Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

It was common practice to first test and execute a program's source code by hand before using a computer.

It was common practice to first test and to execute a program's source code by hand before using a computer.

The first version of the sentence is without a second to, the second version includes a second to. Which one is correct?

share|improve this question
First: I don't see this as proofreading--the OP is asking whether the second "to" belongs. This is a specific question, as opposed to the general proofreading question "is this sentence okay?". Second: the answer (in case this question gets closed). The position of the adverb "first" is incompatible with a second "to", since you want it to modify both verbs. You would need to put the "first" after "hand" if you want to put in a second "to". (There's also no reason to do this. It reads better with just one "to". If you had a long verb clause after the first "to", it might not.) –  Peter Shor Dec 19 '12 at 2:19
@PeterShor Thank you very much for your answer. I also prefer the first version of the sentence (with one`to`) .. I am asking because my MS Word is underlining the word execute green suggesting to use executes instead which doesn't make any sense to me. (my mother tongue is German) –  marc wellman Dec 19 '12 at 2:19
@Marc: the MS Word grammar checker does not understand the grammar of complicated sentences. Ignore it. –  Peter Shor Dec 19 '12 at 2:20
@PeterShor Ok I see .. thank you again .. –  marc wellman Dec 19 '12 at 2:21
thank you all for your kind help. –  marc wellman Dec 19 '12 at 2:33

1 Answer 1

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Normally, you are free to either omit or repeat to in an elliptical, parallel construction like this. However, in this case the word first stands between to and the infinitive, and so you cannot repeat to while omitting first in the second branch. Repeating both to and first, however, sounds a little awkward, perhaps because it is a bit redundant. It is possible, but I recommend leaving out to and first in the second branch.

share|improve this answer
+1 First is redundant with before; unless (I'm looking at you, @marcwellman) OP means "first to test and then to execute ... before &c. –  StoneyB Dec 19 '12 at 2:38
@StoneyB: Gracias! But I don't think first...then would change the meaning of the sentence, given that both would naturally be carried out in the order in which they are written? –  Cerberus Dec 19 '12 at 2:40
Ya got me. I don't know what "executing source code by hand" means, or how you "test" it without "executing" it. It's been a quarter-century since I was a programmer. –  StoneyB Dec 19 '12 at 2:50
@Lynn: You can "dry run" high-level code just as much as machine code. And "source code" has no real implications as to the level of the code. One word in some modern languages might execute more machine code instructions than you could write in a week (back in the day, sigh! :) –  FumbleFingers Dec 19 '12 at 3:15
@marcwellman In that case I still have to ask What's the difference between "test" and "execute"? Isn't the "test" a dry-run "execution"? If that's the case, then I think what you want is something more like It was common practice to test a program's source code by manual execution before running it on a computer. And ifn it wuz me, I'd put the substance of Lynn's comment in dashes between "execution" and before", to demonstrate what a pain in the ass it was and why the invention of assembler and higher-level languages was so important. –  StoneyB Dec 19 '12 at 13:18

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.