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I just wrote [he] has or will read [some text] in an ELL chat room. But looking at it (or more accurately, listening to my "inner voice" trying to "read it aloud"), I find it bothers me a lot.

A quick check on Google Books finds a claimed 1020 written instances of has or will read, and 2480 instances of has read or will read, which suggests a significant minority of writers don't have a problem with the fact that the two different read's don't sound the same.

When I check the same construction with other verbs that don't have the same written form for past participle and present tense, it seems people nearly always include both (e.g. has worked or will work:1230, has or will work:8; has arrived or will arrive:357, has or will arrive:7).

I'm not usually a big fan of "grammatical rules", but it seems to me there "ought" to be a rule that you shouldn't delete one instance of the verb unless it's "the same" as the one you're keeping. And it also seems to me that since language is primarily spoken, "the same" ought to mean "sounds the same when spoken", not "looks the same when written".

Can anyone who knows more than me about formal rules of grammar settle this one?

As an aside, offhand I can't think of any verb where the past participle and present tense sound the same but are written differently (maybe there aren't any), but would deletion be okay in that case?

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Regarding your aside: how about "come"? –  Philippe Jul 31 '13 at 21:32
@FumbleFingers Actually, I didn't even notice. But after months on ELL I've sort of trained myself not to see things like that unless specifically invited to. –  StoneyB Jul 31 '13 at 22:12
I asked a similar question (english.stackexchange.com/questions/48165) and learned that this is called non-parallel ellipsis. Fowler states bluntly that a sentence such as 'No state has or can adopt' is (however common) an elementary blunder. But reading around a bit on the topic it appears that some types of non-parallel ellipsis are more acceptable to readers than other. Your sentence is an interesting variation due to the identical spelling of infinitive and past participle, but I am usually brought to a dead halt when reading such constructions and avoid them myself. –  Shoe Aug 1 '13 at 14:04
Your aside made me think that it should really even be possible to make a sort of garden-pathish, antanaclatic non-parallel ellipsis, and one finally dawned on me (though it only works if spoken in a non-rhotic accent): “Surely someone has or will sort him out!” (To be read as: “Surely has sought him out or will sort him out!”) –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 1 '13 at 15:11
@jlovegren: I cannot deny that I actually asked this question more because it was "interesting" than because I seriously expected a meaningful answer to the matter of whether or not the usage is "grammatical". But I've learned that it can be called non-parallel ellipsis, and I really like Janus's antanaclatic non-parallel ellipsis (okay, so I had to look up antanaclatic - but I really liked the overall expression once I'd got past that bit! :) –  FumbleFingers Aug 2 '13 at 2:47

2 Answers 2

I greatly prefer "has read or will read" because I think someone reading this aloud could do so without skipping a beat. On the other hand, "has or will read" requires the reader unexpectedly to select a pronunciation; and presents a Hobson's choice because both pronunciations are incorrect for one of the verb tenses.

May I be so reckless as to suggest using the heretical parenthetical? E.g.: "Tommy has (or will) read the assignment."

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I puzzled over the parenthetical suggestion for a bit, Paul, and eventually decided that it is unable to solve the problem. What it does it set "read" as linked with "has," and then "will" must follow suit, which it can't. No? Wrong am I, Skywalker? –  John M. Landsberg Aug 2 '13 at 0:06

I must say I couldn't even understand what "has or will read" even meant for a minute or so. I had to skip the phrase itself and read further into the context to begin to understand what you were talking about.

My answer, therefore, is that I am not merely uncomfortable with the deletion, I find it incomprehensible. "Has or will read" for me is simply unacceptable.

For what it's worth, here is something which might shed some light (or at least some interesting color) on the matter. Neurophysiologists have found that if you have two friends named Gandalf, the wave pattern generated in your brain is consistently the same for each one, and not at all the same as the other, even though the words sound the same to the ear and look the same to the eye. In other words, "read" and "read" are very much different words, their visual appearance notwithstanding.

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Poles apart indeed! StoneyB (to whom the original was addressed) didn't even notice the "awkwardness" at the time, but to you it's so bad it actually prevented you from parsing the words at first. Admittedly, he had the benefit of more context, but even so... And I suppose I must fall somewhere in the "temperate zone" between those two poles, given that I wrote it without any qualms, but only had misgivings after I'd clicked Post Comment, and tried to read back my own text using my "inner voice". –  FumbleFingers Aug 1 '13 at 19:55
People differ in what they notice when they read. They react to things like spelling failures (read, reed, rede /rid/; read, red /rɛd/; lead, lede /lid/; lead, led 'lɛd/; _dead, head, bread, etc) with quite a lot of different strategies. Some hear the sounds; others don't. For the record, I do, and since (a) Conjunction Reduction requires exact identity, and (b) /rid/ and /rɛd/ are not identical, I would star that particular sentence. –  John Lawler Aug 1 '13 at 20:25
@John: When I read Riddley Walker I found the eye dialect/futuristic spelling/vocabulary quite strange at first, but unlike Finnegans Wake (which I just got fed up with and abandoned halfway through), I became quite fascinated by Hoban's "could-have-been-real" language after a couple of chapters. That was decades ago, but I only recently watched The Clan of the Cave Bear (1985), which also has some pretty interesting "pseudo-language". I think I "adapt" easily. –  FumbleFingers Aug 2 '13 at 1:28

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