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Is the following sentence grammatically correct?

I gave a hundred dollars to my father, and she did so to her father.

To me it sounds perfectly fine. According to the unscientific method of asking the ELU chatroom, one person agreed with me, one said it was awkward but acceptable, and one said it was obviously ungrammatical.

On the one hand, it breaks the usual "do so" rules given by Huddleston & Pullum (2002), since the prepositional phrase to my father is a complement of give. On the other hand, it seems considerably more acceptable than other violations of that rule. Is there a reason for this? Does it vary between dialects?

Edit: According to H&P, "do so" effectively refers back to the entire preceding verb phrase including all of its (non-subject) complements (see pp. 222-223, under "Anaphora," and p. 1530). So we would expect "she did so to her father" to be invalid; you shouldn't be able to add a new complement "to her father" to replace the existing "to my father." This only happens to complements licensed by the verb, which is why "I ate lunch at work, and she did so at home" is fine, whereas "I ate lunch and she did so dinner" is wrong.

Note that there are dialectal differences in the usage of do on its own; as H&P note, "I liked it now, but I didn't do then" is generally considered valid in British English but not in American English (p. 1524). But they don't note any similar differences with do so.

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  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here.
    – NVZ
    Commented Sep 23, 2023 at 7:53

7 Answers 7

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I guess I’m in the minority here but it sounds totally fine to me (USA, native speaker, South/East Coast). It’s clear to me from context what action “she” is performing: giving $100 to her father. If it had ended instead with “and she did so too,” then it would be ambiguous, unclear to whom she is giving $100, her father or your father. I probably wouldn’t include it in formal or creative writing as it’s not the prettiest sentence, but in conversational writing I think it’s totally comprehensible.

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    Really? It sounds ambiguous to me because it sounds as if it's the same $100 from the first half, but that interpretation doesn't sit right in the second. Commented Sep 17, 2023 at 12:13
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    It sounds OK to me. I think if it breaks any rule, it's a grammatical rule that's so obscure that native speakers wouldn't notice it. And even if it's ambiguous on its own (which I don't think it is once you think about it) being ambiguous doesn't render a sentence ungrammatical, it just means interpretation depends on context.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Sep 17, 2023 at 12:14
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    Vote counts aren't exactly science and the sample size here is tiny. But I think it's clear that a large percentage of speakers, and likely a majority, find the sentence acceptable. I'm still not sure why this is, but I'm comfortable with marking the question as answered.
    – alphabet
    Commented Sep 17, 2023 at 21:01
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    Yes, I think CGEL tried too hard on this one. Despite their calling themselves grammar descriptivists, they tried to make anaphora fit in with their adjunct/complement framework. Commented Sep 18, 2023 at 0:01
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    -1 Answers without a single shred of evidence other than 'because I said so' shouldn't be encouraged. Otherwise we could just turn this into a poll and be done with it.
    – DW256
    Commented Sep 18, 2023 at 0:15
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Too long for an comment, so an answer.

I find the meaning of the sentence clear enough, but would not use do so in this construction because there is insufficient connection between the doing so clause and the preceding clause. In the OP's example, I would say I gave a hundred dollars to my father, and so did she - to her father. This sort of issue was pointed out in TimR's answer.

In my experience, do so clauses must be in some sense driven by the preceding clause, as in I asked her to give the money away and she did so. You can weaken the resultative relation quite a bit, as in after I showed her that you can train a cat to walk on a leash, she tried to do so with hers. But I don't use do so clauses when merely pointing to parallel independent actions, which is how I read the OP's sentence. Confusingly, I have no such restriction on using so do clauses. I flew in for the wedding and so did she.

Whether this restriction exists across all of English I don't know, but if the sentence is thought to be ungrammatical, I reckon it would be for the above reason and not for the attending phrase that skews the strict anaphoric substitution. In a comment to another answer, DonQuiKong said -

The thing that makes this sound fine to some people seems to be that "to her father" modifies the preceding phrase. We therefore hear "I gave a hundred dollars to my father and so did she [give a 100 dollars to my father]" but the explicit change of the object of giving the 100 dollars is subsequently modifying (and overwriting) the object.

and I can't do any better than that. This seems to be a widespread practice in English - mutating an anaphoric reference by tagging with the new variant. I drove my Jeep to the wedding; as did she hers.

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  • I agree completely. It's really only because we don't often use did so in this manner, but that does not make it ungrammatical. Though it sounds awkward to me (Upper East Coast, US), it's perfectly understandable. I flew in for the wedding and Melanie did so as well. Easy to understand, but not as natural as your phrasing. Commented Sep 18, 2023 at 13:52
  • @anongoodnurse Well, I am upper East Coast, US too and to my highly attuned ear, it sounds wrong in terms of standard parlance". In "flew in for the wedding", "for the wedding" is not integral to the phrase; You can say: *I flew *in and Melanie did so too. The trick is the verb give and the prepositional phrase "to my father".
    – Lambie
    Commented Sep 18, 2023 at 17:28
  • @anongoodnurse Well, it might seem like a small random tree from over there, but it was in every major newspaper here, as well as on all the major news editions on all the tv channels. Here's the front page of the Daily Mail on September 29th [which I should triply underline, I never read]. Here's the front page of the Guardian. It was definitely an icon in the North East where I currently live. Commented Oct 31, 2023 at 19:13
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As I posted in the chat, "did so" [do so, does so] is anaphoric to the preceding action or active verb or verb phrase.

So, this: I gave a hundred dollars to my father, and she did so to her father. does not work in standard English.

Because "did so" replaces, as it were, the entire phrase: [I] gave a hundred dollars to my father. And not just "gave a hundred dollars". Ergo, it would have to be:

"I gave a hundred dollars to my father and so did she [give a 100 dollars to my father]."

If she gave the 100 dollars to her father in the same way I gave that to mine, it has to be:

"I gave a hundred dollars to my father and she gave a hundred dollars to hers." OR she gave the same amount to hers.

Please note: The auxiliary can change: She gave a hundred dollars to her father and so have I.

But again, it applies to the entire phrase, not just "gave a hundred dollars", which by the way would not make sense here.

But here it would: She gave a hundred dollars to charity and so have I. Or so should I, so will I etc.

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    Would "and she did likewise to her father" work for you? Commented Sep 17, 2023 at 2:18
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    Does She and I gave our fathers a hundred dollars each. also work? Commented Sep 17, 2023 at 4:28
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    I gave a hundred dollars to my father, and she to hers
    – minseong
    Commented Sep 17, 2023 at 7:01
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    The thing that makes this sound fine to some people seems to be that "to her father" modifies the preceding phrase. We therefore hear "I gave a hundred dollars to my father and so did she [give a 100 dollars to my father]" but the explicit change of the object of giving the 100 dollars is subsequently modifying (and overwriting) the object.
    – DonQuiKong
    Commented Sep 17, 2023 at 10:11
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    No, there is no "overwriting" of the object. That switch in object is what makes is ungrammatical. The did refers to the entire phrase: I gave a hundred dollars to my father. You can't switch out the object and have it be grammatical, sorry.
    – Lambie
    Commented Sep 17, 2023 at 17:44
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As usual, the only way to empirically prove it grammatical or even marginally acceptable would be to find similar usage in publications or consistent use by native speakers.

Searches for the string 'he/she did so to' turn up few results, none of which match the structure of the given sentence. This string should be common enough were it even marginally acceptable. So, it's either extremely rare, or as H&P state, ungrammatical, the two being largely equivalent in this case.

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    I'm not really sure you can draw that conclusion. As per the famous example "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously", syntactic acceptability is not the same thing as likelihood of occurring in actual use.
    – herisson
    Commented Sep 18, 2023 at 6:10
  • @herisson What conclusion? That it's vanishingly rare to non-existent? A string of nonsense that follows the rules of syntax is hardly comparable - here we have a string that is perfectly comprehensible, if we break the rules of syntax, which it appears no one is willing to get caught doing, but plenty of people are willing to opine about the acceptability of.
    – DW256
    Commented Sep 18, 2023 at 6:39
  • The conclusion that "This string should be common enough were it even marginally acceptable."
    – herisson
    Commented Sep 18, 2023 at 7:27
  • @herisson A crucial aspect of Chomsky's example is that those grammatical structures are correct and highly frequent (i.e. used all the time). The whole point is that although the sentence is allegedly meaningless we instantly recognise that it is grammatical. The verb give is a high frequency verb and so is a high frequency proform. DW256 is correct that we'd expect a huge number of hits for 'he did so to' or 'she did so to', in fact the words are so high frequency on their own that many corpora won't even let you run the query! Commented Sep 18, 2023 at 14:33
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    @Araucaria-Him: The argument "it is hard or impossible to find this usage in a corpus, so it must not be even marginally acceptable, even though a non-negligible amount of speakers explicitly judge it as acceptable" doesn't make sense to me because that's not what acceptability means. Acceptability is about how native speakers judge sentences that are presented to them, not about what kind of sentences they produce. You might argue that it is acceptable but ungrammatical...
    – herisson
    Commented Sep 18, 2023 at 18:52
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To my ear (AmE, mid-Atlantic), it's not only the implicit repetition of the complements that makes or breaks such a sentence with parallelism and did so, but the nature of the verb as well. I don't find the example in the question idiomatic. Here are some other examples that don't work for me:

*I wanted no ice in my drink and she did so in hers.

*I wanted no ice in my drink and she didn't so in hers.

*I wanted ice in my drink and she did so in hers.

But we could say it without so:

I wanted ice in my drink and she did in hers (too).

Strangely this works for my ear:

I reluctantly gave a generous tip to the inattentive waitperson at our table and she did so at hers.

I gave a generous tip to the attentive waitperson at our table and she did so at hers.

P.S. How about this one?

I had my shoes shined by the hotel staff and she did so hers.

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  • Unlike OP, your last couple of examples don't have at hers as a complement of the verb gave. So it's in line with CGEL.
    – JK2
    Commented Sep 16, 2023 at 12:24
  • @JK2: But what about "to the inattentive waitperson at our table"?
    – TimR
    Commented Sep 16, 2023 at 12:25
  • What about it? Note that to the inattentive waitperson is a complement of the verb, and that did so does include it.
    – JK2
    Commented Sep 16, 2023 at 12:29
  • @JK2: The bracketed phrase is considered non-integral to the complement? "gave ... to the inattentive waitperson [at our table]" That's merely a supplement of some kind? Is the attributive adjective inattentive also discarded?
    – TimR
    Commented Sep 16, 2023 at 12:34
  • Both at our table and at hers are what CGEL would call 'adjuncts'.
    – JK2
    Commented Sep 16, 2023 at 12:36
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It's understandable but awkward. I'd probably rewrite the phrase as "and she did so with her father as well" but personally I'd probably split into two sentences.

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"I gave a hundred dollars to my father, and she did so to her father"

There are very many natural, idiomatic ways of expressing this in English, and perhaps the closest to your sentence (if not the most elegant one) is

"I gave a hundred dollars to my father, and so did she --- to her father"

You can see the clumsiness, with the bit of information that she donated to her own father added as an afterthought.* The reason for this is that to give can take both a direct and an indirect object, and to do only a direct one.

But you raise an interesting point on a more fundamental level. To do here plays the same sort of stand-in role for a verbal expression that pronouns play for substantive ("noun-like") expressions - being shorter and avoiding tedious repetition of a detailed description already given. Once I have made it clear that I am telling you something about a guy named Johnny who blah blah blah, my next few sentences will refer to him as he, and I have the forms him and his at my disposal to fulfil all necessary grammatical roles. Apparently I do not have that full grammatical flexibility when I replace any verb by the "pro-verb" to do.


*) I stress that this is unusual phrasing, only for the sake of minimally altering your sentence. In a natural context this construction would only be used if there was some sort of joke involved, e.g. one would not have expected her to choose her own father as the beneficiary of her generosity.

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