I am currently disputing my eligibility to run for president of my college's Student Government. The grounds on which my opponents are seeking to exclude me from the ballot fall upon the following article of the Student Government Constitution:

Candidacy for the AS President, Vice President and Senate Representative shall be open only to those who currently or have held previously an elected or appointed Associate Student Government position in the Associated Students of **** College for at least one (1) semester or sixteen (16) weeks."

While I currently hold an appointed office, I have not held that office for more than 16 weeks.

My interpretation of the part "shall be open to those who currently or have held previously an elected or appointed position... for at least one semester or sixteen weeks" is that there are two avenues to eligibility: First, you can currently hold an office. Second, you could have previously held an office, as long as it was for 16 weeks or more. My opponents argue that the 16 week requirement applies to both current and previous officers.

So, what makes sense grammatically? My first instinct is that the entire article is grammatically flawed. If someone could tell me technically why it's flawed, this would be useful to me. My second instinct is that even if it is flawed, there is a compound avenue to candidacy. The presence of the words "currently" and "previously" seem to imply distinct natures of qualification. Additionally, how can I "currently" hold an office for 16 weeks? It doesn't seem like I can "hold an office for 16 weeks" in the present tense. My term limit is 16 weeks- does that mean that I presently hold an office for 16 weeks?

TLDR: (1) could you please evaluate the grammatical correctness of the following article: *Candidacy for the AS President, Vice President and Senate Representative shall be open only to those who currently or have held previously an elected or appointed Associate Student Government position in the Associated Students of **** College for at least one (1) semester or sixteen (16) weeks.*

(2) Does the above article seem to open candidacy to those who have previously held office for sixteen weeks or more OR currently hold an office, or do both current and former officers need to have served 16 weeks?

Thank you in advance for your responses. I look forward to hearing back


The grammar of the sentence is flawed and ambiguous.

... who currently or have held previously ...

It probably means "who currently or previously have held", that is:

... who currently have held such an office (i.e. have been holding such an office) for at least sixteen weeks or who have previously held such an office for at least sixteen weeks...

That could be simplified, of course, to "who have held", since the present perfect includes everything up to the present.

A "legal" ambiguity is whether the provision is enforced at a time earlier than election day or on election day. Is it a provision that determines whether you are a valid choice on election day or a provision that determines whether you can claim to be running for the office at all, weeks ahead of the election? If the former, candidacy is a status you can have (or acquire) up until voting is closed. Will you have held your office for the requisite length of time if every day up to election day is included in the tally?

P.S. We wouldn't say

... who currently or have worn previously a blue blazer

when our meaning is

... who are currently wearing or have previously worn a blue blazer

Dropping the tensed verb are wearing in the first half of that clause is ungrammatical. There is no verb in the second half of the clause that could be popped into the "gap" of such an ellipsis. However, I don't think this ungrammaticality has any real bearing on the issue. The question is, at what point do you count up the number of weeks? If you assumed a qualifying office sixteen weeks and one day before election-day for this new office for which you want to be a candidate, would you be permitted to run?

  • 1
    I agree the text is badly worded / ambiguous, but (to me at least) the "natural" interpretation is that made by OP's opponents ("minimum period in office" applies to current as well as past incumbents). The other interpretation seems inherently "perverse", so I'd expect whoever drafted the text to have gone out of their way to rephrase more carefully if they'd intended the "non-intuitive" sense to be understood. As to when that lower limit must be met, I'd say it's pretty open-and-shut that's on or before the date of appointment/voting, not some earlier time such as when applying. – FumbleFingers Mar 20 '19 at 14:17
  • @TRomano I appreciate your feedback. How, specifically, is the sentence flawed? I would like to be able to articulate my grammatical argument to the Student Judicial Review Board. – franklinm Mar 20 '19 at 15:00
  • @FumbleFingers Thanks for the response. Do you mind explaining why you believe the time at which the lower limit must be met is not at the time of application? This argument would be useful to me, as I would certainly have served 16 weeks by the time I would assume the position next fall. – franklinm Mar 20 '19 at 15:03
  • @franklinm: Well, technically speaking the text would appear to be "unambiguous" on that point, in that it refers to candidacy being open if the condition is met, so you're on a sticky wicket there if your opponents want to make their ruling based on a strict interpretation of the actual words used. But in the real world I'd say that's a rather "perverse" interpretation, and given the text has other flaws, as a disinterested outsider my inclination would be to go with what was probably intended, rather than the exact words as written. – FumbleFingers Mar 20 '19 at 15:10
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    So far as I can see, the only true "error" concerns those who currently or have held previously an elected ... position, which features a botched attempt to "delete" predictably repeated elements. It's supposed to be shortened from those who currently hold or have held previously... (with the stylistically awkward but syntactically valid repositioning of adverbial currently / previously from before to after the relevant verb). But honestly, you can't win arguments like this by appeals to (inherently subjective) ideas about "correct" syntax. – FumbleFingers Mar 20 '19 at 17:16

I agree with @TRomano's analysis that "currently or have held previously" is very poor phrasing, but it does not alter the fact that the natural reading of the text is that the time condition applies to both of the possibilities. The structure is clearly "Candidates who have done (x or y) for (required duration)", which means "candidates who have done X for required duration, or who have done Y for required duration."

In fact the attempt to pack the action options into the clause "currently or have held previously" reinforces this interpretation, as the only reasonable way to phrase it so that the duration applies to just the first option would be to say something along the lines of "who currently hold a position, or who have previously held one for (duration)".

In short, I think you're out of luck.

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