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I have a comment on this question where I refer to a list of three examples deemed 'valid'. I said: "I think the last valid example is not."

The sentence sounds kind of strange (I did that on purpose). Is it grammatically correct? Is it just like some kind of pun?

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

It is an example of ellipsis. You are eliding the word valid at the end of the sentence “I think the last valid example is not valid.”

It is perfectly grammatical. It might be considered a kind of use–mention distinction pun if you had put the word valid in quotation marks, as in

I think the last “valid” example is not.

Here, the first instance of the word valid is a mention but the elided second instance is a use. That is, you weren’t saying the example was valid, but just using the word valid as a label that someone else used for the example. In the second clause, you use ellipsis to refer back to the word valid but this time you mean to use the word valid for its meaning and not as a label.

This is definitely wordplay entailing multiple meanings, which is what a pun is, but usually a pun uses two different meanings of a word; whereas in this case, you are punning use and mention of a word.

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It's grammatically correct, and a little humorous, but not a pun: a pun is generally a play on the sound or meaning of a word or phrase. What you wrote is effectively the same as saying:

I think the last "valid" example is in fact not.

Note the quotes (referring to the original post) and the use of a term such as "in fact" (showing contrast), both of which can be omitted because it's clear from context, and it's wittier to be terse.

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I agree, though I might add that if you were writing this sentence, its meaning is clearer if it's written the way you wrote it. The original sentence seems like it could be a bit clearer when spoken (try sounding it out, inflecting the word "valid") than written. (This is probably for the same reason that it can be difficult to employ sarcasm in print.) That said, I don't think it's wrong, either. – Andy Nov 2 '10 at 14:42

Edited: I rewrote the answer completely after reading the other question.

From the way you write this question, I guess that your intent was to say “The last example you labeled as ‘valid’ is not actually valid.” However, in the context of the other question, I would not understand the sentence “The last valid example is not” that way at all. (I do not know whether it is said to be “grammatically correct” or not, but that is irrelevant.)

When I see the sentence “The last valid example is not,” I somehow expect that something which appeared before that sentence is elided after the word “not.” Probably the word “valid” in the same sentence is too close to the location of the ellipsis.

In the current case, the conversation went like this:

You know, is it an error or not? – Jon Purdy

I think the last valid example is not. – Claudiu

I would interpret the last sentence as “I think the last valid example is not an error,” and I would never imagine that anything else might be intended.

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That's the thing with context. To understand what Claudiu was saying, you would need to know that he was commenting on examples previously labeled as "valid" by somebody else. Without that knowledge, the sentence of course does make you wonder things, but that is nothing special. Here are a few other sentences that are just as puzzling without context. "I'll be there." "Not at all." "That was last year." "Do you know him?" "Goodbye." – RegDwigнt Nov 2 '10 at 14:58
@RegDwight: Ok, I read the comments on the other question to understand the context. The conversation went like this: “You know, is it an error or not?” “I think the last valid example is not.” I would definitely interpret the “not” as “not an error.” – Tsuyoshi Ito Nov 2 '10 at 15:03
I rewrote the answer reflecting my previous comment. – Tsuyoshi Ito Nov 2 '10 at 16:00
@Tsuyoshi: well to settle the debate, I wasn't referring to the previous comment, but to the question =P. i think according to stackexchange norms, i would have said "@Jon Purdy: I think the last valid example is not." to respond to him – Claudiu Nov 2 '10 at 17:11
@Claudiu: First, the convension of using “@” is not universal even on Stack Exchange sites. Second, even if it is somehow understood that your comment was not a reply to the previous comment, I would still expect that something before the sentence “I think the last valid example is not” is elided after the word “not.” Therefore, my second guess would be “not a splice comma” (because that is what that particular question is all about). I am surprised to see that Jon Purdy interpreted it as “not valid.” – Tsuyoshi Ito Nov 2 '10 at 17:20

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