6

In the following two blog posts ("Illiteracy in Singapore - the Land Transport Authority" and "LTA's illiterate poster") the author accused the poster depicted below of being evidence of illiteracy in Singapore, which I take to mean that there's something grammatically incorrect with it. How so?

The second post actually includes a bit of a response to this question, but his explanation is quite confusing. The blog poster said it had nothing to do with the singular verb, or "the issue of concord" in his words.

Anyone knowledgeable enough about grammar to decode this chunk of text?

What makes the sentence ungrammatical is its utter meaninglessness. Since the copulative verb links the subject and the subject complement, the introduction of an unrelated clause in lieu of the subject complement renders the sentence an absurdity that has no meaning. One cannot ignore the grammatical function of the copula, The addition of a prop or dummy subject is of course one possibility that is available to a writer in a sea of possible variations.

"Queuing and giving way to alighting passengers is so thoughtful of you. Nice work!" is displayed on a billboard. Below it is the hashtag "#GiveWayGlenda" and the words "Land Transport Authority: We Keep Your World Moving". Above it are the words "Thoughtfulness: A Better Ride for You & Me"

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    Nothing ungrammatical about that sentence. – AmE speaker Sep 8 '17 at 2:50
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    Maybe the author doesn't like queues and prefers waiting in line... english.stackexchange.com/questions/84440/… and english.stackexchange.com/questions/321044/… – Mari-Lou A Sep 8 '17 at 18:31
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    Maybe he thinks "is" should be "are", since queuing and giving way to alighting passengers are two separate acts. But the poster could intend it as a combined action, then it's singular. – Barmar Sep 9 '17 at 1:20
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    Seeing the blog poster mentions "Alan and George works as a team" as another mistake, I assume they are referring to the idea that is should be are on this poster. But as @Barmar stated, it seems absolutely fine in this case. A simple case of a good bark up a wrong tree? – oerkelens Sep 11 '17 at 14:11
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    "What makes the sentence ungrammatical is its utter meaninglessness." Well, this is entirely wrong, notwithstanding that the sentence is completely meaningful. A sentence can be grammatical but nonsensical, take the classic Colorless green ideas sleep furiously. – Azor Ahai Sep 13 '17 at 22:15
7

Nothing wrong with that sentence, 'Queueing' here is a gerund, essentially a noun.

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/gerund

3

I would somewhat tentatively say that the sentence on the sign is grammatical. My own intuitions don't seem to give an entirely clear answer, but other people's intuitions and usage seem to support this kind of sentence.

I think the objection to the sentence "Queueing is so thoughtful of you" is based on an objection to the use of the structure "[verb]ing is (so) [adjective] of [someone]" to express the idea "It is (so) [adjective] of [someone] to [verb]". The structure starting with a gerund does seem to be grammatical according to the judgements of at least one linguist, but it sounded a little strange to me when I first thought about the sentence in your question, so it may not feel entirely natural for all English speakers. ("Queueing is so thoughtful" sounds OK to me. So it seems to me that the issue, if there is one, would be with the use of the prepositional phrase "of you" after "thoughtful" in this context.)

I found the following apparently parallel examples marked as grammatical in Adjectives and adjective complement constructions in English, a dissertation by Arlene Berman (1973):

(28) a. Burning the papers was clever of you
    b. Bringing wine was thoughtful of Mary
    c. Continuing to harp on the subject was wrong of you

(p 230)

"Wise-type adjectives" (like "wise of you")

I was led to Berman's dissertation because it was referenced in a paper specifically about the class of adjectives that behave like this: "Wise-type Adjective Constructions and the Uniformity Condition", by Shin Oshima. I wasn't able to find any examples in Oshima's paper that seemed directly relevant to your question, but it has some useful terminology and examples of other constructions that make use of adjectives like this.

Berman's judgements of related constructions

I think to understand Berman's examples better, it will help to look at some of the other things she says about this type of adjective. Actually, Berman's section on adjectives with of-NP complements starts out with examples of extraposed sentences of the type that I feel entirely comfortable with (and that I assume any English speaker would feel entirely comfortable with):

(24) a. It was clever of you to burn the papers
    b. It was thoughtful of Mary to bring wine
    c. It was wrong of you to continue harping on the subject

(p. 229)

Berman points out that sentences like "*It was clever of Max for his sister to do that" and "*It was clever of Max for him to do that" are not grammatical (p. 229). (However, note that Oshima says the latter construction may be possible in some dialects.)

Berman also judges the following sentences unacceptable::

(27) a. *To burn the papers was clever of you
    b. *To bring wine was thoughtful of Mary
    c. *To keep harping on the subject was wrong of you

(28 is the acceptability judgements given above for sentences starting with a gerund)

(29) a. *It was clever of you burning the papers
    b. *It was thoughtful of Mary bringing wine
    c. *It was wrong of you continuing to harp on the subject

and suggests that "It seems reasonable to assume that sentences like (28) are derived from sentences like (27), when Extraposition fails to apply.5" (p. 230).

Endnote 5 says:

This sort of alternation seems to exist more generally. I find, for example, the following:

(i) It was easy for Joe to do that
(ii) *To do that was easy for Joe
(iii) Doing that was easy for Joe

Bare infinitives in subject position seem to be quite restricted, although they are not wholly impossible. I have not examined the conditions under which they are and are not acceptable.

(p. 252)

I agree with Berman that bare infinitives are not wholly impossible as subjects. I'm not sure that I agree with her judgement that "To do that was easy for Joe" is unacceptable.

Berman also lists a few restrictions that seem to her to apply to this kind of adjective. The first of the following restrictions seems more obviously correct to me than the second. Berman notes that

While other subject-embedding adjectives allow the noun phrases in their prepositional complement to be questioned and relativized, this is not possible with sentences like (24):

(37) a. To whom is it clear that Max is wrong
    b. the man to whom it is clear that Max was wrong
(38) a. For whom is it easy to write a dissertation
    b. the man for whom it is easy to write a dissertation
(39) a. *Of whom was it stupid to do that
    b. *the man of whom it was stupid to do that

(p 233)

Berman has no explanation for these acceptability judgements, but I fully agree with them.

The next judgement seems more iffy to me: Berman feels that

adjectives with of-NP complements do not allow Tough-movement:

(40) a. *That document was careless of Jeb to burn
    b. *That was stupid of you to do

(p 233)

I don't feel certain that these sentences are grammatical for me, but "That was stupid of you to do" doesn't immediately seem unacceptable to me either. I found an example of it on the Internet (I don't know if it was written by a native English speaker):

The pisces men I know/knew (March 13-18th babies) are all fragile ego, sensitive as shit dudes. Don't tell him he's not behaving like a man, his brows look bushy in a picture, that was stupid of you to do because then his whole ego is thrown off; he doesn't wanna play anymore and he's taking his ball home with him.

(comment by Peachyvision, Apr 30, 2015; #18 in the thread "So do pisces men like to get cussed out and called names?", discussion in 'The Lipstick Alley Psychic Hotline' started by StayMadBishes, Apr 30, 2015)

Contexts where it sounds OK to me to use a "wise-type adjective" without a following to-infinitive

For me, "[adjective] of you" definitely works without a following to-infinitive when the subject is one of the following pronouns:

  • this or that (singular demonstratives)

  • which (as a singular inanimate relative pronoun)

Examples:

  • "That wasn't very nice of you."

  • "This is so thoughtful of you!"

  • "He helped me with my errands, which was thoughtful of him."

(It also sounds fine to me to use a quantifier before one of these pronouns, as in "All of this is very thoughtful of you.")

And it also sounds fine in exclamatory sentences with "How" at the start (I don't know enough syntax to know how these work):

  • "How silly of me."

(In some cases, at least when there is a to-infinitive, the "how" can be left out in similar sentences: "How stupid of them to leave it behind!" "Silly of me to forget about that.")

(Also, I don't know if these could be taken to be short versions of "How silly of me that was" or "How silly (?it was) of me to do that")

Other examples I have found of wise-type adjectives used without a to-infinitive (taken from the Internet)

With a plural verb:

John Lawler's answer to How does the to infinitive work with adjectives like “wrong” and “wise”? provides the example

For me to go home that day was wise (of me).

where the infinitive precedes rather than follows, but I don't know if that is intended to be a grammatical example sentence, or just an ungrammatical illustration of the theorized underlying structure of "It was wise of me to go home that day." (Another example is "It was wise (of me) (for me) to go home that day", which as I mentioned above is ungrammatical for most speakers when both "of me" and "for me" are included.)

Lists of "wise-type" adjectives

Berman gives a short list of adjectives that take of-NP complements: clever, stupid, idiotic, careless, wrong, brilliant, kind, nice, thoughtful (from (23), on p. 229).

Oshima mentions most of these, as well as a few more like foolish, good, wise (from (1), on p. 12).

I found another source that mentions "wise-type" adjectives, the SAL Taxonomy for English Adjectives, but none of the related texts that I found mention the "V-ing is [adjective] of [N]" structure specifically:

  • SAL Taxonomy for English Adjectives (PDF)

  • SAL Adjective Narratives

    This resource lists a number of other adjectives that act like "wise" and "thoughtful": audacious, astute, bestial, bold, brilliant, careless, childish, discriminatory, early, far-sighted, heroic, humane, impudent, intelligent, late, negligent, noble, perceptive, polite, provocative, reckless, rude, shrewd, undiplomatic, unprincipled

Works Cited

Berman, Arlene (1973). "Adjectives and Adjective Complement Con- structions in English.” Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard.

Oshima, Shin (1987). Wise-type Adjective Constructions and the Uniformity Condition." Kochi University Academic Research Report 36, Humanities

2

You have asked a thought-provoking question that shows your objective consideration of the author's opinions.

Although I am not at all well-versed with the technical terms that infest that author's paragraph, I am willing to interpret it as an objection to the use of a noun-clause "queuing and giving way to alighting passengers" as a subject, which he calls 'unrelated' because nowhere does it refer to the actual subject 'you' -- which is probably an overly pedantic opinion.

A crude and simple breakdown of the quoted sentence in its full form (not extracting the gerund 'queueing' out of its clause) would be [correct me if I am wrong]:

subject = queuing and giving way to alighting passengers (noun clause)

verb = is (linking verb)

object [more accurately, a 'state of being' because of the use of a linking verb] = so thoughtful of you.

What's not to like? It does not seem to be ungrammatical.

I assume that the most technically correct form of the sentence would be

It is so thoughtful of you to be queueing and giving way to alighting passengers.

The sentence in question is is just a simple reversal of this order:

(to be) queueing and giving way to alighting passengers is so thoughtful of you

and that by itself proves it is grammatical, the 'to be' having been dropped because implied and redundant -- but the author possibly thinks it is more correct [grammatical but non-standard, and sometimes an awkward construction] to say something that includes some form of 'you' in the subject clause, as for example:

Your queueing and giving way to alighting passengers is so thoughtful (of you)

which would certainly avoid his pernicious if possibly technically correct accusation of 'unrelated clause': this is the type of sentence construction sometimes chosen by non-native speakers or in dialects like Indian English and Singapore English, and possibly reflects the syntax of regional languages. The author seems determined that some form of or reference to 'you' should appear in the noun clause to avoid any suspicion of illiteracy, but any native speaker of English here at ELU will tell you that the 'your' can be acceptably dropped in common usage to say

Queueing and giving way to alighting passengers is so thoughtful of you.

Calling it illiteracy is a very excessive objection IMHO.

  • Thanks for posting an answer! I didn't try too hard to understand the use of the technical terms in the quoted paragraph because to me, it sounded like the author was bloviating to avoid admitting ignorance :) Your interpretation of what he meant by "unrelated clause" seems plausible. "Your queueing and giving way to alighting passengers is so thoughtful of you" is not quite a reversal of "It is so thoughtful of you to be queueing and giving way to alighting passengers." You've dropped the "to be", and adding the "your" creates an odd sense of redundancy in my opinion. – sumelic Sep 13 '17 at 21:37
  • "Your queueing and giving way to alighting passengers is so thoughtful" seems grammatical to me, but having "of you" at the end still sounds odd to me. – sumelic Sep 13 '17 at 21:37
  • This is the type of sentence construction sometimes chosen by non-native speakers or in dialects like Indian English and Singapore English, @sumelic. It possibly reflects the syntax of regional languages. The author seems determined that some form of 'you' should appear in the noun clause to avoid illiteracy. Hence 'your' has been used awkwardly to reflect the meaning of 'to be' -- as you know, it is quite unnecessary to do all of that and I have now edited this comment into my answer. – English Student Sep 13 '17 at 21:55
  • You are right about the reversal of order -- now improved the answer and examples based on your comments, @sumelic. – English Student Sep 13 '17 at 22:05
  • To my ear, the most natural sentence (I hesitate to say most grammatical) would be something like "It is so thoughtful of you to queue and give way; I believe the to-infinitive is more commonly used after an adjective than the continuous infinitive. This form of the sentence reminds me of Eliza Doolittle's practice sentence, "How kind of you to let me come." – 1006a Sep 14 '17 at 16:08
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+100

I might not have the prescriptivist grammarian credentials to best answer this question, but it is interesting, so here are my two cents.

The argument against "queueing is thoughtful of you" seems to rely on the idea that "[gerund] is [adjective] [preposition] you" is inherently wrong because the infinitive form should be used instead of a gerund.

It is thoughtful of you to queue

therefore

To queue is thoughtful of you.

But what about this counterexample:

It is good for you to run.

Running is good for you.

If being "grammatical" is connected at all to being idiomatic and observable in use, then "running is healthy for you" or "running is good for you" appear to be acceptable. The phrases are used with only trivial variations in The Guardian and in The New York Times.

For what it's worth, "running is good for you" also sounds idiomatic to these native ears and probably most others.

So what's the difference between "Running is good for you" and "Queueing is thoughtful of you?"

Syntactically speaking, both follow the "[gerund] is [adjective] [preposition] you" pattern. I can't see a reason why the OP's sentence in context would be particularly incorrect because it uses the word "of" and not "for."

Furthermore, it seems to me that a grammatically "wrong" sentence ought to be "wrong" all the time. Would this pair of sentences be incorrect?

Thank you for queueing. It was thoughtful of you.

If it is incorrect, then would this also be incorrect?

Thank you for hurrying. It was thoughtful of you.

The latter sentence seems to have an implied ellipsis:

Thank you for hurrying. It was thoughtful of you to hurry.

Yet the mere fact that the ellipsed phrase takes the infinitive form doesn't seem to render the sentences ungrammatical or not idiomatic.

Based on this line of reasoning, I see no problem with the sentence "Queueing is so thoughtful of you."

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    Thanks. Interesting comparison to the "adj. for you" construction. I agree that '[gerund] is adj. for you" is definitely grammatical. – sumelic Sep 13 '17 at 17:22
  • Maybe it is related to the following question: Difference between a gerund acting as subject and an infinitive acting as a subject?. Although, I wasn't particularly thinking of the possibility of using an infinitive as a subject ... to me, the "adj. of [NP]" construction sounds best with a dummy or pronominal subject and an infintive after the noun phrase. – sumelic Sep 13 '17 at 20:49
  • I just got to look through an older source relevant to this question, and updated my answer. While I don't think your answer is invalid by any means, I found some interesting examples indicating that "adjective for-NP" and "adjective of-NP" don't always behave alike, so I'm not sure how strong this kind of evidence is. Berman (1973) gives the following examples that contrast in grammaticality: "For whom is it easy to write a dissertation?" vs. "*Of whom was it stupid to do that?", and "the man for whom it is easy to write a dissertation" vs. "*the man of whom it was stupid to do that" – sumelic Nov 17 '17 at 5:18
1

The sentence is upbeat and friendly and grammatically correct. Compared to what I have seen in other Asian countries like misspelled English words on the backs of tee shirts and spelling and grammatical errors on instruction and safety signs, this billboard is written rather well. However, you said that one author accused the LTA of contributing to illiteracy in Singapore.

The reason it is difficult to understand what he is saying in his blog is that he is being too vague. From my understanding, he is talking about the link between the first part of the sentence, 'queueing and giving way to passengers' and the second part of the sentence, 'thoughtful of you', joined together by the copula (linking verb) 'is'. The first issue he has is not with the grammar, but with word choice. Thoughtful should be replaced with mindful.

thoughtful - absorbed in or involving thought

mindful - conscious or aware of something

We use thoughtful to described a situation where someone goes out of his way to do something in consideration of the feelings of others. We use mindful in a situation where someone is observing the rules or watching his manners. Therefore, because the LTA is addressing the need to observe the rules when getting on or off the train, 'mindful' is the appropriate choice and 'thoughtful' gives us that uneasy feeling that something is not quite right with the sentence, even if we understand what the LTA is trying to say.

Unfortunately, the blog writer is not only obscure in his meaning, but he also makes poor word choices as well, detracting from what otherwise would be a good point that he is making. First, he says that the sentence is meaningless, despite the fact that we clearly understand what the LTA means. What he intends to say is that writer choses a word with a meaning that does not fit the second half of the sentence. A thoughtful person does not queue or give way. A mindful person queues and gives way. Being thoughtful and giving way are unrelated in the opinion of the blogger.

Secondly, he talks about using a prop or dummy subject. He is suggesting that the sentence is written in an awkward manner and needs reworking, but from what I can tell in the short block of text posted above, he does not go into further explanation or give an example of how he thinks the LTA's message should be written. But I think he means that the subject should go at the beginning of the sentence, so that it reads:

'You are being thoughtful when you queue and give way to alighting passengers.'

When it is written as 'Queueing and giving way is...', 'queueing' and 'giving way' are gerunds acting as the subjects, but the real subject is 'you', while 'queueing' and 'giving way' are props or fakes, holding the place of the subject in the sentence.

The blogger is suggesting that in order to keep the integrity of the English language, it is important to teach learners of English as a second language the appropriate usage and meaning of words. It is also necessary to be mindful poorly written sentences. When displaying improper use of English publicly, rather than improve its citizens' English ability, the Singaporean government causes problems with learning English correctly. This is what the blogger refers to when he talks about illiteracy because ESL learners will, in turn, write poorly as a result.

References: Oxford Online Dictionary, nine years living and teaching English in Asia, China and Korea

(On a side note, I heard this word 'alight' for the first time on a train in China. We Americans say 'get off' or 'exit' the train.)

  • Thanks for posting an answer! I agree that the linked blog post is difficult to understand because of the vagueness. I'm not sure if the issue was with the choice of the word "thoughtful", as the author says that "It is so thoughtful of you to queue and give way to alighting passengers" would be fine. – sumelic Sep 18 '17 at 2:58
-5

Maybe queueing and not queuing?
Maybe this is the actual error.

From Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary:

queue verb [ I ] UK /kjuː/ US /kjuː/ UK US line, US line up, also UK queue up

2 to wait in a line of people, often to buy something:
Dozens of people were queueing up to get tickets.
We had to queue for three hours to get in.

informal to want very much to do something: [ + to infinitive ]
*There are thousands of young women queueing up to be models.*

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    Spelling is not grammar. – Andrew Leach Sep 13 '17 at 11:29
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    Yes of course. A typo is merely a typo. – Andrew Leach Sep 13 '17 at 11:36
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    There is a separate question about the spelling of "queu(e)ing". Based on the quoted paragraph in the question, I don't think the blog poster was objecting to the spelling--the author says "What makes the sentence ungrammatical is its utter meaninglessness." – sumelic Sep 13 '17 at 15:15
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    I agree with @sumelic here- if the author is claiming ungrammaticality due to meaninglessness then the author doesn’t understand what is covered by grammar. – Jim Sep 13 '17 at 16:39
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    I might also be biased by the fact that the author calls this actually complex English language dilemma "illiteracy" and how that makes me question just how absolutely high the author's bar for "literacy" is given that the vast majority of native English speakers would probably fall below this level of analysis and comprehension. This is absolutely notwithstanding the fact that the author could be completely wrong on this. – psosuna Sep 13 '17 at 17:31

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