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Why is the following sentence wrong?

Usually we grow vegetables in our garden but this year we don't?

Since the simple present shows habitual behavior, can we show an exception to the habit also in the simple present? From my perspective, to say "this year we didn't, or this year we won't" makes perfect sense and sounds correct. I am looking to find a rule, or exception, that would make this clear for a student.

Is there a rule that makes this incorrect?

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  • Are you interested in a particular form of English (British English, Australian, American...)? Which particular verb are you asking about? You're saying "Why is it wrong" — what do you think (or what have you been told) is wrong?
    – Andrew Leach
    Feb 17, 2020 at 9:02
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    Since the simple present shows habitual behavior, can we show an exception to the habit also in the simple present? From my perspective, to say "this year we didn't, or this year we won't" makes perfect sense and sounds correct. I am looking to find a rule, or exception, that would make this clear for a student. Feb 17, 2020 at 9:09
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    @ThomasEnglish The funny thing is that it works with some verbs. Normally we like the coffee here, but today we don't is ok. But if you switch from "like" to "drink" or "enjoy" it doesn't sound right.
    – WS2
    Feb 17, 2020 at 9:35
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    It's not the right way to do it in American English, at least. The this year shifts it into present time rather than generic, and that's why this year we're not or this year we didn't or this year we haven't are all OK, even when they're not strictly parallel in structure, while *this year we don't is not. There's a difference between characterizing past events generically and describing present events in real time, and this is it. Active verbs in present tense form are not what you want to describe present time; use statives like like, or other constructions instead. Feb 17, 2020 at 15:28
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    @JohnLawler Thanks for coming to the rescue. As I said in a previous comment, nothing here is any different in Britain. "Active verbs in present tense form are no good for present continuous time", hits the nail on the head. But a stative verb would be ok, which is why Usually I understand, but today I don't, would work. Thanks John.
    – WS2
    Feb 17, 2020 at 18:08

3 Answers 3

1

The closest grammatical alternative would be:

"Usually we grow vegetables in our garden but this year we aren't"

Here, "aren't" implies "aren't growing them" or "aren't doing so" and is required as explained by @alphabet in point 4.

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  • No, the suggested sentence is of doubtful grammaticality. aren't can't govern grow, it would have to refer to growing which is not the form of the verb used. Usually we grow vegetables in our garden but this year we aren't growing them is entirely grammatical, but without the last two words the sentence is broken. Jul 15, 2023 at 6:43
  • It's ellipsis: the missing words are inferred by the reader based on the context. My suggestion works for a native speaker and is closest to the original, and I explain why this works. There are of course other ways of saying it that might be better, but these circumvent the original issue. For example, I would probably phrase it, "Usually we grow vegetables in our garden but not this year."
    – Simon
    Jul 17, 2023 at 11:09
1

It's not the right way to do it in American English, at least. The this year shifts it into present time rather than generic, and that's why this year we're not or this year we didn't or this year we haven't are all OK, even when they're not strictly parallel in structure, while *this year we don't is not.

There's a difference between characterizing past events generically and describing present events in real time, and this is it. Active verbs in present tense form are not what you want to describe present time; use statives like like, or other constructions instead. – John Lawler

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  • Ditto in the UK, though this year we're not doing or this year we haven't done would probably be used rather than the deleted versions. This year we didn't might just be preferred to the rather clumsy This year we didn't do. Jul 14, 2023 at 17:59
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Compare these three sentences:

  1. * This year we grow vegetables in our garden.
  2. Last year we grew vegetables in our garden.
  3. Next year we will grow vegetables in our garden.

Note that (2) and (3) are fine, but (1) is wrong in most contexts; you can't use the simple present to describe ongoing activities. You'd need to use the progressive:

  1. This year we are growing vegetables in our garden.

As you mention, though, you can use the simple present to describe regular or habitual activities:

  1. Every year we grow vegetables in our garden.

Now let's go back to your sentence:

Usually we grow vegetables in our garden but this year we don't.

"Usually we grow vegetables" is fine; it's the habitual use of the simple present, as in (5). But "this year we don't (grow vegetables)" is wrong; it's describing an ongoing activity, and the adjunct "this year" means it can't be interpreted as habitual either.

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  • Sentence #1 is not wrong and in some contexts is entirely appropriate. For example: "I'm sick and tired of growing flowers every year and losing money on them. This year we grow vegetables in our garden." May 15, 2023 at 16:35
  • @MarcInManhattan Fair point; this isn't an exhaustive list of the simple present rules, but it should suffice for the default interpretation of OP's question.
    – alphabet
    May 15, 2023 at 17:24

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