Last week, I posted a couple of example sentences that had given me pause:
- I'll never forget how he must have felt. (overheard)
- Aren’t you glad you archived instead of deleted? (over-read)
I promised I'd get back to these, so here I am.
First, "I'll never forget how he must have felt." The trouble with this one, as I perceive it, is that the set of things that one can remember or forget can conceivably include what other people actually felt, but not what other people must have felt. When another person actually feels something, they might tell us about it, either directly (by talking about how they feel) or indirectly (by emoting somehow). When we say that another person must have felt something, the inference is typically much more indirect: they probably haven't emoted or talked to us about how they feel, but rather we've inferred it based on other information (let's say, we've heard that they've just split up with their significant other). In this kind of situation, I can see myself perhaps saying "I'll never forget how I imagined he must have felt", but without that bit in boldface, it's one step removed from the set of things I feel I can legitimately forget.
Next, "Aren't you glad you archived instead of deleted?" I've already gotten some correspondence about this one, from folks wondering WTF I'm WTF-ing about. To me, "instead of" cannot be followed by a past tense (or past participle) form of a verb, it has to be followed by an -ing form: "Aren't you glad you archived instead of deleting?" But I do admit that the paralellism of the "V-ed instead of V-ed" construction is not completely terrible; it's not like the stark contrast in grammaticality I see here:
3. Why did you archive instead of deleting?
4. *Why did you archive instead of deleted?
Note that "did you archive" is still a past tense form, only discontinuously expressed because it's in a main clause wh-question. A little better to my ear, but still fairly bad, is "instead of V-ed" when the previous past tense verb has an irregular past tense form, and it seems worse with "more irregular" verbs:
5. Aren't you glad you kept instead of deleting?
6. ??Aren't you glad you kept instead of deleted?
7. Aren't you glad you took instead deleting?
8. ?*Aren't you glad you took instead of deleted?
(I take took to be "more irregular" than kept because (i) kept has the expected past tense suffix sound — compare seep ~ seeped, where the -ed is pronounced [t] — and (ii) keep ~ kept also involves a very common vowel quality alternation in English between 'long' and 'short' e, also found in e.g. serene ~ serenity. By contrast, take ~ took involves no suffixation and a very uncommon vowel quality alternation.)
As Karen Kay points out to me, if both verbs have irregular past tense forms, we're back to pretty clear ungrammaticality:
9. Aren't you glad you kept instead of taking?
10. *Aren't you glad you kept instead of took?
11. Aren't you glad you took instead of keeping?
12. *Aren't you glad you took instead of kept?
But, maybe this has something to do with the mixing-and-matching of different 'degrees' of irregularity (or simply sound similarity), because these sound relatively OK:
13. Aren't you glad you kept instead of wept?
14. Aren't you glad you took instead of shook?
(I need a better verb than wept here, because the verbs should all be matched for valency. I'm fairly sure that the lack of an overt object after all of these transitive verbs is relevant to my grammaticality judgments, but I haven't fully figured out how.)
As a final completely introspective observation: compare the following examples with those in 5-8 above. 16 and 18 are each a little worse for me than 6 and 8, respectively, and all I've done is switch the regular and irregular past tense forms around.
15. Aren't you glad you deleted instead of keeping?
16. *?Aren't you glad you deleted instead of kept?
17. Aren't you glad you deleted instead of taking?
18. *Aren't you glad you deleted instead of took?
Feel free to comment on your observations, disagreements, etc. And if anyone has more Google-savvy (and time) than me, I fully acknowledge that it would be nice to see what's out there in the grand ol' Interwebs corpus.