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How are phrases with the same words joined by the conjunctions "and" and "or" to avoid repeating the same ones? If I intend to say sentence 1 below, which of sentences 2 to 5 has/have the same meaning?

  1. What are the differences between the North Pole and the South Pole?
  2. What are the differences between the North and the South Pole?
  3. What are the differences between the North and the South Poles?
  4. What are the differences between the North and South Pole?
  5. What are the differences between the North and South Poles?

Would you rewrite the following sentences to make them more concise?

  • There are a red flag and a blue flag.
  • South Korea and North Korea are located on the Korean Peninsula.
  • Which continent is bigger, North America or South America?

Thank you.

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More Conjunction Reduction. –  John Lawler Dec 20 '11 at 0:20
    
@JohnLawler: It was very useful for me. Thank you. –  Guestlearner Dec 21 '11 at 9:27

4 Answers 4

up vote 3 down vote accepted

The only one that is well formed is [5].

From a syntactic point of view, you would typically coordinate constituents. Thus, you would coordinate two noun phrases, two nouns, two adjective phrases, etc. Regardless of whether you take north to be a noun or an adjective the north is not a constituent here because the is a determinative functioning as a determiner in the NP headed by pole(s). Consequently, you shouldn't be able to coordinate the north and the south here. (You can, of course, coordinate them when north and south aren't functioning as modifiers in somebody else's NP). So that should rule out [2] and [3].

Now, if you are coordinating AdjPs within a singular NP, in most cases, the only interpretation is that both properties signified by the AdjPs belong to the item signified by the NP. That is the green and red car cannot mean "the green car and the red car" but can only mean "the car that is both red and green." In the case of poles, this is a nonsense because there are no poles that are both north and south. Yet, the very fact that it is nonsense helps us understand that reference is being made to two poles, not one. So the semantics goes some way towards saving the syntax. This makes [4] possible but questionable in this particular case, and impossible in most cases.

The structure of [5] is ambiguous when it comes to other cases (e.g., the red and green cars), but again, since there are no poles that are both north and south, the only way to understand this is if one pole is north and one is south.

If we go to the corpora, indeed, we find that [5] is most likely, [4] is attested, and [2] and [3] are rare or nonexistent.

Frequency of north and south pole in the Google Books Corpus

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Ngram is case-sensitive? –  Kris Dec 20 '11 at 12:13
    
Ngram is case sensitive. –  Brett Reynolds Dec 20 '11 at 12:17
    
In your car example, I expect you'd find "the red and the green car", as this is the only non-ambiguous way of stating it. However, you don't need the additional "the" for poles. See, for example, this Ngram for "the black and the white". –  Peter Shor Dec 20 '11 at 21:09
    
    
@BrettReynolds: Thank you for your clear and convincing explanation. –  Guestlearner Dec 21 '11 at 9:56

If I intend to say sentence 1 below, which of sentences 2 to 5 has/have the same meaning?

  1. What are the differences between the North Pole and the South Pole?
  2. What are the differences between the North and the South Pole?
  3. What are the differences between the North and the South Poles?
  4. What are the differences between the North and South Pole?
  5. What are the differences between the North and South Poles?

All of these are okay. Maybe some are better than others, but none of them are wrong.

I don't like 2 and 3, because when I see two "the"s I want to see two nouns, but that's just my personal preference.

Would you rewrite the following sentences to make them more concise?

  • There are a red flag and a blue flag.

It should be, "There is a red flag." To understand why, rewrite it to make it less concise:

  • There are a red flag and there are a blue flag. <-- wrong
  • There is a red flag and there is a blue flag. <-- OK

Would I make it more concise? You can if you want, but I don't recommend it. "There is a red and a blue flag." is only a little bit shorter, and it's harder to read.

Of course, you mustn't write, "There is a red and blue flag." because that means there is one flag with two colors.

  • South Korea and North Korea are located on the Korean Peninsula.

Hmm ... be careful.

Imagine that you are talking about two brothers, called John Smith and Bill Smith. Is it okay to call them "John and Bill Smith"? Of course!

Now, imagine that you are talking about two great politicians called John Smith and Bill Smith. They are not from the same family. In politics, they are enemies. Would you call them "John and Bill Smith"? Certainly not.

So what about North Korea and South Korea? Do you want to say they are like brothers?

  • Which continent is bigger, North America or South America?

Again, you can abbreviate this if you want to, but I don't recommend it. When we put North America and South America together, we don't call them "America". ("America" means "The USA".) We call it "The Americas". We try to keep them separate in our language, because they are almost completely separate pieces of land.

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Thank you for the correction and your fantastic explanation. It was very, very funny and helpful. I am really afraid that I should choose one answer. –  Guestlearner Dec 21 '11 at 10:15

I would be careful about any of these elisions. Of the first five alternatives I think (1) is safest - otherwise go the whole hog with (4).

For the others, the first should have been There is a red flag and a blue flag. The only safe reduction is to drop the first "flag", otherwise there will be ambiguity over how many flags there are, and whether they are each single-coloured.

South Korea, North Korea, North America, and South America are effectively "self-contained" composites. I would not advise trying to make things more "concise" by breaking them into constituent words and then discarding some.

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Why do you think (4) is correct, when clearly it's (5) ? :) –  jwpat7 Dec 20 '11 at 1:31
    
@jwpat7: I don't rate any of 2-5 anyway. The North Pole and South Pole can just about share "the", but that's about it for me. They're not quite as autonomous as North/South Korea, and you can do what you like with slashes, but I wouldn't split any of them really. –  FumbleFingers Dec 20 '11 at 5:02
    
Are you saying that you don't like any of (2)-(5), and (4) is "least worst"? I don't know what you mean by "I don't rate any of 2-5", ie whether indicating dislike, didn't consider, or what. –  jwpat7 Dec 20 '11 at 5:48
    
@jwpat7: As my answer says, I don't think the component elements of any of these two-part place names should be split, so I don't rate any of 2-5. I also don't think you can "merge" the two Poles as in 5, so if anyone does accept the elision, 4 seems the best of a bad bunch. –  FumbleFingers Dec 20 '11 at 12:25
    
I comprehend your opinions of and reasoning about the alternatives. But I don't understand your phrase "don't rate". Does it mean "don't like"? –  jwpat7 Dec 20 '11 at 21:58

'What are the differences between the North and the South Poles?' would better be:

'What are the differences between the North and the South poles?', which I suppose can be an alternative. (Should even North and South be capitalized, for that matter? I am not sure.)

share|improve this answer
    
The South Pole and the North Pole are proper nouns, and thus should be capitalized in English (unless you are talking about magnets). –  Peter Shor Dec 20 '11 at 17:12
    
@PeterShor: Is it not possible to refer to the geographic/ geomagnetic poles as such without specifically referring to them by their proper nouns? Isn't the South Pole a pole? –  Kris Dec 22 '11 at 9:16
    
It's certainly possible, but one doesn't usually see "North pole" with just "North" capitalized. –  Peter Shor Dec 22 '11 at 12:17
    
"the North and the South poles?" –  Kris Dec 22 '11 at 12:19

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