Archive for the ‘Government’ Category


July 3, 2015

In the NYRB of 7/10/15, p. 46, in “Climate: Will We Lose the Endgame?’ by Bill McKibben (relevant bit boldfaced):

(1) the geology of the region is bowl-shaped: beneath the glaciers the ground slopes downward, meaning that water can and is flooding underneath them.

Modals like can govern the BSE form of their complements (water can flood underneath them); the auxiliary verb be governs the PRP form of its complement (water is flooding underneath them); so when can and is are coordinated, there is no verb form for the complement VP that satisfies both requirements. Quite commonly, speakers and writers (even in formal written contexts like NYRB) opt to satisfy only one of the requirements, the one imposed by the nearer V: this is government by the nearest (GbN).

I’ve grown accustomed to many occurrences of GbN, but some strike me as particularly jarring, I’m not sure why, and this is one of those cases.


Feuilleton: government by nearest in Baltimore

May 3, 2015

In the NYT on the 1st, in the story “Baltimore Police Complete Initial Inquiry Into Death of Prisoner”, this quote from Baltimore state’s attorney Marilyn Mosby:

“While we have and will continue to leverage the information received by the department, we are not relying solely on their findings but rather on the facts that we have gathered and verified.”

This would be labeled as a straightforward grammatical error by many commenters: a failure of parallelism in coordination, the result of failing to include all necessary words (possibly as a consequence of failing to attend to the syntax of sentences as they are being produced):

NOT we have and will continue to leverage …

BUT we have leveraged and will continue to leverage …

The have of the perfect governs a PSP complement, but there is no PSP VP in the example, only a BSE VP (continue to leverage …) governed by the modal will, an infinitival VP (to leverage …) governed by continue, and a BSE VP (leverage …) governed by infinitival to. The second part of the coordination is fine, but the first part fails the government requirement on the perfect. Put another way, the government requirement in the first conjunct is disregarded, and we see government determined by the nearest governor to the affected VP. In short, government by the nearest (GbN).


Odds and ends 2/13/14

February 13, 2014

Two (unrelated) items in my queue, on familiar topics: ambiguity and government by the nearest.


Phonological resolution

March 20, 2012

From Bill Keller’s op-ed piece “Falling In and Out of War” in the NYT on 3/19/12:

(1) Policy makers should – and President Obama mostly hasput a premium on appraising alternatives to war.

A real-life example of a phenomenon discussed by Geoff Pullum and me in a 1986 article “Phonological resolution of syntactic feature conflict” (Language 62, on-line here): the verb form put (boldfaced above) serves simultaneously as two different inflectional forms of the lexeme PUT — as the BSE complement of the modal auxiliary should and as the PSP complement of the perfect auxiliary has. For almost all verb lexemes in English, these two forms are distinct (compare PLACE, with BSE place and PSP placed), so that the sort of reduced coordination in the Keller example apparently wouldn’t be possible, since there’s no available form that’s both BSE and PSP. For a fully parallel coordination, the distinct verb forms would have to be supplied:

(2) Policy makers should place – and President Obama mostly has placed – a premium on appraising alternatives to war.

But for about two dozen verb lexemes, of which PUT is one, the BSE and PSP happen to be phonologically identical, so that the conflict between the two feature values can be “phonologically resolved”, and the reduced coordination is (exceptionally) possible.


Government of verb form by the nearest

December 3, 2009

From a draft of a soliciting letter mailed to me recently, for my signature (details concealed):

[Institution X has made N grants to scholars over the years] – people who have and are making important contributions to [science].

(The problematic piece is boldfaced.) The draft was prepared by highly educated people who write a lot in their work, but still they came up with this example of a classic type of non-parallel coordination, with two conjoined complement-taking verbs (here, perfect have and progressive are) but a complement with a verb form appropriate only to the second, and not to the first (perfect have governs a past participle, progressive are a present participle: have made, are making). This is “government of verb form by the nearest”.

What I said to the colleague (and friend) who sent me the draft is that I have in fact studied the phenomenon, adding:

I don’t view it as a lapse in grammar, but a great many people do, and I would probably look foolish if this went out under my name.  Grammatical sticklers would insist on:

… people who have made and are making …

Actually, I used to view such examples as lapses in grammar, but over the years I have softened my assessment. As far as I know, I don’t use this sort of government myself, but I have come to think that for many people it’s not an inadvertent error, as many usage advisers have thought, but just an aspect of a grammar somewhat different from mine — a variant construction.



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