I found this sentence in a book written for English learners:

He does nothing but chase girls all day.

But I feel that 'chase' should have been 'chases' (so to agree with the sentence subject 'he'). I think the sentence above is a short form for:

He does nothing but he chases girls all day.

Am I right? Thanks.

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    You are wrong; the sentence is right. To understand why, it might help to read the answer to this question (and also to look at other questions tagged with "do-support"): ell.stackexchange.com/questions/40774/does-she-do-her-homework – herisson Jul 24 '15 at 16:48
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    @Sumelic. Is that post you cited, the 'do' is an axillary verb, but it is not the case here, I suppose. Can you explain why the 'does' above is a 'do-support'? – zell Jul 24 '15 at 17:01
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    Note: auxiliary means ‘helping’, as in auxiliary verbs. Axillary means ‘related to armpits’. I don’t think English has any axillary verbs, except perhaps smell and the like. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 24 '15 at 17:16
  • @zell: Sorry, you are right that in the examples cited the verb "do" is used as an auxiliary verb, although it is not in your example. But for me, as a native English speaker, the distinction between "auxiliary" and non-auxilary uses of "do" doesn't seem very natural. The uses of "do" to form a question or negative seem similar to me to its use here as a sort of "dummy verb." – herisson Jul 24 '15 at 22:07
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    @zell Your comment to Sumelic here is completely right. Because of this PressTilty's answer ( though well-meaning and in some ways helpful) is wrong. You shouldn't accept this answer as it doesn't address your very good question. I would wait at least two days before accepting an answer to a question like this. (Perhaps more if people are still posting answers to your question). – Araucaria - Not here any more. Jul 26 '15 at 11:17


Following "does," verbs are in the bare infinitive. See these sentences:

He didn't always love her.

He usually doesn't return calls.

She doesn't ask before taking her lunch break.

Also, the "s" on the end of "chase" doesn't make it plural, it in fact marks it as conjugated for the third person singular.

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  • @zell - I agree entirely with PressTilty. Look at it this way. "He does [nothing but] chase girls all day." This can be shortened to "He does chase girls all day." – chasly - reinstate Monica Jul 24 '15 at 16:52
  • @PressTilty. "He does nothing but he chases girls all day". Is it equivalent to the sentence above? See my edited question. – zell Jul 24 '15 at 16:57
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    @zell No, that means something else. In fact, it’s self-contradictory. “He does nothing but chase girls” means that he does nothing other than chasing girls: that’s the only thing he does. “He does nothing, but he chases girls all day” means that he does absolutely nothing at all. But somehow he still chases girls, without doing anything. It doesn’t make any sense, because chasing girls is also ‘doing something’, so he can’t both do nothing and chase girls at the same time. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 24 '15 at 17:13
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    @chaslyfromUK But do is not an auxiliary verb in OP's example. It is not an emphatic do and it is not even a proform do. In "he does paintings" and "he does nothing" DO is a lexical verb, not an auxiliary. You're mixing two different types of DO it seems to me. No? – Araucaria - Not here any more. Jul 26 '15 at 11:08
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    @PressTilty In all of your examples DO is an auxiliary verb. In the OP's example, arguably it's a lexical verb. "He does paintings", "He does nothing", "He does housework". So the OP's question can be rephrased as Why does is CHASE in the plain form here given that it is not the complement of an auxiliary such as CAN or DO? – Araucaria - Not here any more. Jul 26 '15 at 11:15

When facts of language conflict with grammatical theories, the facts always win. In fact, your example "He does nothing but chase girls all day" is perfectly good English, as any English speaker can tell you. That's a fact. You have an interesting example here which seems to display some conflict between what grammar tells you should be the case and what actually is the case, and we should explore that. But we know in advance that the grammar must be wrong if it tells you something that conflicts with the facts.

I'll confess that I don't understand the grammar of your example, but I suspect it is based on the pseudo-cleft construction "What he does is chase girls all day", which has non-finite "chase" rather than finite "chases": *"What he does is chases girls all day long."

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I consider the original sentence as more informal English than formal English, and is not strictly correct. The 'but' in this sentence is special in that it can technically split the sentence into two. 'He chases girls all day' is a phrase in itself in this situation, and is the actual meaning of the sentence. The sentence is NOT intended to say 'He does chase girls all day' , which 'does' was added as an emphasis that he really did chased girls all day (emphasis was added to express the author's view that chasing girls all day is equivalent to doing nothing. But the sentence's meaning is different if 'nothing but' is removed). Therefore, I consider it more correct to use 'chases' instead of 'chase'. The 'does' in this case can only be interpreted as a part of 'does-nothing' as a sentence, but not as a case of auxiliary verbs though it may be technically acceptable to say so.

I disagree the two sentences by themselves are contradictory. The first sentence was said for its rhetorical effect. ("He does nothing at all. He just chases girls every day." 'Just' was added here, but it DOES reflect the true meaning of the original sentence.)

For those who consider this an appropriate use of do-auxiliary, consider this. In all normal uses of do auxiliaries, the sentence will not be able to stand on its own without a change in meaning if the actual verb is removed. But this is not true in the sentence of interest here. 'He does nothing all day' is a sentence in itself. Also, if a do-auxiliary is indeed what is going on here, replacing 'nothing but' with 'except' / other than should produce the same sentence, but it is clear that it would not be correct unless a gerund is used. Notice that "He does nothing other than/except this all day" are both valid sentences as well.

Notice how all of Azor's example did not have the 'but' conjunction word in it. In essence, the examples are different from what you have in your question. "He does nothing all day" is a valid sentence with a meaning. Whereas "He didn't her", or "He usually doesn't call", or "She doesn't take her lunch break." are either not sentences , or are sentences with COMPLETELY different meanings (i.e. they cannot stand on their own). So while his examples are correct, it does not apply to the sentence of interest of this post.

The way you can argue for a bare infinitive in this sentence is to see it constructed as "He does nothing but (this) all day". "This" in this case is "chasing girls all day" / "chase girls all day" (noun phrase). However, you don't use a gerund with 'but' generally, so a bare infinitive is used. However, this is really only 'borderline correct' and is generally not a very good way to say this. It gives the sentence an air or informality, and is seldom found is formal writing.

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  • It is definitely not correct to use a tensed form here. “He does nothing but chases girls all day” is completely ungrammatical. The original may be informal, but it is at least grammatical. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 13 '17 at 11:56
  • Yes, seen as two separate clauses, it’s grammatical (just nonsensical); but a comma would be indispensable for it to be parsed that way and avoid nothing but being taken as a constituent. (No, perhaps not an actual constituent; I don't think it is that. But a closely connected unit that is more closely bound internally than externally.) – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 13 '17 at 19:31

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