Coordination just off the mark

It came from the tv, which was across the room, and I didn’t have paper and pen by me, but when the commercial began,

(1) Are you 65 or older and suffer from back pain?

my syntactic attention was riveted. The pitch seemed to be for some device to alleviate back pain (rather than a medication), but I didn’t catch the details while I was getting the sentence down: entirely clear, but syntactically non-parallel.

The intended reading is

(1′) Are you 65 or older and do you suffer from back pain?

but do you in the second conjunct can’t be omitted in coordination, because it’s not identical to are you in the first conjunct. The meaning is entirely clear, however — unless you think too hard about the syntax.

At the end of the commercial, you get the likely motivation for (1):

(2) If you are 65 or older and suffer from back pain, …

This is entirely parallel syntactically, with the coordinated VPs are 65 or older and suffer from back pain, as in:

(2′) [if] you are 65 or older and you suffer from back pain, …

So (1) is a way of packing the materials of the conditional clause (2) into a (main) interrogative clause, while disregarding the details of subject-auxiliary inversion (including the use of supportive do with the main verb suffer) in the interrogative version. That makes (1) just off the mark syntactically.

3 Responses to “Coordination just off the mark”

  1. Fernando Pereira Says:

    Back when we were working on this, we collected notes for a similar analysis of coordination, but life took us in different directions and we never completed the work. (1) is the kind of example that we were looking at then.

  2. markonsea Says:

    A similar example I hear from time to time is “Have you or anyone you know ever had an accident at work?”

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