Tag Archives: coordination

Some travel shortcuts

I think it’s time for another poem from my book Songs of Love and Grammar. This is one of a small set that have nothing to do with romantic difficulty – though it does have to do with getting around.

When you’re referring to a couple of geographical features, such as the Bow River and the Elbow River, you can join them together and say the Bow and Elbow rivers, because river can be treated as a descriptive term in this case. If you’re talking about Green Bay and North Bay, you can say Green and North bays if you’re talking about the bays, but it might be misleading to use that when you’re talking about the cities. Some people like to extend this practice to city names, as in Forts Meyers and St. John, but that can get a little dodgy. Or maybe more than a little…

Getting around efficiently

Oh, all the places we have gone –
we’ve seen Forts Myers and St. John;
Green and Thunder Bays were nice,
and Frobisher, though full of ice;
Long and Virginia Beaches – spiffy;
Grand and Cedar Rapids – iffy;
I still recall how we did things
in Hot and Colorado Springs
and Sans Diego and Jose –
oh, yes, and don’t forget ta Fe;
Saints Petersburg and Paul were green,
Dart and Fal mouths were marine;
Ott and Osh awas were cool;
Grands Forks and Rapids, rather cruel;
Cals gary and ifornia, great;
Monts pelier and réal – don’t wait;
Wins dsor and nipeg, give a miss;
Den and Vancou vers, skiers’ bliss;
Columbs us and ia, just fair;
Phoeni and Bron xes – don’t go there;
Moose Jaw and Factory – no way;
Jun and Gatin eaux – OK;
Toes peka, ledo, ronto – yeah;
Men chester and itoba – nah.
Oh, yes, we’ve had the time that was
in Canad and Americ as!

Tag-teaming without coordination

I read the following in a New York Times article, “Scientists and Soldiers Solve a Bee Mystery“: “A fungus tag-teaming with a virus have apparently interacted to cause the problem.”

Does that sentence read a bit funny to you? It should. The fact that there are two things acting together does not automatically make them a compound subject – don’t mistake semantics for syntax. The phrase tag-teaming with is not a syntactic equivalent of and. It is not a conjunction; it is a non-finite verb phrase headed by a present participle. It has as a complement a prepositional phrase headed by with, and the complement of that prepositional phrase is the noun phrase a virus:

[NP A fungus {VP tag-teaming [PP with {NP a virus}]}]

The structure is the same as, for instance, An archbishop speaking to an actress or A dog barking at a car. Everything after the first noun is modifying the first noun, not coordinating with it. (Here’s a big tip: any time you see a preposition before a noun, you know that the noun and preposition modify what’s before them – meaning that they are not the main noun in town!)

Would you write An archbishop speaking to an actress have fallen down the stairs, or A dog barking at a car have run into a hydrant? Nope. So you don’t write A fungus tag-teaming with a virus have interacted. The fact that the fungus and the virus are working together doesn’t change the syntactic structure, which, at its core, is subject fungus and verb has interacted. I’ll say it again: never confuse semantics with syntax.

(And never look to newspapers for grammatical guidance. They make all sorts of silly mistakes. Sometimes it’s because they’re on tight timelines and sometimes it’s because they’re inappropriately applying rules they haven’t thought through well enough.)