NYRB GbN

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.

I’ve written a pretty extensive discussion of GbN in a 12/3/09 posting, with links to a number of relevant sites. (A more recent posting on GbN looks at a fairly complex case.) The standard usage advice treats things like (1) as illustrating a failure to Include All Necessary Words; according to these writers, it should be:

(2) … water can flood and is flooding underneath them

Someone who writes things like (1) will object to the wordiness — and perhaps formality — of (2), and even more to its failure to capture the emphases (achieved through accent) on can and is in (1); in (2), the default accents go on flood and flooding. So there is constant pressure to adopt GbN, and it seems to have been emerging as a new standard usage (an alternative to things like (2)).

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