Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Past takes on present in the tensest battle of the century!

While writing my last post, I blundered right into the grammar conundrum to end all grammar conundrums--"can and have."

It's a phraselet (←neologism by Valerie!) tossed around casually by English-speaking communicators everywhere—but when you stop to think about it, it makes no sense!

In Monday's post, I was going to write, "...corporate entities can and have defended the exclusive rights to a color," when I realized that clause would be a grammatical impossibility. If you subject it to the acid test (the same one by which you determine whether you should say "you and I" or "you and me") by removing the "and" and all questionable words following it, you get a mixed-tense mishmash that would make any deceased English teacher turn over in her grave. To whit, "corporate entities can defended the exclusive rights..."

In my search for a grammatically correct alternative, I produced the decidedly ungraceful (and dubiously grammatical) "corporate entities can (and have done so) defend the exclusive rights..." that appears in the published post.

Surprisingly, the grammarians seem to have nothing to say on this subject. In fact, as my Google search for "'can and have' grammar" revealed, the phrase is used in many a grammar guide, but never discussed in one.

My unique puzzlement over this phrase makes me feel as though (that's right, I said "as though" instead of "like" because the grammar guides do have plenty to say on that subject!) I am either:
  1. Very clever for noticing something no one else does,
  2. Obnoxiously pedantic and should stop obsessing over ungrammatical phrases if they don't obstruct meaning, and probably should stop obsessing over grammar in general, or
  3. Very stupid and missing something obvious.


Anonymous said...

One might say you can and have obsessed over grammar in the past. One might say there was/is a prime example of your topic. At this point in time, however, I think you lean more toward the first of your 3 choices.


Tariq said...

I'd also say clever. Here's another way to construct the sentence:

"Corporate entities can defend the exclusive rights to a color and they have done so."

Adding a second clause smooths things out.