In CGEL on p. 1317, we find the following analysis of the sentence

[1] [Beauty] [as well as love] is redemptive.

They note that the singular is signifies that as well as is here not a coordinator (like it is in e.g. [Abstraction] [as well as impressionism] were Russian inventions.). In fact, CGEL says that in [1],

as well as does not form a constituent. This is evident from the fact that as well can occur on its own: compare Beauty is redemptive and love is as well. In [1], then, the second as is a preposition taking the NP love as its complement, and the whole PP as love is an indirect complement in the AdvP as well as love.

This argument assumes that

[2] Beauty is redemptive and love is as well

is (for a lack of a better term---what is the right term, by the way?) a 'syntactic equivalent' of [1].

My question 1

Here is my initial attempt to formulate my question: what does the analysis used by CGEL say about

[3] ?He as well as they is going to L.A.

I'm putting the '?' because [3] sounds dubious to me. If [3] is to have any chance of being grammatical, as well as they must be interpretable as an AdvP (because if as well as is interpreted as a coordinator, then we need a plural verb: are going to L.A.). And if I'm following the reasoning in CGEL correctly, the AdvP interpretation would imply that [3] has the following 'syntactic equivalent':

[4] He is going to L.A. and they are as well.

This case is different from the one in CGEL because in [1], both beauty and love are singular, and so in the 'syntactic equivalent' [2] they both get the same (singular) form of the verb. In contrast, in [3] he is singular, but they is plural. So in [4] we must have the singular is for he, but the plural are for they. Given this difference, can we still say that [4] is a 'syntactic equivalent' of [3]? What is it that really matters when making this sort of an argument?

My question 2

What I would really want to do is present the following argument.

  1. [4] is obviously grammatical.
  2. [3] is a 'syntactic equivalent' of [4].
  3. Therefore, [3] is grammatical.

I suspect that the answer is no---that there is no way to use grammar to predict whether some tricky sentence is grammatical or not. I would think that all you can do is this: once you already know (from analyzing corpora etc.) whether something is grammatical, then you can show that the reason for it being grammatical or not is that it does or doesn't conform to some rule of grammar. But 'rules of grammar' cannot help you with controversial cases. The only way is to know whether a controversial case is grammatical is to ask (a lot of) native speakers whether it sounds acceptable to them or not.

Is that correct?


To summarize, my questions are:

A. Is [3], in fact, grammatical?

B. In general, does the type of argument I presented above (1.-2.-3. in My question 2) work? In general, is that a legitimate way to argue that something is grammatical? (Let's assume there are no idiomatic expressions 'anywhere near', i.e. that there are no relevant idioms that could complicate matters.)

C. This question is about whether it matters that both is and are are present in [4], but only is is present in [3]. Here I'm not really asking about the particular sentences [3] and [4], but rather about whether, when making the type of argument CGEL makes when it analyzes [1] with the help of [2], it would matter if the form of the verb in the 'syntactic equivalent' changes. Imagine there is a sentence kind of like [3], but indisputably grammatical, and also a corresponding sentence like [4]. Suppose that in the latter sentence there are both is and are, whereas in the former, there is only is. Does this fact, in and of itself, make it impossible to use the latter sentence for the purpose of syntactic analysis of the former (such as finding out whether something is a constituent of the former)? To put it another way: even if [3] isn't grammatical, imagine it were. Could in that case one use [4] to argue that as well as isn't a constituent of [3]? Or would this argument be invalidated by the fact that both is and are are present in [4], whereas only is is present in [3]?

2 Answers 2


The sentence

[1] Beauty as well as love is redemptive

is not the syntactic equivalent of

[2] Beauty is redemptive and love is as well.

As CGEL points out, sentence 1 is a single clause

NP (Subject) + AdvP + Copular V + Adjective (Predicate Comp)

Sentence 2 is a doubled compound clause in which the first component is

[1a] NP (Subj) + Copular V + Adjective (Predicate Comp)

and the second is

[1b] NP (Subj) + Copular V + Adverbial PP

1 and 2 are semantic equivalents, not syntactic. I would say that

[3a] He, as well as they, is going to L.A.

is an example of syllepsis, a construction in which one word is understood to be associated with two syntactic elements in a way that would not be acceptable for one of the elements standing alone. For example, the following would be acceptable:

He sticks to his story; I, to mine

even though sticks is the wrong person for use with I.

In 3a, the one word is is, the two elements are He and they, and the unacceptable parse is they is going. I inserted the commas to indicate how someone would parse the sentence upon hearing it. A parallel explanation can be constructed for

[3b] He as well as, they are going to L.A.

The one word is now are, the two syntactic elements are still He and they, and the forbidden standalone element is He are going. The reason this sounds wrong is that the attraction of the third person plural personal pronoun to its verb are is likely to lead a listener down the garden path parse indicated by the comma in 3b.

  • Thanks for the answer. I have several questions, but I'll start with this one: why is it legitimate to use [2] to analyze what is and what isn't a constituent of [1]? Commented Apr 9, 2016 at 23:27
  • Also, how should one describe the relation between [1] and [2]? You say that 'syntactic equivalence' is too strong. But 'semantic equivalence' is too weak, because I can construct semantically equivalent sentences whose syntax is so different that they cannot be used to analyze one another syntactically. So [2] is not only semantically equivalent to [1]; it is also somehow closely syntactically related in just the right way. Is there a term for such a relation? Commented Apr 9, 2016 at 23:27
  • Finally (for now): is [3] gramamtical as written, without the commas? Commented Apr 9, 2016 at 23:29
  • Let me try to make the question in my first comment at least a bit more specific---I know it's awfully broad at the moment: assuming [3] is grammatical, is it legitimate to use [4] to analyze what is and what isn't a constituent of [3]? Apparently, the sudden appearance of are does not make such analysis illegitimate. But what sorts of things would make it illegitimate? What is it that really matters? Commented Apr 9, 2016 at 23:38
  • @linguisticturn why is it legitimate to use [2] to analyze what is and what isn't a constituent of [1]? The claim is that as well as in [1] isn't a constituent, i.e., a coherent syntactic unit, and the evidence for this is that in [2] as well stands alone as a constituent. In fact, it has the same meaning in both [1] and [2], i.e. and additionally.
    – deadrat
    Commented Apr 10, 2016 at 0:34

A. No (matter of fact); B. No (confuses fact and theory); C. I don't understand the question.

When I need to be careful, I understand acceptability to be a matter of fact -- how naive native speakers judge sentences -- and grammaticality to be a matter of theory -- what does a given grammatical theory predict about acceptability. This is partially in agreement with what Chomsky proposed in Aspects of the Theory of Syntax, when he says that grammatical means "generated by a given grammar". Grammars are (often incorrect) theories of a language.

(Since others don't usually use "grammatical" in this sense, and I don't always need to be careful, I often use "grammatical" to characterize facts, just for the sake of communicating. Often, people don't seem to distinguish between fact and theory.)

For your question B., you start with a matter of fact (which should read "[4] is obviously acceptable"), use a theory to derive 2., then draw a theoretical conclusion in 3.

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