Friday, June 09, 2006

Englilish Ponderance - by Brad

Since there are a few englishy people who read this, I thought that I would pose a question that I have asked before. I believe that I got some sort of answer a while back that satisfied me (thanks Mom, Toby and Lindsey), but I have forgotten it by now.

QUESTION:
In Dr. Seuss' Green Eggs & Ham, should the "green" describe both the eggs and ham? Or is it just green eggs and regular ham?

Well, according to his illustrations, the green describes both eggs and ham.



What if I have a sentence that states, "Look in the sky, there is a pink bird, airplane, and UFO!"

Does this mean that I am calling the UFO pink?

This isn't just nonsense for me. Working in government, I have to read a lot of laws. These laws often list many options or exceptions. To read them legally, I would like to know how the English language works.

With math it is easy. I would call the book: Green (Eggs + Ham)

This states that the green applies to both the eggs and ham. With the other example, it would be written: pink (bird) + airplane + UFO

This would show that pink only applies to the bird, not the airplane or the UFO.

Is there an English rule for this situation?

2 comments:

Peaby said...

Unfortunately, it shall remain ambiguous.

I don't think there is a way to distinguish what is meant. Ideally, if the writer wanted to emphasize that both were green, he would write "green eggs and green ham." If he only wished to indicated green eggs, but normal ham, he would write, "green eggs and ham."

It can go either way, and it's up to context to determine the meaning.

I like fuzzy teddy bears and oranges.

PB

unlce toby said...

I can't remember what we decided before, but i'm with peaby on this one.

The following info (from http://owl.english.purdue.edu/handouts/grammar/g_comma.html) helps a little but basically says the same thing in more detail...

6. Use commas to separate two or more coordinate adjectives that describe the same noun. Be sure never to add an extra comma between the final adjective and the noun itself or to use commas with non-coordinate adjectives.

Coordinate adjectives are adjectives with equal ("co"-ordinate) status in describing the noun; neither adjective is subordinate to the other. You can decide if two adjectives in a row are coordinate by asking the following questions:

Does the sentence make sense if the adjectives are written in reverse order?
Does the sentence make sense if the adjectives are written with and between them?
If you answer yes to these questions, then the adjectives are coordinate and should be separated by a comma. Here are some examples of coordinate and non-coordinate adjectives:

He was a difficult, stubborn child. (coordinate)
They lived in a white frame house. (non-coordinate)
She often wore a gray wool shawl. (non-coordinate)
Your cousin has an easy, happy smile. (coordinate)
The 1) relentless, 2) powerful 3) summer sun beat down on them. (1-2 are coordinate; 2-3 are non-coordinate.)
The 1) relentless, 2) powerful, 3) oppressive sun beat down on them. (Both 1-2 and 2-3 are coordinate.)