I just wrote [he] has or will read [some text] in an ELL chat room. But looking at it (or more accurately, listening to my "inner voice" trying to "read it aloud"), I find it bothers me a lot.

A quick check on Google Books finds a claimed 432 written instances of has or will read, and 910 instances of has read or will read, which suggests a significant minority of writers don't have a problem with the fact that the two different read's don't sound the same.

When I check the same construction with other verbs that don't have the same written form for past participle and present tense, it seems people nearly always include both (e.g. has worked or will work:1230, has or will work:8; has arrived or will arrive:357, has or will arrive:7).

I'm not usually a big fan of "grammatical rules", but it seems to me there "ought" to be a rule that you shouldn't delete one instance of the verb unless it's "the same" as the one you're keeping. And it also seems to me that since language is primarily spoken, "the same" ought to mean "sounds the same when spoken", not "looks the same when written".

Can anyone who knows more than me about formal rules of grammar settle this one?

As an aside, offhand I can't think of any verb where the past participle and present tense sound the same but are written differently (maybe there aren't any), but would deletion be okay in that case?

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    I think your instinct is right, buthe "rule" is pragmatic, not grammatical: the Adamantine Law that Whatever can be misunderstood will be. When you're writing you don't get a chance to correct misunderstandings, so you have to take the extra effort to forestall them by avoiding ambiguity. --Which is one reason why the written language has so many "rules" and conventions which are disregarded in speech. Commented Jul 31, 2013 at 21:59
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    @FumbleFingers Actually, I didn't even notice. But after months on ELL I've sort of trained myself not to see things like that unless specifically invited to. Commented Jul 31, 2013 at 22:12
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    I asked a similar question (english.stackexchange.com/questions/48165) and learned that this is called non-parallel ellipsis. Fowler states bluntly that a sentence such as 'No state has or can adopt' is (however common) an elementary blunder. But reading around a bit on the topic it appears that some types of non-parallel ellipsis are more acceptable to readers than other. Your sentence is an interesting variation due to the identical spelling of infinitive and past participle, but I am usually brought to a dead halt when reading such constructions and avoid them myself.
    – Shoe
    Commented Aug 1, 2013 at 14:04
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    Your aside made me think that it should really even be possible to make a sort of garden-pathish, antanaclatic non-parallel ellipsis, and one finally dawned on me (though it only works if spoken in a non-rhotic accent): “Surely someone has or will sort him out!” (To be read as: “Surely has sought him out or will sort him out!”) Commented Aug 1, 2013 at 15:11
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    to address the offhand remark at the end, consider run. Those who have or will run in Boston marathon... also sounds awkward, so I don't think that the appropriateness of ellipsis is based on sound. the verbs have to be of the same inflectional category.
    – user31341
    Commented Aug 2, 2013 at 0:10

4 Answers 4


The relevant grammatical rules involved here are

  1. The Perfect auxiliary have must be followed by the past participle form of the next verb.
  2. Modal auxiliary verbs like will must be followed by the infinitive form of the next verb.
  3. Conjunction Reduction optionally deletes the first of two identical verbs following auxiliaries.

The question is what counts as "identical" for conjunction reduction. And the answer is that "identical" means "identical in sound". Nobody would ever say this sentence, for precisely the reasons described in the answers and comments here. That is, this isn't a question about English; this is about English spelling and reading, which is technology, not linguistics.

The problem with this sentence is that it looks like it's OK, but it doesn't sound like it.
Take a verb like sing, sang, sung, with different infinitive (sing) and past participle (sung) forms.
Then both

  • *He has or will sing that song
  • *He has or will sung that song

are ungrammatical, no matter which form is used.

And that's why

  • *He has or will read that book

is ungrammatical. It could only happen in writing; it's a cheat, like a sight rhyme. It really should be

  • He has red or will reed that book
    (spelled funnetikly)

because words pronounced differently can't do conjunction reduction.
And spelling doesn't count.

  • No English grammar rule has anything to do with spelling or punctuation.

If you try verbs with identical infinitive and past participle forms, like the set of
monosyllabic final-t verbs like set, set, set; cut, cut, cut; or put, put, put:

  • He has or will set the plan in motion.
  • He has or will cut them some slack.
  • He has or will put it on display in the main gallery.

These sound perfectly grammatical (if needlessly complex), to me. This despite the facts that

  • the set, cut, or put following will must be an infinitive,


  • the set, cut, or put following has must be a past participle.

The abstract grammatical category of the deleted verb seems to be irrelevant -- as long as they sound the same, they're identical. And as long as that's the case, you can delete the first one.

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    Just thought of a differently-weird example: He has or will lead the band this year. Commented May 4, 2016 at 23:03

I must say I couldn't even understand what "has or will read" even meant for a minute or so. I had to skip the phrase itself and read further into the context to begin to understand what you were talking about.

My answer, therefore, is that I am not merely uncomfortable with the deletion, I find it incomprehensible. "Has or will read" for me is simply unacceptable.

For what it's worth, here is something which might shed some light (or at least some interesting color) on the matter. Neurophysiologists have found that if you have two friends named Gandalf, the wave pattern generated in your brain is consistently the same for each one, and not at all the same as the other, even though the words sound the same to the ear and look the same to the eye. In other words, "read" and "read" are very much different words, their visual appearance notwithstanding.

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    Poles apart indeed! StoneyB (to whom the original was addressed) didn't even notice the "awkwardness" at the time, but to you it's so bad it actually prevented you from parsing the words at first. Admittedly, he had the benefit of more context, but even so... And I suppose I must fall somewhere in the "temperate zone" between those two poles, given that I wrote it without any qualms, but only had misgivings after I'd clicked Post Comment, and tried to read back my own text using my "inner voice". Commented Aug 1, 2013 at 19:55
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    People differ in what they notice when they read. They react to things like spelling failures (read, reed, rede /rid/; read, red /rɛd/; lead, lede /lid/; lead, led 'lɛd/; _dead, head, bread, etc) with quite a lot of different strategies. Some hear the sounds; others don't. For the record, I do, and since (a) Conjunction Reduction requires exact identity, and (b) /rid/ and /rɛd/ are not identical, I would star that particular sentence. Commented Aug 1, 2013 at 20:25
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    @John: When I read Riddley Walker I found the eye dialect/futuristic spelling/vocabulary quite strange at first, but unlike Finnegans Wake (which I just got fed up with and abandoned halfway through), I became quite fascinated by Hoban's "could-have-been-real" language after a couple of chapters. That was decades ago, but I only recently watched The Clan of the Cave Bear (1985), which also has some pretty interesting "pseudo-language". I think I "adapt" easily. Commented Aug 2, 2013 at 1:28

I just realized that a question I answered a while ago was about the same issue (How to agree verb with has and will in same sentence?). The sentence in that question used the format "has never and will never."

I would be inclined to say that this structure is grammatical, based on the evidence in your post that it is actually used.

I don't think there can be a general rule that "you shouldn't delete one instance of the verb unless it's 'the same' as the one you're keeping" because that would falsely suggest sentences like the following are ungrammatical:

I have never read that book, and I never will (read it).


I greatly prefer "has read or will read" because I think someone reading this aloud could do so without skipping a beat. On the other hand, "has or will read" requires the reader unexpectedly to select a pronunciation; and presents a Hobson's choice because both pronunciations are incorrect for one of the verb tenses.

May I be so reckless as to suggest using the heretical parenthetical? E.g.: "Tommy has (or will) read the assignment."

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    I puzzled over the parenthetical suggestion for a bit, Paul, and eventually decided that it is unable to solve the problem. What it does it set "read" as linked with "has," and then "will" must follow suit, which it can't. No? Wrong am I, Skywalker? Commented Aug 2, 2013 at 0:06
  • What about a similar case where the two parallel words are pronounced the same ... "has or will come"?
    – GEdgar
    Commented May 7, 2016 at 17:43
  • It was over 5 years ago when I upvoted this answer. But looking at it again now I can't imagine why I did that, so I've made a "non-edit" just so I could reverse my vote. Because quite frankly I can't see how the "heretical parenthetical" makes any difference at all as regards the matter under consideration. (Which I still find interesting, even though I know there's no real "Answer" to be found! :) Commented Mar 16, 2019 at 15:40

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