Both support as well as being ready

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"It's essential that we take action to both support the banking system as a whole — as well as being ready to intervene in particular cases when it's necessary to do so", said the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling to reporters yesterday. Ungrammatically, I think.

Forget the fact that to both support is an instance of the so-called "split infinitive": modifiers have been placed between to and the verb in an infinitival clause, by good writers, throughout the history of English. (Those who jump on them as "errors" don't know as much about English grammar as they would like you to think they do.) No, it's the fact that the both never gets its correlated and. For me, the construction both X as well as Y (for any phrases X and Y), though common in unplanned speech, is not syntactically well formed. Particularly not when X is a plain-form (bare infinitive) verb phrase and Y is a gerund-participial verb phrase. That is (to invent a shorter case of the same sort), *to both survive as well as flourishing seems to me like an error of sentence planning, where what was intended was to both survive and flourish.

Of course, there could be people who differ, and see no slip in the Chancellor's remark. (Recall the surprising number of commenters on this post of mine who judged my ungrammatical example to be grammatical — though in that case I was able to determined that the original writer of the sentence agreed with me.) Not every expert user of Standard English has exactly the same judgments of grammaticality as every other user. But even a man who finds both support … as well as being ready ungrammatical may blurt it out when speaking under conditions of extreme stress.

(The Chancellor — UK counterpart of the US Treasury Secretary — was speaking on a day when the main UK stock index fell 7.8%, losing about $165,000,000,000 of asset value, and the Royal Bank of Scotland lost 20% of its value — a day that finally made our own Melvyn Quince realize that his assignment to the supposed Financial Good News desk here at Language Log had been merely a hoax perpetrated by fun-loving co-workers.)

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  1. Karen said,

    October 7, 2008 @ 5:51 am

    I find "to both support as well as be ready" okay, though not elegant by any means. But "to both support as well as being ready" doesn't work at all.

    This sentence fails farther up, as well: "take action to being ready" is impossible for me.

  2. Andrew Shields said,

    October 7, 2008 @ 5:59 am

    Here in Switzerland, my German-speaking students use "as well as" to mean "and" quite often; they are translating the German "sowie" and "sowohl". So I might be hypersensitive to "both … as well as," but it does not sound well formed to me at all.

  3. Mark Liberman said,

    October 7, 2008 @ 6:20 am

    Perhaps Mr. Darling originally had in mind a structure like "We must take action to support the system as a whole, as well as being ready to intervene in particular cases". With or without his elaborations — other than the addition of "both" — this strikes me as grammatical and coherent.

    If you disagree, try construing the "as well as" phrase along the lines of the sentence-initial adjunct in a version like "In addition to being ready to intervene in particular cases, we must take action to support the system as a whole."

    The addition of "both" was pragmatically appropriate, since Mr. Darling was talking about two different kinds of activity, and asserting that both are necessary. But I agree with Geoff that it doesn't work syntactically. And I suspect that Mr. Darling, in a calmer moment, would agree.

  4. Paul said,

    October 7, 2008 @ 7:04 am

    This is the sort of thing I probably wouldn't write very often, but language is a primarily spoken medium and I worry about something which is both ˈˈcommon in unplanned speech" as well as being "ungrammatical".

    I'm not capable of reading Alistair Darling's mind to see to what extent this utterance was consciously planned but it was surely planned at some level (or nothing would have come out). Is the sort of planning we would perform when pondering writing a text (or when a syntactician asks us whether something is grammatical) the same as the planning we do for normal language? Are we (linguists) being too narrow in our notion of what we count as "grammatical"?

    Another example I often observe: speakers start a list by labelling the first item "(a)" but then nothing is labelled "(b)" or "( c )", despite there being further items in the list. Is this ungrammatical (a genuine question)?

    (The 'c' has spaces in the preceding paragraph, by the way, in order to avoid an incorrection to (c)).

  5. outeast said,

    October 7, 2008 @ 8:11 am

    If he had continued with his original sentence by completing the 'both' construction, he would necessarily have committed himself (and whoever his 'we' is – the country, perhaps) to taking action on whatever followed.

    I think he edited his sentiment midspeech: he didn't want to 'take action … to intervene in particular cases' since he is referring not (or not exclusively) to companies in immediate straits but to those that might need rescuing further down the line; hence the switch to talking about being ready to intervene further.

    My guess is that he had thought of at least two alternative ways of expressing his core sentiment, one using a 'both … and' construction and one using 'as well as'; but he got them tangled up when it came to the moment. It's easy to fluff even the most carefully prepared sentence, after all, as Neil Armstrong can confirm!

  6. Paul said,

    October 7, 2008 @ 8:12 am

    Aha! The incorrection which appeared in the preview has been unincorrected in the actual posted comment. Apologies for any confusion.

  7. Sky Onosson said,

    October 7, 2008 @ 9:43 am

    I quite agree with Paul here – I would prefer to take this as an example of what is possible in English, rather than try to see what's wrong with it.

  8. Tony said,

    October 7, 2008 @ 9:51 am

    I know a few people that use "as well as" in place of "and" as a habit, in speech and in writing. I guess they think it makes them sound smarter? It bugs me most in lists, like "something, something, something as well as something."

  9. lemuel pitkin said,

    October 7, 2008 @ 10:32 am

    Agree with others that this seems like a strangely prescriptivist post for LanguageLog. On the other hand,

    even a man who finds both support … as well as being ready ungrammatical may blurt it out when speaking under conditions of extreme stress

    does seem flatly incorrect. I think most people (most Americans, anyway) would agree that "man" is not gender neutral in English, and has not been for at least 20 years.

  10. Jonathan Lundell said,

    October 7, 2008 @ 11:28 am

    Setting aside the gerund-participial verb phrase business, which is certainly infelicitous, we have no problem with "support and be ready to", "both support and be ready to", or "support as well as be ready to". To my ear, "as well as" adds a certain emphasis to the coordination, perhaps a version of "support and be ready to", while "both" is an early signal that some coordination is coming.

    A construction that both gets that sense across as well as being grammatical is "not only support but also be ready to", and perhaps if Darling had been writing instead of composing on the spot he might have come up with it.

    (BTW, not being all that familiar with British politicians or the surname Darling, an image of Blackadder's Captain Darling intrudes whenever I hear the Chancellor mentioned.)

  11. Arnold Zwicky said,

    October 7, 2008 @ 11:39 am

    There's the failure of parallelism, and there's the both … as well as. MWDEU notes a long history of objections to the latter (so Geoff is in good company here), but concludes that the worst they can say about the examples they cite is that they're not very elegant. Clearly, there are different opinions about the construction, and people who use it will almost surely say that the effect of as well as is not quite the same as and.

    This is not to deny that Darling got tangled up.

  12. Oskar said,

    October 7, 2008 @ 12:10 pm

    I will fully agree that it is not very elegant, but I do think "both X as well as Y" is a perfectly reasonable construction in English. I agree that his particular quote was weird, but only because he should have written "be" instead of "being"

  13. Geoffrey K. Pullum said,

    October 7, 2008 @ 12:29 pm

    Notice that Lemuel Pitkin (four comments up) calls it "prescriptive" to note the ungrammaticality that interested me here. As I have noted before, it is extraordinarily difficult to get across the idea that there is a middle ground between "nothing is relevant" (the view that no usage evidence can be used against grammatical rules, because they come from some grammar god who is greater than all of us) and "everything is correct" (the view that nothing must ever be called ungrammatical lest one be thought to be a bully). At the beginning of his comment Lemuel is of the "everything is correct" persuasion. The more extreme prescriptivists are of the "nothing is relevant" camp. What linguists are trying to do is to FIGURE OUT WHAT THE RIGHT RULES ARE. Language Log isn't being prescriptive by studying which attested utterances are grammatical and which are not. There is no sense in basing proposed descriptive rules on utterances that are mistaken even (when there is time for reflection) in the view of the person uttering them. It's as silly as insisting on rules that don't bear any relation to usage at all. In the remainder of his comment Lemuel rather weirdly switches right over to the other extreme in calling me "flatly incorrect" for using the term "man" when talking about a man in Alistair Darling's situation. That is the kind of loopy political correctness that gets sensible anti-sexists a bad name. I'm not being sexist when I say "even a man who…" whatever. Just because "a man" isn't equivalent to "a person", that doesn't mean that the phrase "a man" must be abandoned in all contexts.

  14. Bloix said,

    October 7, 2008 @ 12:34 pm

    It's ungrammatical because he appears to have altered what he was saying in mid-stream, as all of us do. He likely began with the intent of saying:

    It's essential that we take action to both support the banking system and to intervene in particular cases when it's necessary to do so."

    He committed himself to this version when he uttered the word "both," which demanded the parallelism.

    But he realized too late that he did not want to represent that the government would intervene – merely that it would retain the option to do so. And so at the last moment he inserted "being ready" in advance of "to intervene."

    He could have inserted "to be ready" but apparently his mental apparatus couldn't juggle the correct grammatical form in real time as it also had to adjust the meaning.

  15. Justin L said,

    October 7, 2008 @ 1:01 pm

    I find it more natural to follow "take action…" with a to-infinitive, while following "as well as" with a gerund-participle.

    In "take action", the "to" stands for something along the lines of "in order to" or "so that"–it's the goal/result of the action, and goals are generally expressed by the preposition/subordinator "to".

    With "as well as," I keep coming back to the fact that the phrase sounds best in its conjunction/coordinator function when it has nouns or noun phrases in coordination ("I want the green as well as the blue"). With verbs, it sounds like a comparison ("He runs as well as swims"). I also find it mildly awkward with prepositional phrases ("I found them in a book as well as off the internet").

    I can easily imagine in speech, particularly with "support" having its own direct object, of mixing up the coordination by defaulting to the general way of expressing each element.

  16. Tim said,

    October 7, 2008 @ 1:15 pm

    I think the "prescriptivist" charge is coming from the fact that the arguments brought forward for why "both X as well as Y" (where X and Y are parallel structures) is ungrammatical could easily be used, it seems to me, to argue that, say, splitting infinitives is ungrammatical. Sure, splitting infinitives might be common in unplanned speech, but to many it seems syntactically ill-formed (although, well-formedness suggests a syntactical model of some sort and if a commonly used phrase violates that model, shouldn't the model be changed rather than declaring the phrase ungrammatical?). You can even find a lot of people (and educated too!) that think splitting infinitives is wrong, even though they do it themselves (although why someone's beliefs about what they should have said should count more than what they actually do say is not so clear to me). And voila, splitting infinitives is not grammatical, nor is taking a stance against it silly prescriptivism.

    I can't see where my analogy fails, but I'm hoping it does somewhere.

  17. Kevin Iga said,

    October 7, 2008 @ 1:34 pm

    Personally, the "both… as well as" construction sounds a little weird to me, but I wouldn't be surprised if someone were to produce evidence that I used it before. I probably would label it grammatical.

    As I was trying to come up with other examples, I noticed something funny: there is a tendency for me to avoid "as well as" with finite verbs. Does anyone else do this? If Mr. Darling feels this way, too, this might be what caused his use of "being".

    There's also the fact that it seems to help for the two phrases being conjoined to be longer.

    *John saw Mary as well as felt guilty.
    ?John wanted to see Mary as well as talk to her.
    ?John wanted to find out how Mary was doing, as well as tell her how he felt.
    *John saw his ex-wife, Mary, who he thought was in the hospital, as well as felt guilty for not inquiring as to her health earlier.
    ?John saw his ex-wife, Mary, who he thought was in the hospital, as well as feeling guilty for not inquiring as to her health earlier.
    [the ? is only from the failed parallelism: strangely, it makes the sentence better!]
    *John wrote his dissertation, as well as interviewed for jobs.
    ?John is writing his dissertation, as well as interviewing for jobs.
    John is writing his dissertation on parasitic gaps in Yoruba, as well as interviewing for linguistics jobs in small liberal arts colleges.
    *This evening, John will speak as well as answer questions.
    This evening, John will speak on parasitic gaps in Yoruba, as well as answer questions from the audience.
    John will carry out his boss's orders, as well as undermine these same orders after work.
    ?John lives as well as works in the city.
    John plans to live as well as work in the city.
    John plans to live in a spacious five-bedroom house, as well as work in a corner office.

    Anyone else share these judgments?

  18. Skullturf Q. Beavispants said,

    October 7, 2008 @ 1:44 pm

    I agree with the latter part of GKP's comment. The original post had the words "a man who…", but there was no claim of generality. Pullum might have said "a politician who" or "a British politician who" or "a Chancellor of the Exchequer who".

  19. Clayton Burns said,

    October 7, 2008 @ 2:54 pm

    Here is Hansard (Where is "both"?):

    The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Alistair Darling): With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement regarding developments in financial markets to bring the House up to date.

    The events in America over the last few weeks and in Europe over the last few days have again demonstrated the global nature and the sheer scale of the problems affecting the global financial system. What started in America last year has now spread to every part of the world and the disruption in global financial markets has intensified, especially over the last few weeks.

    People are rightly concerned about what is happening, and I have made it clear that we will do whatever is necessary to maintain stability. Along with Governments across the world, I have a responsibility to support a stable, well functioning banking system. Financial transactions are at the heart of everything we do. They allow people to buy goods, pay for services, buy homes, save for pensions and invest, so it is essential that we take action to support the banking system as a whole, as well as being ready to intervene in particular cases where it is necessary to do so. It is not a case of doing either one or the other. Both general support and individual intervention are necessary.

  20. Lance said,

    October 7, 2008 @ 3:14 pm

    The version that Clayton Burns posted seems to be found at the official Parliament website, i.e. Hansard, but Google doesn't turn up any other instances of it. (Note, too, this repetition of the statement—"My Lords, with permission, I shall repeat a Statement made in the other place."—in which the relevant phrase appears as "we take action both to support the banking system as a whole as well as being ready…", with the "both" moved.)

    The version with "to both support", however, is the one being used by news organizations. Which suggests to me one of two things: (a) the Lords Hansard text is slightly edited for grammar, or (b) the text used the statement that Darling supplied as being the one he would read, and he extemporized the "both". The latter seems extremely likely to me (see Mark's statement above, that the sentence without "both" seems fine): while speaking, Darling realized he was saying two semi-contrasting things, and threw in a "both" at the nearest convenient place, really as a kind of discourse marker, not noticing that the resulting sentence wasn't really grammatical.

  21. Rubrick said,

    October 7, 2008 @ 3:29 pm

    I suspect a lot of confusion and misunderstanding would dissipate if linguists abandoned the use of the term "grammatical" in this context, substituting a more clearly technical term ("well-formed"?). It's very hard for a linguist to declare something ungrammatical without it sounding like he's being just the sort of prescriptivist he rails against. Those who understand that the linguists "grammar" is quite a different beast from the schoolmarm's "grammar" get it, but it's hardly surpising that many do not.

  22. Clayton Burns said,

    October 7, 2008 @ 3:42 pm

    If you study the BBC Oct. 6th video "Alastair Darling statement to MPs" (it seems the BBC is having some trouble with his name), in the sentence starting at 40 seconds, you will hear "both to support."

  23. Des Power said,

    October 7, 2008 @ 4:32 pm

    Hansard as grammar checker? :-)

    Des

  24. Trent said,

    October 7, 2008 @ 5:17 pm

    I was taught, by a prescriptivist no doubt, to use "as well as" only if the following item had already been mentioned or implied. Otherwise, "and" was indicated. That strikes me as good advice, though, no doubt, counter examples by respected writers could easily be produced.

    To my ear, "both" requires "and."

  25. Freddy Hill said,

    October 7, 2008 @ 5:30 pm

    You gotta love linguists! Here we are at the gates of the next world depression and when a politician talks about how to spend a few hundred billion of our pounds their reaction is, "I'm not sure that's grammatical!"

    I can just imagine Geoff's last words when face-to-face with his executioner: "Hmm… I don't think that the sentence 'Would you like both a last cigarette as well as a last wish?' is quite correct." :)

  26. Clayton Burns said,

    October 7, 2008 @ 5:43 pm

    This is from Guardian text, where the source seems to be incorrectly transcribed (the video of the statement to MPs has "both to support"). Thanks, Lance, for your contribution. The "nexus" of politics, economics, and journalism is a fascinating one. That economists do not appear to be interested in the effects of the huge international factitious English business might tell us something about their grasp of economic fundamentals, and their assumptions about language. If we are working on text, we should find out about the source(s), Des. Darling seems not only to rely a lot on "not only" and "but also" logic, but also sometimes to tap into "provided that" as a tagalong, as a necessary condition and implicit qualification, perhaps.

    At the macro-level, we have involuted economic systems, business and government "colluding" to make a big mess. At the (linguistic) micro-level, we have these shambling, semi-automatic rhetorical structures slapped onto Darling's thoughts, if not only by Darling, perhaps also by Darling's writer(s). Could there be any connection between the micro- and macro-levels? Probably not. Provided that economists are as rational as they think they are. The Guardian:

    In a parliamentary statement, the chancellor said it was his responsibility to support a stable, well-functioning banking system, as he revealed that Northern Rock had now repaid half of the money it had been lent by taxpayers.

    "Financial transactions are at the heart of everything we do. They allow people to buy goods, pay for services, buy homes, save for pensions and invest, so it's essential that we take action to both support the banking system as a whole as well as being ready to intervene in particular cases when it's necessary to do so," Darling told MPs. "Both general support and individual intervention is necessary."

  27. Clayton Burns said,

    October 7, 2008 @ 6:45 pm

    The contamination of "take action to support" by the following "Both general support," so leading to the insertion of "both" in "both to support," does not appear to be supported by the BBC video.

    However, it seems as if Darling likes to do some close memory work to keep his points in order for interviews, if BBC video evidence is to be relied on, so memorial pollution by anticipation is possible.

    I would still like to know how the media latched onto "to both support."

  28. Nana Batrachos said,

    October 7, 2008 @ 6:53 pm

    (General comment, off topic)
    In posts like this one, with many comments that refer to each other as well as the original post, would it be possible to number the comments? It would make it much easier for readers to follow the arguments.

    [(myl) Good idea, but I don't have time to hack WordPress to get it to number comments. If anyone knows how to do this fairly easily, without problematic side-effects, please let me know.

    Meanwhile, note that each individual comment has a unique URI. So commenters can include a link to the comments they're commenting on, if you chose to.

    Furthermore, if comments quote other comments, then cut-and-paste into text search in your browser (control-F or command-F) should enable you to find the reference almost as easily as a number would.]

  29. Arnold Zwicky said,

    October 7, 2008 @ 8:29 pm

    To Freddy Hill: your comment is surely just a malicious troll, but I'll respond to it as if it were genuine:

    If you wanted to see writing about the financial disaster, current American politics, etc., why did you go to Language Log? (I remind you that we have been pilloried recently by commenters, some of them colleagues and friends of ours, for injecting what the commenters believed to be political content into our postings.) This is not A Few Linguists Post About Anything That Interests Them Log.

  30. Jonathan said,

    October 7, 2008 @ 10:40 pm

    This is an anacolouthon: the speaker starts his sentence one way but in the middle changes tacks and finishes in a different way. He is not trying to correlate "as well as" + gerund with "to" + infinite. The proof is that, in sense, "being ready" is coordinated with "take action," etc., not with "support the banking system". Anacolouthon is common in speech because people change their minds half way through but know their audience will still be able to understand them. But the result is not grammatically satisfactory as a whole.

  31. Clayton Burns said,

    October 7, 2008 @ 11:41 pm

    Jonathan, The history of this little piece of text does not support your interpretation. It would be valuable to consider it as a possibility in many cases of this type, but if you sort through the posts, you will see that it is not true here. If you inspect the BBC video of the statement, you will see what I mean. Thanks!

  32. James Wimberley said,

    October 8, 2008 @ 7:18 am

    Make allowances for the likelihood that Darling hasn't had much sleep in the last week. Palindromes are to be expected.

  33. Jorge said,

    October 8, 2008 @ 8:54 am

    Setting aside the gerund-participial verb phrase business, which is certainly infelicitous [...]

    A construction that both gets that sense across as well as being grammatical is "not only support but also be ready to", and perhaps if Darling had been writing instead of composing on the spot he might have come up with it.

    So if you had been writing instead of composing on the spot you might have come up with "not only gets the sense across but is also grammatical". Or was that done on purpose?

  34. Ann said,

    October 8, 2008 @ 2:03 pm

    Mr. Liberman says:

    Perhaps Mr. Darling originally had in mind a structure like "We must take action to support the system as a whole, as well as being ready to intervene in particular cases". With or without his elaborations — other than the addition of "both" — this strikes me as grammatical and coherent.

    How can it be grammatical to say "we must being ready to intervene"?

  35. Clayton Burns said,

    October 8, 2008 @ 7:05 pm

    HM Treasury: Statement by the Chancellor on financial markets
    Check against delivery

    8. Financial transactions are at the heart of everything we do. They allow people to buy goods, pay for services, buy homes, save for pensions, and invest.
    9. So it's essential that we take action to both support the banking system as a whole – as well as being ready to intervene in particular cases when it's necessary to do so.

    Apparently here we have the source of media reports. However, the advice to "Check against delivery" seems not to have taken effect.

  36. Jonathan Lundell said,

    October 8, 2008 @ 9:41 pm

    @Jorge: it was a feeble attempt at humor. Glad somebody noticed it.

  37. Clayton Burns said,

    October 8, 2008 @ 11:33 pm

    What we need now is the background for Darling having said this to reporters. Otherwise the statement will remain in a No Man's Land. "Which never moves, which never changes, which never grows older, but which remains forever, icy and silent."

  38. Terry Hunt said,

    October 9, 2008 @ 1:07 am

    Re Clayton Burns' 'Here is Hansard (Where is "both"?)', Lance is correct in his suggestion (a): 'the Lords Hansard text is slightly edited for grammar' – as is that of the Commons. As Wikipedia usefully puts it 'Hansard is not a verbatim account of debates in Parliament. It seeks to eliminate "repetitions, redundancies and obvious errors".'

    (This is fairly general UK knowledge as, every so often (particularly prior to TV coverage of Proceedings becoming so pervasive), some MP is accused of trying to persuade the editors to change substantively Hansard's record of what he/she said in the guise of correcting trivial mistakes.)
    Hansard should not therefore be relied upon without corroboration in the linguistic analysis of Parliamentary speech.

  39. Clayton Burns said,

    October 9, 2008 @ 11:50 am

    Terry Hunt, Thank you for your comment. I was not at all relying on Hansard. I traced the various incarnations of the Darling statement in Hansard, at the HM Treasury site, and in the media, to find out whether it was something that he had said to reporters, as was first indicated at this post. I have yet to see the evidence for what seems to be assumed here by some, that it was a spontaneous oral statement. Surely a careful reading of my posts, and of the post by Lance, will bring out the truth. Thanks.

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