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I'd like to write a sentence with the following "logical structure":

                        I
                        ' 
                       can 
            ,-----------'-------------,
          play                      speak
   ,-------'------,                   ,
the piano     the guitar           Russian

and I need to convey the three bits of information in this particular order (can-play-piano, can-play-guitar, can-speak-Russian).

Which of those options would be grammatical?

  1. I can play the piano, the guitar and speak Russian
  2. I can play the piano and the guitar and speak Russian

The first version avoids the repeated "and", but it also lacks a coordinating conjunction between the two elements under "play", that are now only separated by a comma. Conversely, the second version correctly marks each pair of equal syntactical value (piano-guitar; play-speak) with a conjunction, but it has two "and" in a row which may be perceived as heavy writing.

(I know the sentence could be rephrased, but please focus on the two options I gave: do they both sound good? or bad? or does just one?)

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  • Personally I would either use two sentences giving "I can play the piano and the guitar. I can also speak Russian" or I would invert the sentence so that the single language skill comes first so you get "I can speak Russian, I can also play the piano and the guitar". Doing either of these separates the two, unrelated, sets of skills in a way that ordering them the other way in one sentence does not.
    – BoldBen
    Commented Dec 3, 2020 at 6:38

1 Answer 1

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  1. suggests that {I can play} the piano, the guitar, speak Russian. It is as if speak Russian were a noun phrase, the object of play. This makes no sense.

  2. {I} can play the piano and the guitar is one concept saying what {I} can do. The added concept that {I} can speak Russian is a second concept of equal status, so needs to be separated by a comma: {I} can play the piano and the guitar, and speak Russian

The second version is therefore acceptable with the addition of the comma.

I have used {} to indicate the common links to the italicized concepts. Apologies if this seems a little awkward.

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