A nice example of substitution

rogersgeorge on July 16th, 2011

A couple posts back I wrote about the two most basic verbs in English, pointing out that some form of “do” can replace any action verb. I also said that you should avoid using the verb do itself, but here’s an example of using it that’s okay.

Our quote today, class, is from the July 2011 issue of Scientific American. This issue is particularly interesting to me—it’s the first issue I recall having a centerfold, and it’s hanging on the wall in my room. (Don’t get your hopes up, guys. It’s a poster of the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram (look it up), which turns 100 this year.)

Back to grammar. We find our quote on page 55 near the bottom:

It will be an uphill battle in a country that reveres an individual’s right to choose much more than it does science.

The verbs in the parallel construction are “reveres” and “does.” You can get up in front of the room and revere (something). This is approximately what cheerleaders do at a high school pep rally. And you can replace “does” with “reveres,” which makes the sentence end with “…than it reveres science.”  Go back and read the sentence with “reveres” in there both times. That’s exactly what the sentence is saying.

Why did the writer (Sharon Begley, a top-notch science writer) not use the more specific verb in the second part of the parallelism? In English we usually consider it poor form to repeat a word. Repeating something exactly without enough distance between the repeated words feels patronizing. The writer didn’t want to patronize her readers (after all, this is a Scientific American article), so she let the reader figure out what she was saying.

I really am trying to include a picture in every post; I admit this is a stretch, though I suppose if Ms. Begley made it into The Simpsons, she has to be good, right? Can you find the goofs in Bart's writing?

Finally, I must issue a warning. In technical writing, use the more specific verb both times. Yes, it’s not as smooth, but it removes ambiguity, the bane of technical writing. In tech writing, you want to leave absolutely no question about your meaning, and you may sacrifice smoothness to do so. Take our example sentence. The words “…does science” is a construction you sometimes see, “do science, doing science, to do science.” That is definitely not the meaning in our example sentence.

Next post: I might have some more grammar humor.

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