Dual VPE

Caught on a Law & Order re-run recently, this exchange:

A: Didn’t you accuse him of harassing you?
B: I did ___, and he was ___.

B’s answer is a coordination, with a Verb Phrase Ellipsis (VPE) in each conjunct (the position of the ellipted material is indicated by underscores): a “dual VPE”, in the terms of my 2007 posting on the phenomenon. The ellipted material matches its antecedent in verb form in each case — VPE allows mismatch, though matching forms are most common — but the antecedents are different: accuse him of harassing you for the first (with BSE matching BSE), harassing you (with PRP matching PRP, though the antecedent has a gerund use of PRP, the ellipsis a progressive use of PRP). To make things more complicated still, the second antecedent is contained within the first.

That’s enough complexity in this example that some people find that it takes a little extra processing work to understand.

Only a little, so it’s not actually hard to understand, and certainly not ungrammatical, but enough that the example might call attention to itself, possibly be heard as playful or clever. (I sometimes wonder if scriptwriters insert things like this into their scripts for fun.)

In any case, this is what I’ll call a contained-antecedent dual VPE (not a lovable label, but reasonably descriptive).

As it happens, when I started collecting examples of mismatches and of dual VPEs, my very first was a contained-antecedent case:

Corey: You don’t want to leave the Cove.
Kevin: I do ___, and I will ___.

This one was in my 2007 posting, along with other examples that were a bit simpler:

disjoint-antecedent cases, where the antecedents are different and don’t overlap:

Snail 1: C’mon you were supposed to jump and run away in terror.
Snail 2: I did ___ and I am ___!

I was holding his hard cock, staring at it, and he said to me, “You put your mouth on that and you’re a cocksucker.”  So I did ___ and then I was ___.

and same-antecedent cases, which are so common when the antecedent matches the ellipsis in form that I haven’t tried to collect them, though I did report on a same-antecedent case with a mismatch in form:

All completely unnecessary, if you ask me (though, of course, nobody did ___ or is ___).

So the crude taxonomy is:

Same-antecedent dual VPE;
Different-antecedent dual VPE:

Disjoint-antecedent dual VPE;
Contained-antecedent dual VPE

(with matched vs. mismatched form as a separate dimension, plus a division of matched forms with the same use of a form versus those with distinct uses of a form (gerund and progressive PRP, in particular).

Another same-antecedent example:

Lawyer: You can’t do this.
Judge: I can ___, and I am ___. (“Damaged” episode of Law and Order Special Victims Unit)

And some more disjoint-antecedent examples:

If signing the slip meant anything, it could not be waived for the sake of convenience, but it doesn’t ___, so it can ___. (link)

Boy: “Can I have a drink — you’re having one, right?”
Girl: “Yes you can ___, and no I’m not ___.” (Coronation Street)

I opined that the noun ask was likely to be venerable, probably going back to Old English. And so it is ___ and does ___, but the full story is more interesting … (link)

I guess Rubus varieties look and taste different enough from one another that they’re perceived as different fruits, whereas blueberry and strawberry varieties don’t ___, and aren’t ___. (comment 8/10/10 on AZBlog entry “Prunus portmanteaus”)

It would get better by itself and he would be fine, the surgeon promised – and it did ___, and he was ___. (Perri Klass, “That Middle-of-the-Night Bellyache: Appendicitis?”, NYT Science Times 8/10/10)

And two more antecedent-contained examples:

Cop: I’ll bet you made Luther promise no guns.
Interviewee: I did ___, and he did ___. (Law and Order episode)

Psychiatrist: Have you been taking your medicine?
Patty Duke: I have ___, and I do ___. (exchange reported by Patty Duke on Commonwealth Club of California Radio Program, heard 8/15/09)

My impression is that processing difficulty goes up as we move down the taxonomy of dual VPE types, and also as the degree of mismatch increases. In principle, this should be testable, though devising the materials for a study won’t be easy.

2 Responses to “Dual VPE”

  1. Rick Wojcik Says:

    How do you analyze the following?

    Cop: I’ll bet you made Luther promise no guns?
    Interviewee: I did___, and he did promise it/*them.

    Deceased clause?

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      First, we have a use of it (similarly, that and this) to refer to propositions or events. But what you’re asking about is how no guns comes to refer to a proposition, so that promise no gunsmeans something like ‘promise that there would be no guns, promise that he would have no guns, promise that no guns would be involved, etc.’ — a set of meanings that aren’t easy to characterize in sufficiently general terms. I would, however, resist the idea that the possibility of this interpretation results from a process of syntactic reduction.

      The analytic issue is much the same as for the famous Spiro conjectures Ex-Lax, conveying ‘Spiro conjectures that the answer to some question is “Ex-Lax”‘. NP direct objects of certain verbs can have propositional understandings, that’s the fact. Unfortunately, I haven’t thought seriously about the syntax and semantics of the phenomenon and don’t know the literature on it.

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