“X”, Y said, and VP

Neal Whitman wrote recently to the American Dialect Society mailing list to inquire about a proscription he found in Bill Walsh’s Lapsing Into a Comma (2000:58-9):

Here’s a principle that even good writers tend to violate, especially in fiction: You cannot splice a second clause onto a “he said” or “she said” type of attribution.

WRONG: “I would never do that,” Smith said, and added: “Not in a million years.”

WRONG: “I’m leaving,” Jones said, and walked out of the room.

Neal hasn’t found this one elsewhere and was asking the sages of ADS-L if we’d come across it. I hadn’t, but I have a glimmer of an idea where Walsh might have gotten the idea that such things were mistakes in grammar.

People who write such things — I probably have myself, and I’m not going to take them back — are surely thinking that

(1) “X”, Y said

(where X is a representation of a linguistic production) is just a variant of

(2) Y said, “X”

Each of the patterns in (1) and (2) has its uses, turning on whether “X” or Y comes first in the sentence and so is more likely to represent old information or a topical referent. On this view, Y is the subject in both (1) and (2), and “X” is the direct object; the two arguments are just assembled into a clause in two different ways. (Yes, there’s a third way — “X”, said Y — but that’s a side issue here.)

So, on this view,

(1′) “X”, Y said, and VP

(where Y is understood as a subject of VP) is just as acceptable as

(2′) Y said, “X”, and VP

(with the same understanding as in (1′)).

(I’m assuming that no one, Walsh included, has trouble with things like “Jones said, “I’m leaving”, and walked out of the room”.)

I suspect that Walsh, in contrast, views (1) as composed of a quotation, “X”, and a parenthetical adjunct, Y said. Formally, then, (1) would be parallel to things like

(3) The earth is flat, I believe.

The subject in such parentheticals is indeed not available to function as the subject of a following coordinate VP:

(4) *The earth is flat, I believe, and also think that pigs can fly.

(where think is understood as having the same subject as the previous verb, believe).

But I think that Walsh misapprehends the structure of examples of the form in (1); such examples have a fronted quotation, not a free-standing quotation followed by a parenthetical. In short, I think that Walsh has invented a rule here (or is passing on someone else’s invention). Don’t defer to him.

3 Responses to ““X”, Y said, and VP”

  1. Neal Whitman Says:

    I mentioned in the ADS email that I thought the rule had been invented sometime prior to Bill Walsh’s book; the reason is that at least one writer with a long career (Beverly Cleary) seems to have gone from never following this rule to always following it, sometime before the early 1990s. Also, see the comment by Ashe in the earliest post in the set of posts on this topic.

  2. More on Coordination, Quotative Inversion, and Beverly Cleary « Literal-Minded Says:

    […] were interesting to me, which you can read in the archives for this category, or get an idea of in this post from Arnold Zwicky. I said that in her older books, Beverly Cleary rarely if ever repeated the subject in sentences […]

  3. On the Beverly Cleary trail « Arnold Zwicky’s Blog Says:

    […] the Beverly Cleary trail By arnoldzwicky In an earlier posting I passed on a little puzzle from Neal Whitman, about coordinate sentences with quotations in the […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: