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The following sentence makes sense:

  • If you or somebody you know is an experienced such-and-such, please contact us.

However, reversing the subjects (and choosing "are" based on the proximity rule) makes it sound extremely awkward:

  • If somebody you know or you are an experienced such-and-such, please contact us.

The is/are verb choice does not really matter, placing "somebody you know" first makes the sentence difficult to read and awkward to say. However, switching subjects in a compound subject doesn't always "ruin" the sentence, e.g.:

  • If your dog or your cat is sick, call the vet.
  • If your cat or your dog is sick, call the vet.

My question is: What is wrong with "If somebody you know or you"? Is this violating some grammatical rule? Why is this sentence so hard to parse? I know it doesn't "feel" right but I'd like to know why.

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    Your other examples do not match your initial example. If x and something related to x – mplungjan Jul 30 '14 at 6:40
  • @mplungjan In thinking about your comment I think I might have a guess as to why swapping the subjects in the first example doesn't work. Is it because the "you" in "somebody you know" is somehow a different kind of pronoun that refers back to the first isolated "you", sort of like "Bob and his dog" means Bob's dog but "His dog and Bob" doesn't connect "his" to "Bob's" any more? What is the difference between the "you" in the two subjects; I know there is one I just don't know what it is, or the terminology. – Jason C Jul 30 '14 at 7:01
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    @brasshat Stop right there and see english.stackexchange.com/a/187779/55308. – Jason C Jul 30 '14 at 7:52
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    I'd say the awkwardness you feel is due to word order. We normally say If you or a loved one/member of your family; If you or your spouse/children/family etc. Inverting the order will sound odd, but it won't affect the grammaticality. Whereas changing the pronoun to "I" the word order is usually reversed. If my spouse/children/family or I were ... – Mari-Lou A Jul 31 '14 at 2:55
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    Well why do we say "a black and white photo" and not the other way round? "Quiet and peace" makes sense but sounds odd, "mum" nearly always comes before "dad" in "My mum and dad" etc. When placing "you" ahead of a list I suppose we are aiming our focus on that subject and the "somebody you know" is a logical sequence, which btw would include any family, friend or acquaintance. On the other hand, it's considered rude/arrogant to place oneself in front of a statement, hence even queen Elizabeth says: "My husband and I" :) – Mari-Lou A Jul 31 '14 at 5:56
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It is grammatically correct. However, as you point out, it feels awkward, mainly because somebody you know is a superset of you (assuming that you do, in fact, know yourself). Translating it to your second example, would you ever say the following?

If your pet or your dog is sick, call the vet.

  • Is "somebody you know" a superset of "you"? I could just say "If somebody you know is..." to mean a friend of yours but not you. Also the example doesn't seem to have the same subject switching quality -- "If your dog or your pet is sick" isn't an improvement and is still awkward for the same reason. It seems more related to using the first subject after a "that" (or whatever) in the second (but I don't know the word for that), e.g. "if your dog or something that your dog ate is" vs "if something that your dog ate or your dog is". – Jason C Jul 30 '14 at 18:49
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    Yes, it is. If it still feels wrong, it's for the opposite relation between the subjects: generalization rather than specialization. You're much more likely to see the former than the latter. (On a side note, you could say that, but you may be misunderstood. If i ask you Is someone you know called Jason C? I would expect to hear the answer Yes, I am called Jason C) – blgt Jul 30 '14 at 19:29
  • Thanks. Hm; the answer you'd get from me would honestly be "No, but I am called Jason C!" I guess it's all very fuzzy and open to interpretation. It makes sense though, but I'm still not quite convinced mainly because switching "your pet" and "your dog" doesn't "fix" your example, but switching "you" and "somebody you know" has a huge effect - and that's the effect I don't understand. There's a major difference between my first and second example but I don't know what it is; mplungjan hinted at it in a comment on the question. – Jason C Jul 30 '14 at 19:42
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    Well if you only had to answer with yes/no, i'd still expect a "yes". You're right, I guess, it depends. As for the switching, the exact correlation would go as Your dog or another pet which sounds much less awkward than Another of your pets or your dog – blgt Jul 30 '14 at 19:47
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I seem to recall learning (as a cultural courtesy / politeness / etiquette convention, but not necessarily a grammar rule) that, when listing people, it is preferable to put the person or people you are addressing (the second person: “you”) first,  yourself (the first person: “I” and “me”, and, arguably, “we” and “us”) last,  and all others between.  For example,

  • “You, Fred, Ginger and I need to write the report.”
  • “Harry assigned it to you, Fred, Ginger and me.”
  • “You, they and I need to write the report.”

There is a lot of support for the “me last” guideline.  I haven’t been able to find much support for the “you first” convention; here’s what I found:

The point is, I (and some other people?) find “you and Fred” to be more natural and polite than “Fred and you”.  Same with “you or Fred” over “Fred or you”.  So that might be a partial reason why people find “somebody you know or you” to be awkward.

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