Which one is correct?

1.) It's better to have one of our allies close to us than having none at all.

2.) Having one of our allies close to us is better than having none.

closed as off-topic by FumbleFingers, tchrist, Marv Mills, Tushar Raj, anongoodnurse Jul 10 '15 at 5:04

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 5
    Your question should not be whether you can have a gerund and an infinitive in the same sentence (obviously you can: Having a gerund an an infinitive in the same sentence is a common thing to see) but whether they work in parallel. As may be seen from your example, they don't. – Robusto Jul 4 '15 at 11:04
  • Sounds OK, but I doubt if it is in fact correct. – Konrad Gajewski Jul 4 '15 at 11:18
  • Is it better to ask than being ignorant? Or is it better not knowing than to ask? – FumbleFingers Jul 4 '15 at 11:27
  • 2
    It's purely a matter of style. Personally, I don't think there's anything really jarring (and certainly not wrong) about either of your examples: neither is incorrect, as such. But having two infinitives or two gerunds paralleling each other would be more elegant. You're quite likely to hear examples with mixed usage a lot in common speech, but if you're aiming for style and elegance in writing, I'd advise avoiding them—especially because they're so easy to avoid. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 4 '15 at 11:56

It's not a matter of "correctness"—your sentence with the mixed constructions is technically "correct"—but of effectiveness.

Your job as a writer is to make it as easy as possible for the reader to grasp your meaning. When you are contrasting two propositions you want to make clear exactly what the difference is between them. One very powerful means of effecting this is employing parallel constructions. Your second version does this:

               Having *one* of our allies close to us 
is better than having *none*.

Similarly, you might recast the first version with parallel constructions:

 It is better to have *one*         of our allies close to us
         than to have *none* at all. 

In both, placing one and none in the same context allows the reader to apprehend the contrast between them in the very rhythm and sequence of words. Placing them in different contexts, as your 'mixed' construction does, obscures the contrast. It makes the reader work harder than necessary to understand what you're saying, which is discourteous, and it raises the risk that the reader will misunderstand, or just give up, which is ineffective.

To my mind your rewrite is also superior to the original in dropping the empty "at all", which I suspect is only there because the contrast in the original is so feeble.

  • How about the second example? – Jim Jul 4 '15 at 12:13
  • @Jamie Edited to address that. – StoneyB Jul 4 '15 at 12:21
  • +1 for your answer to the OP’s question, Stony. However, I must take exception to your blanket assessment that a writers job is to “make it as easy as possible for the reader to grasp your meaning.” While that advice is always accurate for technical writing and journalism, it is not always true for creative writing, where, were it followed, would reduce our literature to a series of recycled clichés. While I am also not advocating the converse, I often enjoy a writer who challenges my skills as a reader. – user98990 Jul 4 '15 at 14:36
  • @LittleEva I'll stick with the characterization: as easy as possible but no easier. Innovation comes about because the poet seeks to express a meaning that lies beyond the established linguistic conventions: her task is to extend the language to encompass new meaning and prevent her readers from evading the meaning she intends. – StoneyB Jul 4 '15 at 15:50

One can have both gerund and infinitive in the same sentence. But the moot question is whether they work in parallels; and obviously they don't. Consider these sentences the first one of which is akin to your example.

•It is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.

••To see is to believe.

•••Seeing is believing.

They make perfect combinations.

  • How about this: Having one of our allies close to us is better than having none. – Jim Jul 4 '15 at 11:54
  • @Jamie: Having one ally is better than having none is idiomatically fine, but in your case arguably the relatively long "object clause" one of our allies close to us puts too much distance between the two elements (one/none) being "paralleled, contrasted". Personally, I end up stumbling slightly over the parsing (I find myself drawn to assuming it's better than having no allies at all, rather than having one of your [multiple] allies close to you). – FumbleFingers Jul 4 '15 at 12:14
  • @Barid: The actual Shakespeare quote for your first example has never immediately after than. I can't say for sure whether it's simply familiarity with the original colouring my judgement, but your version doesn't seem quite so "elegant" to me. – FumbleFingers Jul 4 '15 at 12:19
  • 2
    @FumbleFingers Shax' version reinforces the verbal parallelism with metrical parallelism: better to have loved and -- never to have loved at – StoneyB Jul 4 '15 at 12:25
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers Something felt wrong about that when I was writing it ... it's not in fact Shakespeare at all, it's Tennyson, from In Memoriam. – StoneyB Jul 4 '15 at 15:42

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