Too many choices

swim    have a swim    go for a swim    go swimming     go to swim

In recent post, I discussed V and have a N, specifically argue and have an argument. In a comment, I added go for a swim. Later, I also thought of go swimming and go to swim.

In general, the first four seem to be interchangeable, but the last may have a different nuance.

I swam    I had a swim    I went for a swim    I went swimming    I went to swim 

The first four entail that I did actually swim. The last doesn’t (automatically): I went (somewhere) with the intention of swimming. In fact, the third might also mean that I didn’t swim. I can think of a difference between We went-for-a-swim and We went (to the beach) for a swim(, but it was closed because of coronavirus restrictions). 

Consider also:

I swam at the Olympics    I had a swim at the Olympics    I went for a swim at the Olympics    I went swimming at the Olympics     I went to swim at the Olympics 

The first definitely means that I was a competitor. The fifth might mean that. The others probably mean that I was a casual swimmer. This difference probably has more to do with the requirements of swim at the Olympics, compare I sang at the Olympics. (True: I was in the massed choir for the opening ceremony.)

I haven’t been able to find go for a swim in the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Have a swim is a light verb construction, and go swimming and go to swim are catenative verb constructions, but what is go for a swim? It has some similarities with both, and is obviously a unit of meaning by itself; compare I went for a pizza. The indexes don’t help. I looked under go, for and swim, and the grammatical index doesn’t really help unless you already know what a construction is called (and GCEL often calls things by different names than everyone else). Maybe I’ll let serendipity guide me to the correct entry.


Shall I compare thee?

Person A has $20 million. Person B has $19 million.

1) A is rich
2) A is not poor
3) A is richer than B
4) A is more poor than B
5) A is less poor than B
6) A is not poorer than B
7) A is no poorer than B
8) A is not as poor as B
9) B is rich
10) B is not poor
11) B is poorer than A
12) B is more poor than A
13) B is less rich than A
14) B is not richer than A
15) B is no richer than A
16) B is not as rich as A 

(PS I later thought of A is the richer of the two, and I’m sure there’s more.)

At this point my brain started asploding. I have little chance of explaining the nuances of all these, but as a native speaker I instantly understand them when I hear or read them, and have no hesitation in using the right one in the right context. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language has sections on ‘Equivalences and entailments’ and ‘Relative infrequency of comparisons of inferiority’, which cover some of this ground. Clearly, 1), 3), 9), 11) and 16) are the most standard. All the others are recorded, but Google Ngrams doesn’t give any context.

Similar comments apply to old/young and tall/short. 

Things are even more complicated with hot/warm/cool/cold, even taking just -er and -est. 

Location A is 35 degrees (centigrade). Location B is 25 degrees. Location C is 15 degrees. Location D is 5 degrees.

A is hot, hotter than the other places and the hottest place of the four.
B is warm. It is warmer than C and D, but also hotter than C and D. It is cooler than A, might be colder than A but it’s not *warmer than A. It’s not *the warmest place of the four.
C is cool. It is warmer than D, but it sounds strange to say that it’s hotter than D, and it’s not *cooler than D. It’s cooler and colder than B, and ?cooler and colder than A. It’s not the coolest place of the four. 
D is cold. It is colder than the other places and might be cooler than C, but it sounds strange to say that it’s cooler than A or B. It’s the coldest place of the four. 

its – part 2

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I’d found an example of its being used as an independent genitive pronoun, something like “I ate my food and the cat ate its”. I didn’t bookmark the page, so had to lightly skim, moderately skim and finally read the book again to find it. This was not helped by the fact that I’d mis-remembered the context, and it didn’t involve the cat at all.

The novel An equal music by Vikram Seth is narrated by the second violinist in a professional string quartet in London. He plays an authentic classic Italian violin loaned to him by an old women in his hometown, but knows he must return it to her family when she dies. At one point he says to one of his colleagues: 

I’ve spent more time with it than with any living soul, but, well, it’s still not mine. And I’m not its. (emphasis added)

Despite, or perhaps because of, one instance in one published novel, I’m not sure that its used in this way is grammatical. I’ve always omitted it from my grammar summaries, but the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language includes it without comment. Does one instance of one particular construction mean that something is grammatical without question? I can easily write a sentence which is unquestionably.


A Korean hiking guide book says “There is a galore of camellia trees” in a particular place. I had never encountered galore in this usage – only the equivalent of There are camellia trees galore – and would have thought that is was a second languagism, but Google shows about 228,000 results for “there is a galore of” (with quotation marks for an exact match), with the first results being fantastic ideas, falsehood, them, nuts, car gadgets and gizmos and yummy meat (plural countable nouns (plus them) and uncountable nouns). On the other hand Google Ngrams does not show any results for a galore of *_NOUN, but *_NOUN galore show opportunities, books, pictures, stories, flowers, bargains, problems, money, wealth and ideas (mostly positive, but including problems). It comes from Irish go leor (or leòr) / Scots Gaelic gu leòr enough, plenty (compare *There is an enough of camellia trees/There are enough camellia trees/There are camellia trees enough and *There is a plenty of camellia trees/There are plenty of camellia trees/There are camellia trees a(-)plenty).

Dictionaries don’t agree on what word class galore is, with the first three I consulted calling it an adverb, a postpositive determiner and an adjective. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language calls it a postpositive-only adjective, alongside aplenty.

PS the hiking guide book has undoubtable mistakes: “Wheelchair is market at the blue arrows for a wheelchair accessible areas.” I’m not going to write a post just about that.

PPS Further investigation shows that during the 19th century, galore was used as a noun: Wiktionary includes “a galore of fruits of all kinds” and Merriam-Webster “galores of bread and cheese” and “by that time I had galore” (compare enough). But that doesn’t explain how and why the noun usage so comprehensively fell out of use, or why it has been used by these widespread people recently.

“I had arrived at the cinema before the movie started”

Practicing past perfect tense, a student wrote:

I had arrived at the cinema before the movie started.

This felt (and still feels) strange to me, but I can’t figure out why. It is perfectly clear and follows the general rule of tense sequences. I would naturally say I arrived at the cinema before the movie started, because the sequence of events is clearly indicated by before.

The only reason I can think of for the strangeness is that we rarely use past perfect in the main clause of a sentence. But does that mean we never do? 

I have less problem with more context:

My friends always teased me for being late for everything, but here I was. I had arrived at the cinema before the movie started. 

I also have less problem with reversing the halves of the sentence:

Before the movie started, I had arrived at the cinema.

or the equivalent:

The movie started after I had arrived at the cinema.

(Though in each case, I would probably omit had.)

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Stranding prepositions (or not)

I had seen several approving references to the book Origins of the specious: Myths and misconceptions of the English language by Patricia O’Connor and Stewart Kellerman, and last week saw a copy on sale, so I bought it. They generally do a very good job of explaining why most of the prescriptivists’ ‘rules’ are wrong (of course, I already knew about most of it), but I have to disagree with them on half of one point.

I agree with them that it’s a myth that it’s wrong to end a sentence with a preposition. They trace the “final-preposition bugaboo” (their words) to John Dryden (who complained that Ben Johnson put “the Preposition in the end of the sentence: a common fault with him”) then add “The bee in Dryden’s bonnet later took up residence in the miter of an eighteenth-century Anglican bishop, Robert Lowth, who wrote the first popular grammar book to claim that a preposition didn’t belong at the end of a sentence in formal writing”.

No he didn’t.

Later, they write that he “condemned the preposition at the end of a sentence”.

No he didn’t.

Later again, they refer to Lowth as “the fellow who helped popularize the myth that it’s wrong to end a sentence with a preposition”.

If he did, if was because those who read his book misunderstood what he’d written.

What did he actually write?

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“Could you tell me why?”

One grammar activity required students to place the given jumbled words into the correct order. One of them involved an indirect question, approximately “Could you tell me where the station is?”. All the students wrote “Could you tell me where is the station?”. This fits the pattern for a direct question (“Where is the station?”) and is perfectly understandable, but no native speaker over the age of three ever uses that structure, or is ever explicitly taught the rule.

It sounds a bit wishy-washy to say “In this kind of sentence we use this order and not that order” without giving some sort of reason, especially when there’s such a strong pull towards that order (viz, the subject-auxiliary inversion of a direct question).

But grammar books and websites don’t give a reason. Even the monumental Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (which I have just bought, so I’m likely to quote more, in order to get my considerable amount of money’s worth, says only:

The main structural difference between subordinate and main clause interrogatives is that subject-auxiliary inversion does not generally apply in the subordinate construction.

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