After seeing completely insane examples of "and" usage in this question , I realized that I have no clue how to use the word "and" grammatically:

How far does the insanity go? Are the following grammatical?

  1. John is, and Sally hates, cooking.
  2. John has once ineptly, and Sally hates, cooked meat.
  3. Sally hates, and Michael said that John has ineptly, boiled vegetables.
  4. Sally, at the bakery, bought, and the makeup on her nose, cakes.

If 2 is grammatical, what does Sally hate exactly? If 3 is grammatical, does Sally hate boiled vegetables, or boiling vegetables? If 4 is grammatical, I'm going to cry.

This question is inspired by trying to incorporate "and" into a mechanical parsing of English, which, surprisingly, is a lot tougher than anything else.

  • 6
    This is syllepsis, and it's not strictly grammatical. Mar 16, 2012 at 12:10
  • 3
    Maybe grammaticality is not so clear cut as you hope it to be.
    – Mitch
    Mar 16, 2012 at 12:57
  • possible duplicate of Using verbs with multiple meanings I accidentally identified the wrong original in my closevote, so if you want to agree, make sure you pick this one. Mar 16, 2012 at 14:53
  • 4
    I don't really see how these examples are crazy uses of "and". Surely the craziness in syllepsis comes from overloading the verbs, not from "and"?
    – Marthaª
    Mar 16, 2012 at 15:50
  • 1
    @Mitch: The thing is, I consider this stuff insanely ungrammatical, but seems that people disagree.
    – Ron Maimon
    Mar 16, 2012 at 15:59

4 Answers 4


All of your examples, while not exactly nonsensical, are highly unusual. They all include words that are forced to display multiple incompatible meanings:

  1. The verb form is cooking, versus the noun cooking

  2. The verb form has cooked with the object meat, versus the noun phrase cooked meat

  3. The adjective boiled, versus the verb form has boiled

  4. The verb bought with the object cakes, versus the verb form cakes

The question you linked asks about who serving as both object and subject; this is allowable because the sense of the word who is preserved. Though it serves multiple grammatical functions in the sentence, it displays only one meaning.

Though all of your examples can be parsed, they are not natural constructions in any dialect of English, and no native speaker would regularly produce them. The problem is that this is a question not of syntax but of semantics. A parser that recognises statements such as these must allow terms not only to have multiple simultaneous meanings, but also to overlap one another.

  • A parser that recognizes these sentences has to establish the scope of the N different "and"s in the sentence and copy and paste the sentence into 2^n different acceptable sentences. This is the only way to parse "and" if this crap is allowed.
    – Ron Maimon
    Mar 16, 2012 at 16:05

At least one word in each example is shifting both in meaning and in part of speech. An author may employ this shift for stylistic effect, but the more complex the shifts, the more difficult it is to parse, and the less effective the play on words becomes.

I would be hard pressed to find someone who used such phrasing in conversational English. You will see simple examples in writing when authors are striving for parallelism or perhaps humor. For example, Alexander Pope writes in The Rape of the Lock:

There stands a structure of majestic frame,

Which from the neighb'ring Hampton takes its name. ...

Here thou, great Anna! whom three realms obey,

Dost sometimes counsel take— and sometimes tea.

To take counsel and to take tea are very different activities despite sharing the word take, but the meaning of take (to accept or consume) and the part of speech (verb) do not change. There is little chance of confusion, and the turn of phrase is deemed clever.

None of your examples, however, will be mistaken for the writings of Alexander Pope.

The first example may pass muster because it is short, with no modifiers, and while cooking is the main verb in the first part and the gerund object of hates in the second, it still refers to the same activity.

There is too much going on in the other examples to make any sense.

John had once ineptly, and Sally hates, cooked meat.

In the first part, had cooked is the verb with meat as its object, whereas in the second, hates is the verb and cooked meat the object. Perhaps some would read had as the first verb with cooked meat likewise its object, except that ineptly would not make sense. The third example has the identical ambiguity with regards to boiled vegetables, but simply adding Michael has adds enough complexity to make it difficult to parse. The fourth example, in which cakes is alternatively a verb and a noun and an already unnatural word order is interrupted with multiple commas, is quite unreadable.

  • Pope's example is less of a problem, because in "take sometimes counsel and sometimes tea", "sometimes counsel" and "sometimes tea" are the same (compound) part of speech. I was after ridiculousness like "You take, and this CD player, breaks too much."
    – Ron Maimon
    Mar 16, 2012 at 16:17

These are entertaining examples. They are all attempts at right node raising RNR constructions, but they all fail because they treat phrases as simply strings of words and ignore the structure of the phrases connected by "and". Almost all "and" constructions in English, including these, follow the same basic rule:

Conjunction rule: Phrases of the same syntactic category are connected with "and" in between (or among, if more than two), and the resulting phrase has the same category as each of the original phrases.

It is not obvious how this rule applies to give RNR constructions, but Gerald Gazdar showed how a simple, already known extension to phrase structure grammar covers the case of RNR. The extension, used in Categorial Grammar, is to represent a phrase as having category A/B when the phrase can be combined on its right with a phrase of category B to form a phrase of category A.

For instance, "in" and "around" both have category PP/NP (PP stands for Prepositional Phrase and NP stands for Noun Phrase). "the house" has category NP. I can combine "in" and "the house" to form a phrase "in the house", which will have the category PP, by the above scheme. PP/NP with NP yields PP. It is similar to the way fractions multiply together in elementary arithmetic.

But since "in" and "around" have the same category, PP/NP, by the above rule for conjunction, they can combine with "and" to form a new constituent "in and around" of the same category, PP/NP. And now "in and around", since it has this category, can combine on its right with "the house", a NP, and we derive "in and around the house" with category PP.

Or, we could have combined "in the house" and "around the house", both of category PP, by the conjunction rule, which gives "in the house and around the house" with category PP.

So that's how conjunction works in categorial grammar. To extend this to RNR, we need only to create phrases with category A/B by starting with a phrase with category A that ends with a constituent B by removing the B phrase from A.

I'll take a simple example similar to your first one, but one that works. "John loves cooking" is an S (standing for sentence) and it ends in a NP "cooking", so we can form a phrase by factoring out the last constituent: "John loves" is an S/NP, and similarly from the S "Mary hates cooking" we get "Mary hates", which is another S/NP.

"John loves" and "Mary hates" have the same category S/NP, so the rule for conjunction gives a new phrase "John loves and Mary hates" with category S/NP. A phrase with category S/NP combines on the right with a NP to form an S, and we know "cooking" is a NP, so we get "John loves and Mary hates cooking" with category S.

And that's Gazdar's theory of RNR. It's very simple, at least if you're familiar with phrase structure grammar.

Now, how about your example "John is and Mary hates cooking"? To treat that in parallel with the example I just gave, we'd have to factor out "cooking" from "John is cooking" to get "John is" with category S/NP. But that would only be possible if "cooking" were a NP, and it's not; it's the participle form of a verb. "John is" has the category S/Participle, and it cannot be conjoined with "Mary hates", a S/NP, because the categories S/Participle and S/NP are not the same.

PS: I've oversimplified, I see, for the last example. "John is a nice person" is grammatical and ends in a NP, and factoring that out, we'd conclude that "John is" does have category S/NP, contrary to what I said above. So apparently you have to take into account some more detail about the function of the NPs involved -- for instance, whether the NP is a direct object.

  • Having skimmed through the Wikipedia article, I see only one reference to Gazdar, which is one co-authored with Sag and Pullum. Could you add in where he developed this theory? It sounds interesting, and I’ve not read about it before. Jun 15, 2015 at 21:41
  • 1
    @JanusBahsJacquet The main reference is Gazdar, Gerald (1981), "Unbounded dependencies and coordinate structure", Linguistic Inquiry 12: 155–184. Gazdar's theory is incorporated into a more general (but notationally more complex) framework in GPSG, the book, by Gazdar, Klein, Pullum, and Sag.
    – Greg Lee
    Jun 15, 2015 at 21:53
  • Wikipedia has a brief entry for GPSG: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generalized_phrase_structure_grammar
    – Greg Lee
    Jun 15, 2015 at 21:59
  • Yes, this is exactly the point of the constructions, they violate RNR because the parts of speech change between the two reconstructed sentences. The last part of your answer where "John is" has category S/NP gives the sentence the interpretation that "John is cooking" not as a noun, but John is "cooking", as in John is being cooked (something which Sally naturally hates), or else John is "cooking", as in, John is a pile of food that has been cooked. I meant the verb interpretation, where the two phrases have wrong parts of speech, as you naturally interpreted it.
    – Ron Maimon
    Jul 12, 2015 at 2:31

Pope's example is not something to even be considered for this question. His was possibly a joke, a clever turn of phrase, an attention-getting mechanism, but above all, literary license from a man who clearly knows how to use the language properly. If he didn't, we might be unclear as to his meaning, but in the context of who he is, the full meaning can come through.

Your examples are hardly of that type. They are simply examples of trying to change the meaning of words in the middle of a sentence. Changing meaning and parts of speech means changing to completely different words despite the fact that they may be spelled the same and appear the same on the page. A word can have only one meaning in a sentence except in very unusual circumstances such as those Pope has earned himself the privilege of deciding.

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