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Please explain why this sentence is grammatically incorrect.

I'm going to take and stir the cake mix.

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Two people apparently didn't like your question (they downvoted it but didn't say why). I think it's quite interesting actually - particularly because you've already got three different answers, none of which seem compatible with either of the others! – FumbleFingers Feb 11 '12 at 22:37
Can you explain, in your question, what reasons you have for thinking it is ungrammatical? Did someone tell you that it is bad (and did they tell you why) or do you think it is bad? This will give more direction on how to answer. – Mitch Feb 11 '12 at 23:41
@Mitch: I don't think it's important that OP describes his example as "ungrammatical" - a description which at least some answers here seem to at least tacitly agree with. The key point is that OP knows there's something not quite right, which I thoroughly agree is the case. – FumbleFingers Feb 11 '12 at 23:48
@FumbleFingers, I don't find it marked at all. But the more important point is that the question must surely have some motivation, and explaining that motivation is not only evidence that the question is on-topic ("questions based on actual problems that you face") but, as Mitch said, useful information in answering. – Peter Taylor Feb 12 '12 at 23:43
It's not just the verb take that keeps this construction from working, it's the combination take and stir. Google books lists 74 hits for "take and hold the city", as opposed to 23 for "take the city and hold it", and in some of these 23 there are grammatical reasons for not using take and hold; e.g. "take the city and hold it until ..." – Peter Shor Feb 19 '12 at 15:09

There is nothing wrong with it grammatically. "Take" is just a verb applied to the cake mix, and you can apply lots of verbs in one sentence.

I'm going to take the cake mix.

I'm going to take and stir the cake mix.

I'm going to take, stir and pour the cake mix.

I'm going to take, stir, pour and bake the cake mix.

However it does sound odd, and that's because there is a more commonly used sentence structure that's used with take. Take is such a common word, that it has these kinds of ultra-common uses. When we're accustomed to hearing a word used in a particular way, it sounds odd to hear it phrased a different way. It makes us think "Huh? Why didn't they phrase it the normal way?"

The common structure is:

I'm going to take the noun and verb it.


I'm going to take the cake mix and stir it.

I'm going to take the cake mix and stir and pour it.

I'm going to take the cake mix and stir, pour and bake it.

Note that we have and twice in these sentences, because it fits that "take it and [verb] it" structure, but you could drop one and if you like:

I'm going to take the cake mix, stir, pour and bake it.

Also note that most of the time the take is a redundant part of the phrase in any case. You can't stir the cake mix without taking hold of it, so that part is implied even if you don't say it. There is really no need to use the word take here, except insofar as it becomes a familiar and natural sounding sentence.

I'm going to stir the cake mix.

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The take and + Vb construction in English is one of a number that fall under the general heading of Serial Verbs (known also as "small verbs", in the case of English). Take is a causative of go, a verb which occurs frequently in such constructions.

Serial verbs occur when two verbs whose meanings complement each other are used together in a single verb phrase. Some languages frequently form complex serial verb constructions, like go cut carry stack wood.

Other English serial verb constructions include

  • go + V-ing, as in We’re going shopping. They went hiking. Let’s go digging for clams
    • plus ungrammatical *Let’s go eating. *We’re going teaching. *They went daydreaming.
  • go and + V, as in Bill went and dug some clams.
  • come + V, as in He asked us to come eat the clams.
  • come and + V, as in He said "Come and get it!"
  • go + V, as in We’re going to go eat them.

See question 4 on this Midterm Exam.

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Executive summary: It's not ungrammatical, but it is colloquial, and it may be heard as "regional", "foreign", or "incorrect" by those who consider their own usage "correct", "normal", "standard", or "grammatical". Judging by the OP's question, this group includes some English teachers. – John Lawler Feb 12 '12 at 18:08
I don't think this is relevant. I read the question the question as asking how come "I'm going to take the cake mix and stir it" can't be rephrased as "I'm going to take and stir the cake mix", even though it's quite common in general for "V1 NP and V2 it" and "V1 and V2 NP" to be equivalent. – ruakh Feb 13 '12 at 23:56
Because take and VP is an idiom, and not just two conjoined verbs. Someone who says I'm going to take and hit your nose is not saying that he's going to take your nose and that he's going to hit your nose. All that he's actually going to take and do is hit your nose. – John Lawler Feb 14 '12 at 0:32
OK, I hereby explicitly reject the presupposition of the Original Question to the effect that the Take and + VP construction is ungrammatical. It is not ungrammatical. Nihil Obstat. Imprimatur. – John Lawler Feb 14 '12 at 13:59
I admit, even when I wrote the word questionable, I thought of this bit from Yes Minister: Sir Humphrey: There's always some questions unanswered. Jim: Such as? Sir Humphrey: Well the ones that weren't asked. But I'll go out on a limb and call it ungrammatical for now. As for the explanation, I have written it below. The downside to my explanation is that these thematic roles are not differentiated in English -- I don't know if this gives people enough grounds to reject it. – prash Feb 17 '12 at 22:26

Grammatically, there's nothing wrong, but there is something slightly odd about this usage of "take". In "recipe" contexts we often see "Take three apples, two pears, etc., [and cook like this]". We do a bit of a double-take in OP's sentence because we're expecting one or more nouns (ingredients) to follow "take".

The word "take" has very little meaning in such contexts, because the cake mix isn't actually being taken to anywhere, or taken from any particular place or person. We wouldn't just say "Take the cake mix" as a sentence on its own here. It's already present - we're just calling attention to it. Thanks to @ruakh for naming the role of "take" here as simply to "topicalise" "the cake mix".

In this construction, take (or get) is really just a "placeholder" verb introducing the subject noun (cake mix) - so long as the noun follows immediately we don't need to consider what if anything "take" means. If instead we meet "and" and another verb, we're encouraged to treat "take" as a meaningful independent verb - but it isn't, which is why OP's sentence sounds "awkward".

Taking similar examples common enough to be meaningfully contrasted, "take and compare this" gets only 2 hits in Google Books, where the more "natural" "take this and compare" gets 191. And "bring and show it" gets 9 hits, compared to 791 for "bring it and show it".

To take a more "unexceptional" conjoining of two meaningful but relatively disparate verbs that aren't so awkward, consider the 236,000 written instances of "buy and read" in Google Books. Even more relevant, 2470 instances of "take and read this", with "take" used as a meaningful verb (i.e. - physically take this text away with you, and read it later).

John Lawler refers to this as serial verb usage, but I'm not convinced English really has such a construction. And if it does, it seems more like e.g. "Look what you've gone [or "been"] and done!".

From the comments/votes here it's clear not everyone sees anything unusual in conjoining two disparate transitive verbs with "and" before naming the noun to which both refer. Personally I find it clumsy unless the context and/or inherent meaning of the verbs make it natural to conflate them into a single integrated action.

In OP's example, "take" does little more than indicate that the speaker is about to introduce the noun subject - but instead we get another verb, which grates on my ear.

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+1. I think you're spot-on: the problem is that "take" is so semantically light. In fact, I think almost the sole purpose of "take" in "I'm going to take the cake mix and stir it" is to topicalize "the cake mix" and put it before "stir": otherwise we'd just say "I'm going to stir the cake mix." – ruakh Feb 14 '12 at 0:00
@ruakh: I'm really glad to have someone finally acknowledge that I have a point here. I was even starting to doubt myself, and thinking I was imagining the whole effect. I frankly do not accept John's assertion that take and stir is in the same league as "Come and get it!" or "What have you gone and done?". So far, I haven't been able to come up with a single verb that can follow "take" that way. It's obvious to me that a doctor's "Take and read this leaflet [about your condition]" is different again, because the doctor really does want you to "take" it. – FumbleFingers Feb 14 '12 at 1:04
+1. I don't think this sentence is really any different from "I'm going to wash and dry this shirt tonight, so I can wear it again tomorrow". The only reason why it seems slightly stilted is that few of us would use the verb "take" in a way that is so light of meaning. So instead of picturing yourself saying it, picture Nigella Lawson holding a great big bowl of cake mix close to her chest, gazing into the camera, and saying "I'm going to take and stir this cake mix". What sounded slightly wrong before suddenly sounds very right indeed. – user16269 Feb 14 '12 at 5:46
@David Wallace: Perhaps there are regional variations here. "I took the cake mix and stirred it" sounds fine to me, but "I took and stirred the cake mix" sounds like something only a non-native speaker would say. I perceive a big difference between conjoining take+stir and your wash+dry (or develop+optimize in David Schwartz's profile). Those verbs constitute "natural pairings", but OP's example doesn't. – FumbleFingers Feb 14 '12 at 14:42
That the person said "take the cake mix" seems to imply that the stirring can't be done at the current location of the cake mix, or at least, that the cake mix needs to be held. – prash Feb 19 '12 at 13:28

Here's a completely different angle on this thread: take and is a quirky little colloquialism in Wisconsin. As such, it misses the point to discuss whether take functions as a legitimate transitive verb in expressions with take and. Once you’ve heard a person who routinely inserts take and into sentences, it puts the take and stir example in that specific light. Here are a few examples I've heard:

  • After this meeting ends, we’re gonna take and go to Pizza Hut. Wanna come?

  • When we were kids, we used to take and make a fort out of the snow.

  • On third and long, you gotta take and push the offensive lineman right outta the way!

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In plain English, in this context, it (i.e. the verb take) takes an object.

That is to say, the verb "take" takes, i.e. is required to be followed by, an object. It is functioning as a transitive verb.

So, a correct rendition would be: "I'm going to take the cake mix (object) and stir it (i.e. the object - cake mix)."

Note: "take" can also be used in an intransitive form.

For example: John takes but never gives. (No direct object - taken, given, or needed.)

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The sentence, "I'm going to take and stir the cake mix", sounds weak to my ears. Though I'd advise against that construct, I'm not sure if I would call it ungrammatical.

The reason it sounds odd has to do with Thematic roles (called Semantic Roles here). In the sentence discussed, the same phrase, the cake mix takes on the role of the Theme of take and the role of the Patient of stir. However, in the sentence "I'm going to take the cake mix and stir it", it is the Patient of stir, and there is no shared object.

Here are a couple of examples that still use conjunctions of verbs, but where the shared object does not perform a different thematic role for each verb:

I'm going to take and gift the cake mix.

I'm going to beat and stir the cake mix.

These don't sound odd to me. (Assuming I had good reason to gift cake mix. That I would attempt to beat cake mix is probably an indication of how much I know about cooking.)

=== Exercise left to the reader ===

VerbNet has a fairly large list of verbs, where they have listed out the thematic roles associated with each verb. Pick combinations of verbs and check if the semantic roles of their objects match. See if this agrees with your own intuition of which verbs can be combined with one of and, or and but.

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As I write, Google Books has 49 instances of "to beat and stir the", but none at all of "to take and gift the" (for which the only instance on the whole Internet is this actual answer). Beat and stir is a "compatible" verb pair; take and gift is not. – FumbleFingers Feb 19 '12 at 3:41
@FumbleFingers: If you had not done a google search, would "take and gift" have sounded wrong to you? Distributional grammar, i.e. what you are doing with these statistics, is a fine tool for talking about what exists. But remember that nouns and verbs are open-class words: there will always be new nouns and new verbs. A strict adherence to distributional analysis would advocate prohibiting their usage. My answer deals with the implicit rules behind all conjunctions of verbs. – prash Feb 19 '12 at 7:43
@FumbleFingers: books.google.co.uk/… gives a broader explanation for why linguists moved away from distributional analysis for making judgments of grammaticality. – prash Feb 19 '12 at 8:04
Per my own answer here, I'm not talking about "grammaticality". But I do think the usage "to take sth" as we're talking about here is slightly informal/modern, whereas "to gift sth" is formal/dated, bordering on archaic. They sound like a terrible pairing to me even before I check to see if anyone has ever written them together. – FumbleFingers Feb 19 '12 at 12:17
@FumbleFingers: I don't see this take as one of the informal meanings mentioned at oald8.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/dictionary/take, and I don't see how this gift can be considered one of the formal usages mentioned at oald8.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/dictionary/gift. If you mean something beyond that, you'll have to define your usage of the terms. – prash Feb 19 '12 at 13:25

This sentence is not grammatically incorrect:

I'm going to take and stir the cake mix.

The construction is just not done in the English language.

You will find examples of such construction, in fact the exact sentence, in at least a few other languages, though.

Every grammatical construction -- even one that makes perfect sense -- need not be usable in English, for want of familiarity of usage.

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You can use this construction with other pairs of verbs. "I buy and sell antiques." or "The army will take and hold the fort." The question is why "take and stir" doesn't work. – Peter Shor Feb 19 '12 at 14:52
True, but you forgot to add "in English". I said this construction can be used just as it is in some other languages. – Kris Feb 19 '12 at 14:56
As for the 'why not', the reason is it is unfamiliar usage in English, not technically different. – Kris Feb 19 '12 at 14:58
I would agree that there is nothing technically wrong, but it doesn't work. @PeterShor - "buy and sell" works, as an idiomatic expression, whereas "take and hold" doesn't, to my mind, sound natural. – Schroedingers Cat Feb 19 '12 at 17:40
@Schroedingers Cat: consider this Google Ngram; take and hold the city is quite a bit more common than take the city and hold ... Looking at Google hits, it seems that take something and hold it is usually used when you literally take something in your hands, but take and hold something is quite common when it means take possession of something. – Peter Shor Feb 19 '12 at 19:16

You can't use "and" to glue two things together into one thing. The sentence tries to make "take and stir" act like a unified verb that gets a single object.

It's the same reason you can't say "I'm going to take the cake mix and oil". You have to say "I'm going to take the cake mix and the oil". You can't glue "cake mix and oil" together to make one object which gets one "the".

You can't glue "take and stir" into one verb that gets one object. English simply has no rule to allow that.

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Yes. But you could say "I'm going to take (the) cake mix and oil and stir them." So, the issue is not, it appears, primarily with the "and" conjunction. – Jack Robbin Feb 11 '12 at 4:06
My point is just that "and" doesn't glue two verbs or nouns together to make them act as one. Your sentence shows that too, the reason you have to say "them" is because the "and" doesn't turn two things into one. Another example is "The car and the truck are clean." Notice, you need "are", not "is" because the "and" still leaves them as two objects. – David Schwartz Feb 11 '12 at 9:11
Yes you can use "and" to glue two verbs together. I see from your profile that you develop and optimize server software. – slim Feb 13 '12 at 15:46
@slim: The reason you can develop and optimize something is because both those verbs have clear meanings. And even more because the two meanings correlate strongly. OP's example fulfils neither of those conditions, so it's not possible to glue his two verbs together into one composite action using "and". – FumbleFingers Feb 14 '12 at 1:14
Growing up in the northeastern US, adding "take and" to almost any verb was a common colloquialism for those with less than a full education. As an example consider this bit of dialogue: "All right . . . Mr. Death. See now . . . I'm gonna tell you what I'm gonna do. I'm gonna take and build me a fence around this yard. See? I'm gonna build me a fence around what belongs to me. And then I want you to stay on the other side." --Fences by August Wilson (2.2.55) (shmoop.com/fences-august-wilson/title.html) – Jim Feb 19 '12 at 7:58

When combining verbs in a sentence like that, the verbs have to be in the same tense. In the sentence, "going to take" is future tense, while "stir" is simple present. I believe that in the case of "going to", it is actually allowed to omit "going to" for the second verb, but that would imply, that the two actions happen at the same time. Here, clearly, the mix will not be stirred, until the "taking" of it is done.

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