eg. They don't have to do chores and can't do chores. Can I merge these and say they don't and can't do chores?

  • 'They don't do the chores' is not the same as 'They don't have to do the chores'. I wouldn't recommend it, to me it sounds bulky. Jul 21, 2015 at 8:40
  • Is there a way of merging these two clauses? Jul 21, 2015 at 8:42
  • I see nothing wrong with "They don't and can't do chores."
    – Robusto
    Jul 21, 2015 at 9:05
  • 1
    Your examples are inconsistent. Do you want to maintain the 'have to' part? Then you can say "They don't have to and can't do chores"
    – Mitch
    Jul 21, 2015 at 12:47
  • 1
    @Robusto I think the information expressed by "I don't do chores" vs "I don't have to do chores" is actually quite different. The former says that you don't do it, but doesn't say why, the latter says you aren't required to do it, but doesn't say if you do it or not. Thus, I'd say that you shouldn't just switch one sentence for another. Jul 21, 2015 at 13:27

2 Answers 2


There is nothing wrong with saying

They don't and can't do chores.

This expression uses the rhetorical device known as zeugma. From Sylvae Rhetorica:

A general term describing when one part of speech (most often the main verb, but sometimes a noun) governs two or more other parts of a sentence (often in a series).
. . .
Zeugma comprises several more specialized terms, all of which employ ellipsis and parallelism (among the governed members of the sentence). The zeugma figures are of two types: those in which the governing word is the main verb (in which case these are subsequently categorized according to the position of that governing verb), and those in which the governing word is another part of speech (usually the subject noun).

In this case, you're linking two verbs to the same object. The do is elided from the first verb, making it kind of a double-jointed zeugma, in that it links both don't and can't to the helper verb do, and then to the object chores.

EDIT: To respond to an objection that "don't have to" is not the same as "don't" (a premise that is arguable if not as far-reaching as the objecter wishes to make it out to be) I will note that the zeugma works just as well with the wordier

They don't have to and can't do chores.

The point is, if I say I "don't do something" it can mean a number of things: that I am not required to do them, refuse to do them, have never had the occasion to do them, or any of a number of things. It's ambiguous, to be sure, but that is how people talk.

  • But don't have to do the chores is not the same as don't do the chores, they are quite different in meaning, as I'm sure you're aware of.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 21, 2015 at 11:58
  • The question is whether you can say "They don't and can't do chores." In any case, "they don't do chores" is one way of expressing "they don't have to do chores." It doesn't have to mean that, but it can. With questions like these it is anybody's guess where the OP's misunderstanding lies.
    – Robusto
    Jul 21, 2015 at 12:03
  • No. The question is They don't have to do chores and can't do chores If your guess is the OP believes that "They don't have to do the shopping" is the same as "They must not do the shopping" then you should have first clarified that. And mk_hcc's suggestion is semantically more accurate because it is longer (9 words compare to your 6)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 21, 2015 at 12:06
  • What? Now you're equating "They don't have to do the shopping" with "They must not do the shopping"? Where do you get that notion? Also, you seem to have extra hostility toward me today. I never said mk_hoc's suggestion wasn't more accurate, only that it was not as succinct.
    – Robusto
    Jul 21, 2015 at 12:09
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    This comment exchange is utterly perplexing. I don't understand how "have to do" ever entered the picture. The question never was about "have to do". It was all about "do" all along. Who cares if the OP does or does not "believe 'They don't have to do the shopping' is the same as 'They must not do the shopping'". That is not what their question is about. For all I know they think "to sweep" means "purple cat". Who even cares.
    – RegDwigнt
    Jul 21, 2015 at 12:44

A more succinct sentence construction could be "They neither have to do chores, nor can they".

  • How is that more succinct?
    – Robusto
    Jul 21, 2015 at 8:48
  • There's no repetition of the 'do chores' phrase. I originally had it as 'elegant' but that's too subjective.
    – MKHC
    Jul 21, 2015 at 8:54
  • It's not more succinct than "They don't and can't do chores." Six words to your nine, and no comma to break the flow."
    – Robusto
    Jul 21, 2015 at 9:05
  • 1
    The elephant in the room is that this does not answer the question. It does not so much as address it. It barely qualifies for a comment in its current form.
    – RegDwigнt
    Jul 21, 2015 at 11:19
  • It's not terribly succinct compare to the original 10 words. I grant @Robusto that. Elegant, although subjective, would have been more accurate.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 21, 2015 at 12:23

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