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I want to use the following line in a poem: "Will he roll the dice, and follow it to Vegas?"

A couple of things to note; firstly, obviously I'm using "roll the dice" in both a figurative/idiomatic sense (as in taking a risk), and in a somewhat more literal sense (painting the image of the person actually following the dice that have been rolled to Las Vegas). That being said, my confusion here is if I can get away with using "follow it" or if I need to say "follow them" .... As I've read online "dice" traditionally refers to more than one die (i.e., the plural of die), but in the modern usage, "dice" can also be used to refer to the singular (i.e., just one die).

So, it seems like if I was referring to the image of just one die, then the way I phrased it could be correct. However, the image I'm trying to paint is the one usually associated with the phrase "roll the dice" (i.e., rolling two dice)...

So could "follow it" still be considered acceptable in this sense... or would I need to use "follow them"?... And if not referring to the dice themselves, could using, could the "it" be taken to refer to the act of rolling the dice, or would that not work either? Thanks so much in advance!!

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    The key point here should be the roll of the dice (not the act of rolling the dice), when following it to Vegas. It better expresses the concept of progression: 1) Roll the dice, then 2) follow the roll of the dice (it), 3) to Vegas. The Roll of course is singular. So follow it (rather than follow them). – Bread Apr 7 '18 at 1:09
  • Hey Bread, thanks so much. That makes sense to me. I would very much prefer to use "it" instead of "them", as when spoken in the poem "it" sounds much better than "them" from an aesthetic standpoint ... but even if I intend to have "it" refer to the roll of the dice, I'm not sure that's implied given the sentence structure... are you sure this is grammatically correct to do? thanks! – FastBallooningHead Apr 8 '18 at 0:30
  • Wow... paragraphs help understanding this... When I read this, I had no issue with what you wanted. Again, with clarity of formatting, I agree this is borderline and would be best on English.SE... It flows well, has a cool image and rythm, so ride it Baby... Ride it all the way to Vegas... – JP Chapleau Apr 9 '18 at 12:55
  • Roll is clearly functioning as a verb in the sentence. So since it's not a noun you can't follow it anywhere. Shall I show my boobs, and follow it to Wigan? Show is a noun sometimes, like when it must go on - but not here. I'm a pedant on die/dice, but I think in a poem you get the benefit of the doubt. – Bloke Down The Pub Dec 25 '18 at 19:09
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It's more grammatically correct to use 'them' as 'dice' can be plural, but I will say that initially the line doesn't seem wrong so you probably could get away with using 'it'.

Also, the 'it'/'them' would refer to the actual dice, not the act of rolling them.

  • Hey Adi219, thanks for your response. "It" didn't seem wrong to me at first glance either, and it sounds much better than "them" when read in the poem... so I think I may go with "it"... – FastBallooningHead Apr 8 '18 at 0:34
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There are several issues with this sentence.

As a standalone sentence, it is ungrammatical---and probably meaningless. (There is a difference.) This can be seen by expanding the pronoun "it" to each of the possible subjects it could be referring to.

(1) The dice roll. Although the dice roll is singular, and "it" is the matching pronoun for that, it would be wrong to use it as written because there are two subjects in the sentence: the dice roll and the dice themselves. When you use a pronoun, it is generally assumed to refer to the most recently used subject---barring a broader context. When it doesn't, it leads to confusion. Here, if "it" is supposed to refer to the action of rolling the dice, then replace the pronoun with the actual action to make it clear.

Will he roll the dice, and follow the dice roll to Vegas?

But there is another problem. The dice roll can't, itself, go to Vegas---and, so, it can't be followed there. For additional clarity, the sentence would need further rephrasing:

Will he roll the dice, and follow this with a trip to Vegas?

Or, more simply and perhaps better:

Will he roll the dice and go to Vegas?

(2) The dice. This is plural, so the pronoun needs to be plural.

Will he roll the dice, and follow them to Vegas?

The sentence is now grammatically correct. However, unless it describes something taking place in a fantasy setting, what it describes is "meaningless" because the dice are not going to jump off the table and travel to Vegas---and then be followed. This is the same problem as in the first interpretation, except that, here, there is no possibility of rephrasing it in such a way that it makes sense.

But the sentence exists in a larger context. Depending on the sentence that comes before it, it could be grammatically correct:

The stolen car now leaves Boulder City, travelling northwest. Will he roll the dice, and follow it to Vegas?

In this case, because of how we process information, the pronoun "it" is assumed to refer not to the dice (or to the dice roll) but to the stolen car.

But you mention that this is a poem. Poetry has a lot more leeway than regular fiction when it comes to grammar. Many poems deliberately break rules of grammar. (I think that's where the term "poetic license" comes from.) Even if the sentence is ungrammatical, it isn't necessarily wrong. You just need to be aware of the effect you want.

A final comment. Unless the comma is needed because of how the rest of the lines of the poem are punctuated, I would remove it. It's not technically wrong, but whatever sentence you end up with would read more naturally without it. (In my "simply and perhaps better" example I didn't use a comma.)

  • Thanks Jason! I should provide more context... I think maybe the "it" makes more sense in the broader context of the poem. I had previously listed all the dreams "he" wanted to chase to Vegas, but he was scared to do so.... so by "it" I wanted to simultaneously refer to the roll of the dice and his dreams (taking the risk to follow his dreams) and the actual dice... and if I use "they", it's more grammatically correct, but I think it loses the first of the two meanings I was trying to convey... so, as you suggest as possible, I think using "it" and claiming artistic license is the way to go – FastBallooningHead Apr 8 '18 at 16:36
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I would say you indeed should use them.

To begin with, according to OED,

The form dice (used as pl. and sing.) is of much more frequent occurrence in gaming and related senses than the singular die.

Thus, when you use it, the reader will naturally assume that the antecedent of that pronoun must be the nearest preceding singular noun phrase (NP) denoting an inanimate object. And since dice appears in the preceding clause, it will be natural to interpret it as that singular NP, since (a) it is indeed an appropriate candidate (because it can be interpreted as being in the singular) and (b) no other appropriate candidate appears explicitly in the preceding clause.

The noun roll does not appear at all in your sentence, and so a roll of the dice is not the first thing one would associate with it... not when a suitable NP antecedent does appear explicitly.

Worse still, consider

[1] ?Will he roll his two dice, and follow it to Vegas?

I think [1] is at best of marginal acceptability. Despite the fact that his two dice clearly cannot be an antecedent for it, there does not seem to be anything in [1] that could serve as an antecedent for it. If you say 'oh, I meant for it to refer to the roll of the dice', the natural response will be that this is kind of awkward and that you had better rewritten [1] so that roll of the dice actually appears in the sentence.

So, my two cents: to accomplish what you want to accomplish, you need to use them.

  • hey linguisticturn, thanks for your response. That all makes sense.... But "them" just sounds far less aesthetically pleasing when read in the poem (compared to "it")... what are your thoughts on Bread's comment above? – FastBallooningHead Apr 8 '18 at 0:32
  • @FastBallooningHead I'm not sure I understand everything that Bread is saying. At least one part of what he's saying seems to be that it will be more effective if you write things so that it refers to a/the roll of the dice rather than a/the act of rolling the dice. That much I agree with. However, he seems to be implying that if you keep the sentence as you have it, with it, then this is in fact what you are accomplishing, so your sentence (with it) is OK as it is and does exactly what you want as it is. I don't agree with this second part, and the reason is [1] in my answer. – linguisticturn Apr 8 '18 at 0:56
  • @FastBallooningHead Or, at least, this is what I think when it comes to standard prose. Poetry might be different; all kinds of licenses and special effects are acceptable there. But here I feel we are really crossing into Writing StackExchange territory. – linguisticturn Apr 8 '18 at 1:00
  • Thanks linguisticturn, much appreciated. I'll check on Writing SE also! – FastBallooningHead Apr 8 '18 at 1:01
  • @FastBallooningHead :) Good luck! But do ask on writing StackExchange. I am really not a connoisseur of poetry, and things really could be different for poems. – linguisticturn Apr 8 '18 at 1:04

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