. and build upon that, but build they have. -- [original]

Version #1 would often be preferred because the second "build" would then match the first "build" which was used in the previous clause, and that would give a rhetoric effect which would often be desirable by the speaker.

Note: A related answer post to this grammar issue is: “Wrote it I did” Is this grammatical?


Your example uses complement preposing in the second clause, where the preposed element is a verb phrase (VP). Usually the second clause will involve an auxiliary verb when the preposed element is a VP.

Here are some typical examples. The 2002 CGEL, page 1376:

  • [11.i ] I've promised to help them [ and help them I will ].

  • [11.ii ] It's odd that Diane should have said that, if [ say it she did ].

The preposed VP in [11.i ] is "help them", and in [11.ii ] it is "say it". Notice that the nucleus of the second clause in both examples end with an auxiliary: "will" for [11.i ], and "did" for [11.ii ].

Here are their corresponding versions that don't have the preposing:

  • A.i. I've promised to help them and I will help them.
  • A.ii. It's odd that Diane should have said that, if [ she said it ] / [ she did say it ].

But when the auxiliary verb is the perfect "have" and the preposed element is its complement, then both the past-participle form and the plain form of the verb are acceptable.

The 2002 CGEL page 1381:

Inflection with perfect have

A special issue arises when the preposed element is a complement of perfect have. Compare:


  • i. He said he wouldn't tell them, [ but tell/told them he has ].

  • ii. He denies he has told them, [ but tell/told them he has ].

Although have normally takes a past participle, it is the plain form of the verb that is preferred in [i ]. The past participle is preferred in [ii ], where it has been used in the preceding clause, but even here the plain form tell is acceptable.

NOTE: The 2002 CGEL is the 2002 reference grammar by Huddleston and Pullum (et al.), The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language.

  • 1
    +1 This reminds me of "What he has done is tell them the truth" ... [and: "What he is doing is telling them the truth" and "What he does is tell(s) them the truth"] Apr 22, 2015 at 16:07
  • "Notice that the nucleus (nuclei, probably) of the second clause in both examples end with an auxiliary". Happy New Year! (0: Jan 1, 2016 at 7:28

This is a fixed construction in which:

1 A verb is used towards the end of a clause.

2 The same verb, as a bare infinitive, is used immediately after, in the set phrase And {verb} they have. (The subject can be any nominative personal pronoun: for example and {verb} he has (Number 6)).

3 Obviously the close approximation of the same two words is a rhetorical device of repetition. Or, in simpler terms, it just makes the second clause sound cool.

In your example, but is used instead of and. I guess the author wants to say something like but (contrary to expectations) build they did.

4 Note that the word that is repeated is not a simple noun. Although build, come, and rot (Numbers 1,2,3) can be nouns, they are not nouns here. Note in Numbers 4, 5, 6 that succeed, lose, and suffer are not nouns.

No. 1

... This is certainly the best work that Microsoft has done in the arena of programming languages and programming environments. Of course, they had the considerable advantage of being able to see what worked well and what didn't work so well in Java, and build upon that, but build they have.

No. 2

“Really, it's all about exposing the game,” says Dawick, “Even though lacrosse is our national summer sport, people are still not aware of our game. First and foremost, it was about bringing in the right people and getting the franchise headed in the right direction, then do everything in our power to share our message and vision. The game will sell itself, I’m sure of that. It's about getting the people out; they will come back.”

And come they have – in droves...

No. 3

This is the SE corner of the yard. I tossed the Halloween pumpkins here to rot, and rot they have...

No. 4

“Being a twin you’re always going to have some kind of competition, and we both grew up trying to beat each other,” said Jennifer. “But when you come to college you compete for a team. We became teammates. We’re not big rivals now—we’re in it together and we want each other to succeed.”

And succeed they have. Both sisters...

No. 5

Making any comment would be worse than making no comment, as that would only encourage people who have let it go to get back into the fray.

The only way to win is not to play the game.

Nope, that is the only way to lose. And lose they have.

No. 6

Archbishop Burke is not only a wise counselor on matters pertaining to Canon 915 — which requires bishops, priests, deacons and extraordinary Eucharistic ministers to protect Christ from sacrilege by denying Holy Communion to public figures who favor such sinful actions as abortion — but he is loyal to his Lord regardless of the ridicule he might suffer.And suffer he has!

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    As to number 5: in the movie War Games, the computer war simulator came up with exactly that answer. Apr 22, 2015 at 7:45
  • 1
    What about built though? Apr 22, 2015 at 16:10
  • What about "built"? The word is not used in the construction. The second verb matches the first, for rhetorical effect. The question was changed subdstantially to add in a "built" version, which does not match real life usage.
    – user6951
    Apr 22, 2015 at 19:53

Other answerers have explained why use of the bare infinitive "build" is appropriate. I would like to suggest that the use of "but" is not.

As the purpose of the final phrase is to emphasize that Microsoft has indeed taken advantage of knowlege of Java and Java Virtual Machine, using "and" makes much more sense than using "but".

IMHO—From a stylistic perspective, it would have been more effective if the comma at ". . . upon that," had instead been a period, and "{but/and} build they have" had been a separate sentence.

  • I disagree... I think that "but" is appropriate in this case because it's describing the difficulties of building and implying that, despite them, they still managed to build. "And" is used when you say that it was planned ... and then executed.
    – Catija
    Apr 22, 2015 at 8:00
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    Who said it was difficult? The quote said that Microsoft had "advantages", not hardships and obstacles. So you're saying they built these things DESPITE the advantages? Or is he saying we should give them credit even though it was relatively easy. Maybe we need even more context. Or maybe we need to wonder why the author praises Microsoft's apparently derivative work. Most of their "best work", in any technology, is either copied, bought or stolen from the early innovators. Apr 22, 2015 at 10:24
  • +1, though in this particular case I suspect that what the author wanted to convey was "Granted, they had an advantage, but they deserve credit for executing so well." Apr 25, 2015 at 20:55

It means that even though we can stipulate that they had a considerable advantage that doesn't lessen their achievement/success/effort. It is used to emphasize that they did what they did quite well. Phrased differently one might ask:

They had the advantage. Did they use it? Did they build upon it?

And the response (to convey a similar meaning to the one in bold in the original example) might be:

Indeed they have.

  • I'm really curious what caused both downvotes... They would be more constructive if accompanied by an explanatory comment, so we could improve. Not complaining, just asking...
    – Lucky
    Apr 22, 2015 at 1:26
  • I dunno, I upvoted this answer, since you give the gist of the meaning of the phrase, as the question was originally posed
    – user6951
    Apr 22, 2015 at 11:17

I think at least one source for the confusion is that while "but build they have" is not technically incorrect here, it's the kind of phrasing that would be more appropriate in opposite situation to the one you quoted in your question: Not in one which you'd expect a certain task to be done more easily, but one in which you'd expect it to be a harder.

(Also and especially because of the word but there. I mean, the author could have used and build they have just as easily. Go figure)

Consider another example, which I found after a Google search:

"I would like to think we'll be able to go up to 40 by the end of next year," he said. "That's the goal and I definitely think it is possible. Don't forget we had a running start when we founded Star with Pleiades [of Greece]. We had a big fleet of 18 or 19 vessels instantly. With Dorado we started from scratch and it was more difficult to build the pool from scratch."

But build they have. El Paso Corp's decision to enter seven OMI-owned vessels at once last year provided a big chunk. Then came the recent entries:

So, even though1 with Dorado they had to start from scratch and despite it being more difficult, they did build whatever they were building. I would argue that usually, the specific phrasing "but build they have" usually comes to emphasize success despite hardships/difficulties/challenges.

1 Remember the confusing usage of but in your question?

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