Does this make any sense?

I have been keeping ignoring you.

Besides that it sounds awkward, my Chinese buddy who knows more grammar rules than I care to list said that the phrase is grammatically correct. Can anyone tell me why?

  • Google keeping keeping on. My guess is that this is an eggcorn for the song lyrics "keep on keeping on". – Peter Shor Dec 8 '12 at 14:06
  • Why does your buddy say it's correct? – tylerharms Dec 8 '12 at 17:09

It's not really good English grammar. It does feel awkward, as has been noted. That's the giveaway, to a native speaker.

And of course nothing like this is treated in school grammars, because they're still talking about English as if it were Latin, with six tenses, two voices, three or four cases, and all sorts of other zombie phenomena. This educational deficiency afflicts both native speakers in Anglophone education, and foreign learners in ESL classes worldwide.

The reason it's ungrammatical is that it runs afoul of what Haj Ross called the Doubl-ing Constraint in his paper on the subject. (Unfortunately, ERIC doesn't have the full text of the paper available, for some bureaucratic reasons, but the link shows the abstract.)

The gist of this constraint is that under certain circumstances (which the paper spells out in detail), one can't use two present participles (-ing forms of a verb) together, with one governing the other.

I.e, the following are just out:

  • *Bill has been trying opening the door for a while.
  • *I advise watching painting the porch.

Even though comparable sentences without double -ing are fine:

  • Bill has been trying to open the door for a while.
  • Bill tried opening the door for a while.
  • I advise watching (them) painting the porch.
  • I'm gonna watch (them) painting the porch this time and see.

There is a lot of speculation about how and why this rule operates, but mostly it seems it just interferes with the parsing routines of many native speakers; i.e, it's a purely syntactic rule, totally unconscious and automatic, concerned solely with form, not meaning.

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  • Are the circumstances for constraint related to specific verb tenses? – tylerharms Dec 8 '12 at 18:20
  • No, not tenses. Tenses usually don't have anything to do with syntax, as long as a tense shows up where it's sposta be. The context for the constraint is more about constructions -- not all -ing forms work the same. We have a lot of uses for these forms. For instance, the constraint doesn't apply to derived nouns, so I've been teaching swimming for decades is fine, because swimming is a noun, not a participle. – John Lawler Dec 8 '12 at 18:39
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    Without access to the full text of Ross's paper I can't really know exactly what those "certain circumstances" are. But "He thinks I'm considering buying a car" is obviously fine, whereas "He suggests considering buying a car" is a no-no. So whatever "rule" is in play can't be to do with semantic complexity, since the first version is equally (or more) "layered" than the second. Does Ross's paper specifically cover why only one of those two works? And if so, is it reasonably easy to lay it out for the layman? – FumbleFingers Jan 25 '13 at 2:50
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    ...taking it just a little further, I find my "inner grammarian" is unable to come down firmly one way or the other on "Going to the showroom implies considering buying a car". It's English, Jim, but not as we know it. – FumbleFingers Jan 25 '13 at 2:54
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    It is learned from experience. And everyone does have a different grammar. And what sounds right to one person may not to another. You got it; that's all true, and presupposed. As for model theories, they're a dime a dozen; depends on what you want and what you have to train the automata with. – John Lawler Jan 25 '13 at 5:31

This doesn't seem to be correct grammar. The sentence in a normal present perfect continuos structure should be written something like:

I have been ignoring you.

I have kept ignoring you.

I have been keeping you busy...

Grammatically in a context like this, you cannot combine two progressive verbs, in this case keep and ignore, side by side as in this construction.

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