I came across this long sentence in a novel, and would like to analyze it grammatically:
"I spent [...] time racking my brains for gems of Philosophy [....] , but I have come up with nothing that you could not (and probably already) have found in Plato, Socrates and the pages of Punch Magazine"

I know what the speaker is trying to say.
Now, the whole sentence above (given as a reference for folks who would rightly want the whole context) is not necessary for my question here, so I left out some words and highlighted a sub-sentence, for simplicity. The relevant part is:
"I have come up with nothing that you could not (and probably already) have found in Plato"

With the double negative, what is the parallelism structure ?
I think there is something wrong here with the tenses because, it requires "could not have found" and "would not already have found". The original sentence does not have "would", and the parallelism seems improper.

  • 1
    Grammatical syllepsis is usually considered unacceptable ('He saw that car and it was getting late.') I'd say that this example gets close. I'd expect 'I have come up with nothing that you could not have found in Plato (and probably already have found in Plato).' Aug 4, 2016 at 10:24

2 Answers 2


The sentence is flawed, but it's a matter of "faulty parallelism", not the use of could, which is perfectly OK.

I have come up with nothing that you could not have found in Plato ...

This says that it would have been possible for you to find the things he came with by looking in Plato. That's not quite the same thing as

I have come up with nothing that you would not have found in Plato ...

which says that you would certainly have found the things he came up with.

What is wrong here is that double use of have:

      (could not        )
 you -(and              )- have found in Plato ...
      (probably already ) 

It is permissible to employ conjoined constituents on the left with a common consituent on the right

      (might  )
 you -(and    )- have found in Plato ...
      (should ) 

In some circumstances it is even permissible (albeit deplorable) to use this structure across constituent boundaries, as here, where the conjoint elements participate in two constituents, both a verb and preposition phrase:

      (point to  )
 you -(and       )- this passage in Plato ...
      (depend on ) 

But in this sentence the shared have does not play the same role with respect to both of the conjoint left elements. In you could have found it is the infinitive complement of could, but in probably have found it is the finite second-person singular auxiliary. This jumps out if we recast the sentence in third person:

      (could not        )
 he  -(and              )- *have found in Plato ...
      (probably already ) 

There the have must be has to agree with the second conjoint element.

  • Where does 'deplorable' lie along Quirk & Svartvik's totally acceptable ... totally unacceptable scale? Aug 4, 2016 at 10:30
  • 1
    @EdwinAshworth Somewhere around makes me froth at the mouth with rage. Aug 4, 2016 at 10:31
  • Ah, thanks for the nice explanation and the initial summary "The sentence is flawed" ; there was something nagging me ; I felt there was something wrong in the parallelism structure and the tenses. [[ Agreed, "could+would" is not the main issue here ]]
    – Prem
    Aug 4, 2016 at 10:40
  • @EdwinAshworth , I do not know about "deplorable" & "froth at the mouth" , but that sentence was "sufficiently wrong" , to make me post a question here !!!!
    – Prem
    Aug 4, 2016 at 10:48

Forgetting about "(and probably have)" for now:

There are things that you could have found in Plato (ie the works of Plato), if you'd looked (which most people have not, hence the hypothetical nature of the statement).

There are things that the author has come up with.

When you subtract the first set of things from the second set of things, you are left with nothing.

Adding "(and probably have)" makes it less hypothetical since the author is saying that we probably have all looked through the works of Plato.

  • thanks for the response. In the question, I did include "I know what the speaker is trying to say", and I am more interested in knowing if that sentence is grammatically correct. I feel, "could not" is ok for "have found", but "would not" is required for "already have found". The original sentence does not contain "would", hence it seems improper.
    – Prem
    Aug 4, 2016 at 10:05
  • @Prem Your question asks "... what is the parallelism structure?", but here you're saying that you simply want to know whether it is grammatically correct - which is a much simpler question (yes, it's grammatically correct). Can you please clarify what you are asking?
    – Lawrence
    Aug 4, 2016 at 10:08
  • "you could not have already found" is not ungrammatical. Aug 4, 2016 at 10:10
  • @Lawrence , my question is indeed about the structure. If that structure is correct, then the sentence is grammatically correct, but what is the structure here ?
    – Prem
    Aug 4, 2016 at 10:26
  • @Prem It's just the double-negative structure you've already identified.
    – Lawrence
    Aug 4, 2016 at 10:51

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