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Mr. X was cast as Inspector Y, despite not being able to speak English and had no idea what he was saying in the film.

 

Mr. X was cast as Inspector Y, despite not being able to speak English and having no idea what he was saying in the film.

Can someone please explain which of these two versions is grammatically correct, and why?

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The second version is correct, by the principle of parallelism.

Let's break down what this sentence is actually saying:

Mr X was cast as Inspector Y despite two facts: (1) he wasn't able to speak English; (2) he had no idea what he was saying in the film.

These two facts are parallel to each other, so they should have the same grammatical structure in the sentence, e.g. both being in the participle form as in your second quoted sentence.

  • That assumes that the two facts are the reason, but it may be that the second fact follows from the first, in which case "had" would be more appropriate. I would argue that the scenario I present is more common. – wfaulk Nov 15 '15 at 3:41
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Either is correct, but they mean slightly different things.

In counterpoint to rand's answer, it may be that the two facts are not parallel. If the second fact (that he didn't understand his dialogue) follows from the first fact (that he didn't speak English), the use of "had" makes more sense.

I would argue that this would be the more appropriate version of this sentence because the two facts are basically redundant when given as reasons he shouldn't have been cast.

  • The problem of the first example is there is no "subject" before "had". – user140086 Nov 15 '15 at 4:16
  • If there was a comma after "English" in the first example, you would be right :-) – Rand al'Thor Nov 15 '15 at 13:09
  • So @randal'thor simply inserting a comma after "English" would make the first example correct, whereas the second is correct when there's no comma? – Inquisitive Nov 15 '15 at 14:44
  • @Inquisitive Putting a comma after "English" in the first example would mean it was "Mr X was cast as Inspector Y" and "[he] had no idea what he was saying" that are the parallel structures. Personally I still think the second example would make more sense, but that's purely from a semantic point of view. – Rand al'Thor Nov 15 '15 at 15:00

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