4

While writing an essay, I felt the need to write two "her"s simultaneously:

Jane had taken the book from Ann five months ago, and hence felt the need to return her her book as soon as possible.

Yes, the second her is indeed a possessive adjective, but still, does this sentence sound grammatically correct?

  • To simplify...it sounds awkward which may cause a reader or listener to stumble over the two hers. Even if it is technically grammatical, isn't clear communication a loftier goal? Just saying... – Kristina Lopez Jul 6 '13 at 15:41
  • @KristinaLopez Exactly. That's what I intended to ask. – Shaona Bose Jul 6 '13 at 16:24
  • 1
    There's nothing ungrammatical about it. That's all. – Kris Jul 9 '13 at 5:12
5

I don’t know why you think that that example has any “grammatical” error in it. As far as English grammar goes, it is impeccable. It’s not that it’s ungrammatical so much as that it may be ungainly. It’s like with saying it’s something that you do do, or there’s ours and there’s theirs, or that you like like things more than you like unlike ones, or that he asked me to tomorrow, or he said yes yesterday. These things happen, and sometimes they’re completely unavoidable.

There is nothing fundamentally or theoretically “wrong” with having the same “word” twice in a row in English. These things inevitably happen, both with duplicate words and with sequences of homophones.

However, these repetitions can sometimes become awkward either to read, to speak, or both. This is one of those cases where phrasally it is hard to enunciate it both clearly and naturally, for reasons more complex than are worth delving into too deeply.

If it feels awkward to you, then by all means rephrase it. But this is not a matter of grammar or rules, just of clarity and convenience.

  • But in your sentence, shouldn't there be a comma after the first "that"? (just a suggestion) – Shaona Bose Jul 6 '13 at 15:17
  • 3
    @ShaonaBose No. English is not German. – tchrist Jul 6 '13 at 15:19
  • 1
    tchrist: Good example. I had had the same thought. – J.R. Jul 6 '13 at 15:44
  • 2
    It's awkward to have the same word pronounced twice, especially when the first one has to be cliticized to return and the second one, though also unstressed, has to have the /h/ pronounced in order to distinguish it. Both words are function words saying only 'female NP', and they don't need to be reduplicated, especially when it requires prestilinguistation to get it out. So why bother with Dative-movement at all? ... the need to return her book as soon as possible does the job, and so does _ the need to return her book to her as soon as possible_, if you must mention her twice. – John Lawler Jul 6 '13 at 16:09
  • 1
    I have used three that's in a row before in a sentence like this: "It does not necessarily follow from that that that example has any grammatical error in it." – Kaiser Octavius Jul 6 '13 at 16:30
3

As tchrist said, there is nothing wrong with this, it is just clumsy. The sentence would be better written as

Jane had taken the book from Ann five months ago, and hence felt the need to return it as soon as possible.

or

Jane had taken the book from Ann five months ago, and hence felt the need to return it to her as soon as possible.

If you must use her twice, separate them:

Jane had taken the book from Ann five months ago, and hence felt the need to return her book to her as soon as possible.

  • terdon, so, eventually, at the contrary of what @tchrist said, you think one should avoid using "her her" as in the OP's example? – user19148 Jul 6 '13 at 15:27
  • 1
    @Carlo_R., both tchrist and I agree that there is nothing grammatically wrong with it, the OP's sentence is grammatically correct. All I am saying is that in general, repetition makes for harder reading and should be avoided, a point I am sure tchrist will agree on. – terdon Jul 6 '13 at 15:33
  • 1
    @Carlo_R., Yes, I would avoid it. – Kristina Lopez Jul 6 '13 at 16:41
2

There's nothing wrong with that. Imagine this sentence:

Jane asked Tom for a book, which was currently in the possession of John, so Jane asked John to give him her book.

This sentence doesn't sound nearly so bad because you are using two different pronouns, but if you accept this sentence, your sentence is just as grammatically correct.

Of course, if you still feel this doesn't sound good, you could always rephrase it as:

Jane had taken the book from Ann five months ago, and hence felt the need to return her book to her as soon as possible.

  • p.s.w.g, so you think "Jane had taken the book from Ann five months ago, and hence felt the need to return the book to her as soon as possible." or "Jane had taken the book from Ann five months ago, and hence felt the need to return it to her as soon as possible." aren't better of your rephrased version? – user19148 Jul 6 '13 at 15:22
  • @Carlo_R. Sure, and there are a dozen other ways you could rephrase that are even better. I just cited one since OP's question was specifically about the grammaticallity of the original phrase and not what other constructions exist. – p.s.w.g Jul 6 '13 at 15:25
  • p.s.w.g, thank you, this is just something that I felt needed to be clarified to avoid, for the benefit of future visitors, mistakes and misunderstanding. – user19148 Jul 6 '13 at 15:32
  • @Carlos What does "... aren't better of your rephrased version?" mean? It's certainly not grammatical. – TrevorD Jul 6 '13 at 19:01
  • I'd reword it for another reason - there being two people in this sentence to whom "her" could refer, it could be confusing to read. Does the first "her" refer to Jane or Ann? What about the second? (Clearly in this case it's Ann both times, but it takes a close reading to be sure.) If the two people are different genders, such confusion is avoided. Grammatically, both are equivalent, and equally valid, but having them the same could lead to confusion. – Darrel Hoffman Jul 6 '13 at 21:45
0

Jane had taken the book from Ann five months ago. Hence, she felt the need to return it to her as soon as possible.

Why so complicated? Why the use of so many of the same nouns in one sentence? It's cute, but it looks forced to prove it could be done.

From the Big Lebowski... They're the Little Lebowski Urban Achievers - inner city children of promise but without the necessary means for a - necessary means for a higher education. So Mr Lebowski is committed to sending all of them to college.

Pure brilliance. Without the "Necessary means", (education, money) for a - "necessary means" (ability to attain) for a higher education.

The use of adjectives (necessary) seem to work better, at least in my opinion.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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