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Consider the following sentence:

I have a lot to talk about with John about his project.

Since I can swap the position of the first about to make it 'I have a lot to talk with John about', then I would end up with:

I have a lot to talk with John about about his project.

My question is, can I consolidate the two instances of about, giving me:

I have a lot to talk with John about his project.

Or do I have to keep two prepositions there, but change the second about to something else in order to make it sound less-awkward, as in:

I have a lot to talk with John about regarding his project.

Related question (now that I'm thinking more...er...about this): is the first about really an adverb, in which case, of course, I cannot ever consolidate the two?

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  • Cheers for accepting the edit, for future reference, use ">" to start a quote line
    – mjsqu
    May 15 '14 at 15:14
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I think the verb 'talk about' is, in itself, difficult to use as an infinitive. The 'about' seems to present as an out-of-place preposition. It would be much better in this example, in my view, to use 'discuss'.

'I have a lot to discuss with John about his project'.

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  • 1
    Thanks. I realized after reading these answers that there is no good answer to my question as it stands because the question is about a sentence construction that is flawed. Therefore, the best answer is to construct the sentence better in the first place and thus obviate the need to ask my original question.
    – rory.ap
    May 15 '14 at 16:20
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Nothing wrong with the first one except it sounds clumsy.

The other three don't make sense but you are close with the fourth one.

I have a lot to talk about with John regarding his project.

Means the same as the first sentence but without all the overabouterage (that's not a real word)

(I have no idea about adverbs and the like, so I can't help in the technical details)

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A.) I have a lot to talk about with John about his project.

B.) I have a lot to talk with John about about his project.

Perhaps compare to:

  • "I want to talk [with John]."

  • "I want to talk [about Tom's project]."

  • "I want to talk [with John] [about Tom's project]."

  • "I want to talk [about Tom's project] [with John]."

If we now look at your original #A version (but with "Tom's project" instead of "his project"), and parse it, we have three PPs:

I have a lot to talk [about] [with John] [about Tom's project].

Which seems, at first blush, to make sense. But notice that the first "about" PP seems to have a gap as its complement, where that gap is understood to mean "a lot (of stuff)": I have a lot to talk about __". And that gap seems to be a relativized element. Compare to:

  • [3.i] She's the ideal person [(for you) to confide in __ ].

  • [3.ii] I've found something interesting [(for us) to read __ ].

Those two examples involve infinitival relative clauses (CGEL page 1067). And they are somewhat similar in structure to "I have a lot to talk about __"; for if you replace the "read" in [3.ii] with "talk", and then insert the "about" (similar to the "in" in [3.i]), then you'll have the similar "I've found something interesting (for us) to talk about __".

Now when we try to create your #B version, we can at first add the PP "with John":

  • "I have a lot to talk [with John] [about __ ]".

which is fine so far. But then when we add in the last PP:

  • "I have a lot to talk [with John] [about __ ] [about Tom's project]".

it seems as if a prosodic pause might be needed between the two "about"s, if this was spoken. And if it was written, then maybe punctuation would be needed. Maybe there is some syntactic reason for this (perhaps because of the presence of the relativized gap?), or maybe it is just me. Someone else might be willing to shed more, or better, grammatical insights onto this topic.

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