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I’m trying to shorten some of the sentences in my work and this sentence came across:

“You must not sit when your superior is standing.”

Is it grammatically correct to substitute with:

“You must not sit when your superior is not” ([Not sitting])?

In both cases the second clauses are in continuous form, so I maintained that. Couldn’t find any examples online, but I’m sure I’ve seen it used somewhere.

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  • Is 5 characters worth it? – bruglesco Jan 2 at 21:21
  • @bruglesco Lol. Good point. Let me rephrase, “I’m trying out new forms in my writing.” – Simon S Jan 2 at 21:35
  • I personally wouldn't. Not sure if it is grammatically correct or not but it saves no significant space and is harder to understand. The first sentence also sounds less harsh. partly because it is phrased without the negation. – bruglesco Jan 2 at 21:41
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    If your goal is more elegant writing, it's never a good idea to make the audience do extra work. In this case the extra work is changing the verb form of an elided word. So, regardless of whether the grammar is correct, I would advise against it, even though it is easy to understand and unambiguous. Elegant writing is almost always about reducing the audience's work, not increasing it. – Chris Sunami Jan 2 at 21:47
  • You must not sit if your "superior" is not really superior after all?? – Hot Licks Jan 2 at 22:48
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As J.G. says, no you cannot drop the current participle. For a direct comparison to be implied, you need to use the same verb (either "to sit" or "to be sitting") for both subjects, e.g.:

“You must not sit when your superior does not”

or

“You must not be seated when your superior is not”

Personally, though comes across as quite formal, I would phrase it as:

“You must not sit while your superior stands”

  • If you transpose the example @JG used with your first alternative, how can you say "You must not enter when your superior does not" when your superior has already entered some time prior? – Chris Rogers Jan 3 at 0:12
  • “You must not sit while your superior stands” seems the best answer here, though @jg broigjt up a good point about a character’s speech idiosyncrasy, hence the upvote. The main takeaway I got from the discussion—don’t mix simple and continuous tenses in this example. Thank you all! – Simon S Jan 4 at 19:03
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The grammar answer is: no, you may not, just as you can't say, "You must not enter when you superior is not" (to mean they haven't entered yet). You can't pair "is not" with an imperative verb as if it's its own past participle.

The authorial answer is: if it's the words of a character for whom such an idiosyncratic speech style would be typical, or even character-defining, it might make sense. Just bear in mind any such effort has to inculcate an attitude in readers you're happy with them having. In this case, that attitude would be, "this person's hard to parse". Only beta readers can tell you whether this makes the character less sympathetic, but maybe it's a character for whom that's not a problem.

Note: the second paragraph was for the benefit of writers, as at the time of posting this question appeared on writing.se.

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To add to the answer from @JG, if you are looking for alternative forms within your writing, instead you could use

You must not be sitting when your superior is not

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You could also consider framing it in the affirmative or positive voice with "You should stand when your superior does so", or "As your superior sits or stands, you should do likewise." It speaks to the tone you are trying to convey...

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I would simply say: "You shouldn't sit while your superior is standing." I think it's the least awkward and best sounding way to say what you mean.

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