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I'm unable to figure out if the following sentence is correct:

"After I watched the movie, the first thing I did was shutdown the laptop and go outside"

Is this grammatically correct? Or should it be "..went outside". Please help.

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3 Answers 3

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The only thing wrong with the original sentence is that shutdown is a noun. You are looking for shut down, the verb.

The rest of the sentence is fine. Your confusion stems from the fact that shut is both the bare infinitive and the simple-past form of to shut. With a different verb in its place for which that is not the case, it likely wouldn't have arisen.

Constructions of the form "[what X] [did was|do is|does is]" take the infinitive. Here are the actual usage stats from the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) and the British National Corpus (BNC):

form COCA BNC
did was [infinitive] 726 138
did was [simple-past form] <10 0

As a side note, don't listen to people who insist (even on this page) that the infinitive must not be a bare one. Quite the opposite is in fact true:

form COCA BNC
did was [bare infinitive] 476 47
did was [to-infinitive] 250 91

That is, both forms are fine, and the to-infinitive is preferred by a factor of less than 2 in British English, while for American English, the preference is actually flipped. So, as is often the case with language, it doesn't hurt to know your audience.

For further information and even more stats, see e.g. “All you have to do is read” vs. “All you have to do is to read” and the many related questions linked from there.

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  • Nice info there. Does that come specifically from clefts? If so which types of cleft did you include? I'm asking because I'm interested in the status of to in those constructions - well actually altogether. Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 21:26
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"The first thing I did was to shut down the laptop and go outside" is right. You are not supposed to use went if the sentence is already in the past (I did).

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  • 2
    Yes - but equally valid: "The first thing I did was I shut down the laptop and [I] went outside". Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 16:54
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    I use went in sentences that are in the past all the time. In fact I never use it in sentences that are not. That part definitely needs rewording.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 20:03
  • By the way, COCA has three cites for "did was went". And while that message may have been brought to you by a devil's advocate, the following one certainly is not: it also has almost 500 cites for "did was [bare infinitive]", but only 250 for "did was [to-infinitive]". So this answer goes against actual usage. I guess at this point I might as well post an answer myself...
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 20:19
  • +1 Quite. I assume it's because the original is two coordinated verb phrases, whereas your example's two coordinated finite clauses. Your example's deceptive in its resemblance to the OP's original though, because shut in yours is the past simple form, shut in theirs is the infinitive. This is cuz of the irregular verb shut. The first thing I did was eat an apple and went outside versus The first thing I did was I ate an apple and ... shows up the difference a bit more. :) Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 21:39
  • Putting the "to" in there is very formal. Leaving it out is perfectly common usage. It is really gramatically incorrect to leave it out? Commented Sep 20, 2014 at 0:11
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You can take that like a bit of brain logic :)

The first thing I DID

gets you to a PAST reference

was TO shut the computer down ...

the Infinitive keeps you the same level or logical plane (you name it) as the main PAST you have in DID.

You can 'stay there'

and GO out ...

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    Right. It doesn't have anything to do with tense, though -- the conjoined infinitive clause to shut down the laptop and (to) go outside simply gets its repeated infinitive marker to deleted by conjunction reduction. The problem with tense came up because shut is the same form in infinitive and past tense, whereas go and went use completely different roots (the technical term for this is Suppletion). So if shut is parsed as a past tense form, then the question is what the parallel verb should be. But it's a false trail. Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 17:06
  • @JohnLawler - I was hoping you'd comment. I was about to answer the question and was stopped short, not having a good way to explain it. Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 17:25
  • @JohnLawler -- I say the Infinitive, not a past form. I do not understand your idea for parsing; how would you expect your explanation to work for a learner?
    – user91990
    Commented Sep 20, 2014 at 12:14
  • No, you explained the level of clause involved correctly, @Teresa, but this isn't so much about what it means (logic) as it is about how the syntax works. There are two infinitives joined with a conjunction -- to shut and to go, but neither has its complementizer to present in the sentence. It can be there; deletion is optional -- the first thing I did was to shutdown the laptop and go and the first thing I did was to shutdown the laptop and to go are both grammatical, and both mean the same thing. In a cleft sentence with Active do, one uses infinitives. Commented Sep 20, 2014 at 18:42
  • @John Lawler, To me, it is always about what it means, and syntax does not go any other way. You have the present, past or future reference and the Infinitive 'economizes' on the verb form -- you don't need to repeat the marker. Here, a past form in the main clause allows the bare infinitive.
    – user91990
    Commented Sep 22, 2014 at 11:57

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