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The sentence in question is "Do not be the person we ask to leave the auditorium, because we will." It sounds very wrong to me, but I can't put my finger on the exact problem. Nobody on the Internet has jumped on this, so I'm wondering whether I'm right about it being wrong.

The sentence comes from an announcement which is shown before every movie at Cinemark theaters (at least the ones where I live). It's also on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kgU2ue37hgY. The objectionable sentence is at 0:26.

My best description of the problem is that one of the two ideas that "because" is linking is missing. The speaker means "Do not be the person we ask to leave the auditorium, (and don't think we won't) because we will.".

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6 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

There's definitely room for criticism, though also for justification.

The sentence has two clauses. The first is straight forward, and could stand as an independent clause. Indeed, as an independent statement:

Do not be the person we ask to leave the auditorium

The second only makes sense in the context of that previous clause:

we will.

On it's own, that's meaningless, but in context "we will" refers to the action that "we" have mentioned doing. So to re-write it as a fully independent statement, it is:

We will ask people to leave the auditorium, if they are texting.

Of course, that clause is entailed in the first one. It's stated because people might not believe the rule is actually enforced. So we could re-write it again as:

We really will ask people to leave the auditorium, if they are texting.

So, two fine clauses, with a sensible relationship to each other, how to stick them together? Generally there are three options:

Put one after the other as separate sentences:

Do not be the person we ask to leave the auditorium. We will.

Put one after the other with a comma, semicolon, colon, or perhaps a dash:

Do not be the person we ask to leave the auditorium: we will.

Or we can join them with a conjunction. But what conjunction to use? The choice of conjunction reflects the relationship between the two clauses. In this case, the relationship is that the first clause states a situation that you should avoid, and the second that the situation can indeed happen.

Some near-synonyms with overlapping meanings that are likely suspects here are because, as, since and for.

Of these, because can be justified, or condemned. It can be justified: we can interpret it as saying we should avoid being thrown out, and we should do so because the rules with that penalty are being enforced.

On the other hand, there's a disadvantage with it; they spend so long talking about the reasons why texting during a movie isn't a nice thing to do, and then they say the reason you shouldn't do so is that you'll be thrown out. Really, the reason not to text in the the cinema is not to be a bloody nuisance, and the penalty is there to be a disincentive to people who are bloody nuisances anyway. So if you want to include it as a reason, but not the reason, you might favour the conjunction for. And that is presumably what they mean.

But then again, if you aren't that much of a stickler about using because as precisely as that, then you won't care. And since for as a conjunction has a rather formal tone, it makes sense to go for a slightly questionable use of a common conjunction than one that changes the tone from that intended.

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Yes, the second half of the phrase is missing, but that doesn't inherently make it bad grammar - that just makes it an ellipsis.

Do not be the person we ask to leave the auditorium, because we will (ask you to leave if we have to)!

I think 'because' is a slightly awkward conjunction in that sentence, which is probably why it sounds a little off. But I don't see anything ungrammatical in it.

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Would you say this is an equivalent grammatical structure: "Do not be the person we ask to leave the auditorium, because hamsters are mammals."? I'm just trying to narrow down the issue. These both seem to be a use of "because" where the part after the "because" doesn't actually follow from something else in the sentence. –  Eric Jensen Jan 24 '13 at 21:33
    
But the part after the because does follow from the part before. –  Jon Hanna Jan 24 '13 at 21:41
    
Maybe I'll have to diagram all the ideas in the thing. I can accept that it's grammatical but illogical (some sort of non sequitur). –  Eric Jensen Jan 24 '13 at 21:43
    
(continuation of previous comment) But I'm not yet seeing the lack of any problem. –  Eric Jensen Jan 24 '13 at 21:53
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Arguably the ellipsis is even more extreme. "Do not be the person we ask to leave the auditorium, because [if you are the person we ask to leave the auditorium] we will [ask you to leave the auditorium]". –  FumbleFingers Jan 24 '13 at 22:43
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My best description of the problem is that one of the two ideas that "because" is linking is missing. The speaker means "Do not be the person we ask to leave the auditorium, (and don't think we won't) because we will.".

That would seem to be the intent. The reason it sounds wrong is because the way it's written now is essentially

... because we will (be the person we ask to leave the auditorium).

Which is obviously wrong.

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"Do not be the person we ask to leave the auditorium, because we will." Means "Do not be the person we ask to leave the auditorium, because we will be the person we ask to leave the auditorium." It is carelessly written, probably for the sake of brevity or by a victim of an educational system that cares not for accuracy and clarity. "We will ask you to leave the auditorium if you ...", "Please do not ... because we will ask you to leave if you do." would be better.

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If you read it from left to right, it might look like they are saying:

Do not be the person we ask to leave the auditorium, because we will [be the person we ask to leave the auditorium].

If you focus on the main verb in the first part, "be", then "we will" seems like it refers to that verb. But instead it's referring to a verb in the object which is the subclause "the person we ask to leave the auditorium" which has the verb "ask". It's convoluted for them to assume you're going to re-parse the sentence to find which verb makes more sense.

The ambiguity of what "we will" is referring to and the fact that it can be read left to right in this way is what makes it a poor choice of sentence, even if there were a grammatically correct way of interpreting it.

It's a bit like a garden path sentence:

The cotton clothing is made of grows in Mississippi.

A suggested replacement notice that conveys the same information but in a less confusing mannger might be:

Do not make us ask you to leave the auditorium.

Note that I've removed "be the person that" - the fact that you are a person is redundant.

Or if you were attached to the more veiled threat in the original, you could simply go with:

Do not be the person we ask to leave the auditorium.

"We will" is unnecessary.

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Another reason to omit "be the person that" is that makes it sounds a little bit like they will only ask one person to leave, even if more are texting. –  Eric Jensen Jan 25 '13 at 7:30
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The crucial point is not whether or not it’s ‘bad grammar’, but whether it does the job intended. As words on the page, it is confusing, but it would be wrong to judge it the way you would judge a piece of written text. In the context of a multimedia announcement it is clear what is meant.

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