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I had a voice over where I was asked to record the following line in a script:

"Our small initiative turned into a sizeable movement with the support of influencers, who helped spread the word and get people to make a pledge by greenifying their Facebook profile pictures."

Since the sentence is in past tense, shouldn't "get" be "got"? It felt strange for me to use "get" instead of "got". When I raised the question, the copy writer said it's like saying: "who helped get people..." Now that sounds correct in that case. Thank you for anyone who can explain and clarify this for me.

  • Your copywriter seems to be right considering what influencers are supposed to do (whatever it means). They help spread the word, they help get people to make a pledge. – user140086 May 23 '16 at 14:55
  • Your copywriter had a point. There's nothing ungrammatical about using past tense "got", but it's less jarring if the coordinated complement clauses of past tense "helped" are both infinitivals: helped [spread the word] and [get people to make a pledge ...]. – BillJ May 23 '16 at 19:15
  • Your copywriter had a point. There's nothing ungrammatical about using past tense "got", but it's less jarring to have two coordinated infinitival clauses as catenative complements of "helped" rather than one catenative complement and one finite clause. – BillJ May 23 '16 at 19:55
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"Spread" and "get" are infinitives, so not in the present tense, and they should stay that way => to help + inf. Your sentence can indeed be read that way:

"who helped spread the word and helped get people to..."

  • "helped spread the word and get people to make a pledge" and "helped spread the word and got people to make a pledge" are both perfect English. They just mean different things. – Frank Sixteen May 23 '16 at 16:36
  • Indeed they do, but in this particular context and punctuation, the first one is the one intended. – MorganFR May 23 '16 at 18:32
  • Not if one is a rational and reasonable human being. Any brag is then always about something already achived, thus, the latter one is the only possible outcome. – Frank Sixteen May 23 '16 at 18:36
  • I would argue that it's up to the writer to tell me, the reader, what was meant: did he help spread the word and help get people to sign up, or did he help spread the word and also got people to sign up? Or would you say that he helped spread the word, getting people to sign up? Ah, language... :) – Prof Yaffle May 23 '16 at 18:58
  • @ProfYaffle, it's a good thing, then, that the OP in fact asked the writer what was meant and reported his response. Morgan's is the only plausible analysis I see that is consistent with that response. – PellMel May 23 '16 at 22:01
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Get and got both work here but require the sentence to be parsed differently.

What your copy-writer apparently intended was for the sentence to be parsed like this:

Our small initiative turned into a sizeable movement with the support of influencers, who helped
(a) spread the word
and [helped]
(b) get people to make a pledge by greenifying their Facebook profile pictures.

With this parsing, get is the correct form, namely a bare infinitive parallel to spread. In your first approach to the sentence, however, you succumbed to the temptation to parse it thus:

Our small initiative turned into a sizeable movement with the support of influencers, who
(a) helped spread the word
and [who]
(b) got people to make a pledge by greenifying their Facebook profile pictures.

With this second parsing, got would indeed be the correct form, namely a simple-past indicative parallel to helped. The copy-writer apparently did not intend this second parsing and failed to appreciate how tempting it is. This failure is thoroughly normal: when we have just recently written a sentence we know what we meant and parse accordingly, but a careful writer makes extra effort to assure that a reader will, on the first try, parse as intended (or as needed, which may not be exactly the same thing—more on that anon).

For this purpose, one good approach is to reread one’s sentence after the passage of some days, and so discover the trap by tripping on it, after which one can correct or defuse it. If time does not permit that, one may show the copy to someone else (such as a wonderfully intelligent voice-over person), pay attention to that person’s mis-parsings, and then reword so as to prevent them. Best of all, one should learn to reread one’s copy, however soon after writing it, as if one had never encountered it before.

The syntactic booby-trap in the present sentence could be defused by simply changing the bare infinitives to to infinitives (which are a little wordier but perfectly acceptable here) in order to make this less of a garden-path sentence:

Our small initiative turned into a sizeable movement with the support of influencers, who helped to spread the word and to get people to make a pledge by greenifying their Facebook profile pictures.

One disadvantage here, though, is the stacking of to-infinitives: to get people to make. That’s a bit ugly. But frankly I fail to see why your copy-writer’s intended parsing is in any way preferable to yours. To get people to do something and to help get people to do something are finally not very different in meaning. So why not just go with the second parsing and use got? Sometimes one’s reader, following the garden path, winds up with a better sentence than one originally intended, and the wise writer will humbly embrace that one.

  • Because it's less 'jarring' to the listener if the coordinated complements of "help" are both infinitival catenatives. – BillJ May 23 '16 at 19:23
  • @BillJ, but your proffered reason presupposes the first parsing, which is begging the question. – Brian Donovan May 23 '16 at 19:28
  • Not at all; I'm simply stating that I prefer a coordination of two infinitivals rather than one infinitival and one preterite. That contrast is the entire issue at hand. – BillJ May 23 '16 at 19:33
  • No one is coordinating an infinitival with a preterite here; with the second parsing, the parallelism is between two preterites, helped and got. – Brian Donovan May 23 '16 at 19:36
  • Sorry, I was being sloppy. The OP's preferred analysis is a coordination of two preterite VPs helped spread the word and got people to make .... But I prefer the coordination to be of two non-finite (catenative) complements of "helped", i.e. influencers helped [spread the word] and [get people to make ...]. – BillJ May 23 '16 at 20:16
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Since the sentence is in past tense, shouldn't "get" be "got"?

The word "got" is indeed the simple past tense of "to get", but you need to analyze the sentence a bit more deeply. How is "get" used there? In fact, it is the bare infinitive, as @MorganFR observed. Infinitives function as nouns, and do not change tense. The verb in the sentence is helped, which you will recognize is indeed in the past tense. The construction used means the same as "they helped spread the word, and they helped get people to greenify."

There is nevertheless some room for confusion: if there were a comma before the "and" then the rest of the sentence would be interpreted as an independent clause with an implied subject. In that case, "got" would be correct; the meaning would be the same as "they helped spread the word, and they got people to greenify."

That subtle difference is of particular import to a person such as yourself, who is in the business of recording voice overs. The version with the comma would ordinarily be read with a slight pause at the comma position, and the presence or absence of that pause will affect how listeners will perceive the second part of the sentence.

  • What a load of nonsense. The only thing that matters is what meaning you want to communicate. Are you refering to greenifying that happend before then past tense GOT is correct. On the other hand, if you're refering to upcomming greeifying GET is correct. – Frank Sixteen May 23 '16 at 15:52
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    Yet another very aggressive comment... Besides, PellMel is right. Grammar has rules. – MorganFR May 23 '16 at 15:53
  • PellMel has not even made a reasonable argument to support his point. Only some vague rant about how infinitives functions as nouns and some other crap that doesn't hold a root searching explanation. My argument is naked and extremely easy to undertand. I say it is all about what you are refering to. If you are refering to past time, then past tense. There is not a single angle to attack this argument. – Frank Sixteen May 23 '16 at 15:58
  • The sentence requires a past tense indeed, and that is exactly what is used: "helped spread". Moreover, if a verb follows "help", the infinitive form must be used. How is that for an angle? – MorganFR May 23 '16 at 16:01
  • "helped" is only refering to "spread". "Get" is refering to "make a pledge". They are two different things in the communication and both can have happend at different times. We cannot know that from the sentence if we do not agree upon what tense is used is telling something about when it happend or will happen. – Frank Sixteen May 23 '16 at 16:05

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