Annals of verb phrase ellipsis

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Brad Knickerbocker, "Obama girds for State of the Union address. His Republican opponents are too.", Christian Science Monitor, 2/10/2013.

Arnold Zwicky catalogued other types of VP ellipsis mismatches here. And Stephen Colbert used a similar approach to so-anaphora in the title of his 2009 book I am America (And so can you!).


  1. Ralph Hickok said,

    February 11, 2013 @ 9:33 am

    It would have been simple to make it: "So do his Republic opponents."

    [(myl) Or just "His Republican opponents do too". The actual headline was probably the result of incomplete editorial substitution. But we work with what we have.]

  2. Adrian said,

    February 11, 2013 @ 9:45 am

    Strange to see the word "girds" on its own – isn't it supposed to be followed by "himself" or "his loins"?

  3. James said,

    February 11, 2013 @ 10:00 am

    It sounds like a joke to me, maybe because of Stephen Colbert.

  4. Coby Lubliner said,

    February 11, 2013 @ 11:12 am

    Leave it to headline writers: the one time they violate the taboo on inflected forms of "be" they mess up.

  5. Joe said,

    February 11, 2013 @ 12:24 pm

    I'm probably just being dense right now, but would an ellipses with "do too" receive a progressive interpretation? My initial thoughts are that "do too" would be used for a state (or a habitual action), rather than an event that is in progress. I think the headline writer is trying to match the semantics of a common use of the present tense in newspaper headlines, as in "US faces for sequestration while Chine prepares for war."

  6. Joe said,

    February 11, 2013 @ 12:47 pm

    Sorry, just for clarification, I think the "do too" ellipses works with a stative verb like (face), "US faces financial diaster, and Britain does too," but not really for a verb like "prepare," "?China prepares for war, and Japan does too."

  7. M.N. said,

    February 11, 2013 @ 1:45 pm

    In headlinese, something like "China prepares for war; Japan does too" sounds perfectly fine to me. (In non-headlinese, "China prepares for war and Japan does too" is still OK, but I find it hard to get a reading other than the one that says that preparing for war is a thing that China and Japan both do frequently or characteristically or whatever.)

  8. Joe said,

    February 11, 2013 @ 2:58 pm


    As I said, my brain isn't really working right now, and I have a feeling I'm pursuing a wrong line of inquiry. But here does: I think the "does too" ellipses works for me as long it doesn't receive a progressive (or futurate) interpretation. If the present tense in the antecedent is either state or indicates or verges on past time (as it sometimes is in newspapers), then the "does too" works in the ellipses, as in this example from COCA, "I collapse into laughter, and Mac does too." So "China does too" works for me provided that is the use of the present tense that indicates past time. If it is an on-going activity that continues into the future (as I believe it is in this context), I have a harder time interpreting "does too" as a progressive. So I guess I'm suggesting that the writer's logic is that if the VP ellipses is a gerund-participle, the auxiliary is BE rather than DO. But maybe the simplest answer is the Mark gives above.

  9. Lane said,

    February 11, 2013 @ 3:14 pm

    Adrian, it seems that a lot of people "gird for war" as a standard fixed phrase, though the OED's 7 definitions don't list an intransitive "gird for…" In the OED you gird yourself with something (a sword), gird your loins, gird (surround and besiege) a city, with all of them having something to do with binding or tying up as with a girdle/belt.

    So "gird for" something has slipped away from the standard transitive usage, but is plenty common, and so it's a short hop to "girding for the state of the union".

  10. maidhc said,

    February 11, 2013 @ 6:25 pm

    I venture a guess that it was originally "is girding", but then it was changed to "girds", but he forgot to change the next sentence. An easy mistake to make.

  11. Matt said,

    February 11, 2013 @ 7:18 pm

    It would probably be clearest to just rephrase as Obama-Republican Joint Union State Address Gird.

  12. David Morris said,

    February 12, 2013 @ 5:40 am

    The Australian national anthem contains the line "Our home is girt by sea", which causes much discussion. Some people suggest or urge that it should be changed, but no-one can make any reasonable suggestion as to what.
    In one lesson in South Korea, I had a few minutes left at the end, and it was near Australia Day, so I recited the national anthem and had them write it down. No-one wrote 'girt'. The best attempt was "Our home is great, you see"., from 2.28 (I'm singing in it, but tucked away in the chorus, which you never get to see, and barely get to hear).

  13. blahedo said,

    February 12, 2013 @ 10:34 am

    The phrase that comes to mind when I hear "gird" outside a collocation with "loins" is the fixed phrase "girding for war". Which is probably what was being referenced in an original version of the headline, before it got incorrected.

  14. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 13, 2013 @ 1:38 pm

    From a Sky News article (thanks to Paul C.):

    "FSA Director of Operations Andrew Rhodes said:… 'I'm very confident that the information we have used and what we have obtained is evidence that something has happened which should not have been.'"

  15. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    February 21, 2013 @ 6:23 pm

    A classic example of this is from The House at Pooh Corner:


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