Author Topic: Please look at this sentence  (Read 2988 times)

Offline mallu

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Please look at this sentence
« on: March 17, 2019, 02:10:59 PM »
   Is this sentence ok ? John even gave only TEN CENTS to MARY.

Offline Daniel

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Re: Please look at this sentence
« Reply #1 on: March 18, 2019, 08:30:46 AM »
It seems OK. Is there a speicfic issue?
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Offline jul16ws

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Re: Please look at this sentence
« Reply #2 on: July 20, 2019, 01:08:06 PM »
Sorry that is so late, but in your sentence, 'even' and 'only' seem to semantically contradict each other. 'Even' implies that the ten cents has a lot of value, whereas 'only' semantically ties a low value to the ten cents. Because of this, some may find the sentence to be confusing, although the main point will get across: John gave ten cents to Mary.

I would say it's best for you to choose between 'even' and 'only' to make the sentence clearer.

'John even gave ten cents to Mary.' This implies that the ten cents is quite valuable and that John is being generous.
'John gave only ten cents to Mary.' This implies that John is being stingy and that ten cents is a small value.
 'John only gave ten cents to Mary.' This implies that this is all John did to Mary.

I hope this helps.

Offline Daniel

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Re: Please look at this sentence
« Reply #3 on: July 20, 2019, 09:45:04 PM »
That's correct, but "even" doesn't necessarily have a meaning in the same domain as "only" in this case. It's something like scope, but more just about how the words are interpreted, not really about structure, except that "only" is within the predicate, and "even" is modifying the whole sentence.

A paraphrase could be something like "John did some surprising things. He even gave only ten cents to Mary" -- assuming that for some reason, "giving only ten cents to Mary" was surprising.
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Offline Forbes

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Re: Please look at this sentence
« Reply #4 on: July 28, 2019, 01:43:22 AM »
To me, on first reading "John even gave only ten cents to Mary", whilst difficult to class as ungrammatical, comes over as not quite right. I can only imagine the sentence arising in very limited circumstances, e.g.

Peter: John is very mean.
Henry: He gave some money to Elizabeth.
Peter: He only gave her ten cents.
Henry: It’s still money.
Peter: He’s getting generous. He even gave only ten cents to Mary.

Offline Daniel

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Re: Please look at this sentence
« Reply #5 on: July 28, 2019, 07:02:47 AM »
Yes, that's correct. But grammaticality isn't determined by frequency of use, or relevance. Many (statistically, most) grammatical sentences are rarely going to be applicable, but are still grammatical because the grammar of the language provides them if we ever want to use them. (We can talk about the shape of a unicorn's horn, or its color, without unicorns even being real!)

Another perspective, then, is that it is the job of the linguist to come up with reasonably plausible sentences that do not conflate relevance with grammaticality. Replacing some of the words there can make an apparently more acceptable sentence, without changing the grammar in any substantial ways:
He even stole only ten cents from Mary.
or
The professor even gave only 10 easy questions on the exam.

Context is crucial, but the grammar provides these forms, in case we ever want to use them. And as I wrote above, there are also other ways that "even" can be interpreted here that could be relevant in specific/unusual contexts, aside from the most obvious meaning.
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Offline Forbes

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Re: Please look at this sentence
« Reply #6 on: July 30, 2019, 03:18:40 PM »
I am not sure that grammaticality really comes into it. Perhaps we can distinguish between (a) utterances which will always look right without any context even if ambiguous and (b) utterances which out of context look awry, but might actually be uttered and when uttered are not perceived as ungrammatical, but rather as the speaker being playful.

I once said to a French lady on a very windy day: Il fait un peu frais, to which she responded: Il fait un peu frais beaucoup! Clearly it cannot be both a little fresh and very fresh at the same time. Taken out of context the response looks self-contradictory, but in context we appreciate that the speaker was being playful.

Offline Daniel

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Re: Please look at this sentence
« Reply #7 on: July 30, 2019, 04:28:06 PM »
Quote
I am not sure that grammaticality really comes into it.
Grammaticality is defined as being generated by a grammar, that is, part of the language. Chomsky's famous example is "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously", which is grammatical (it can be generated, if you wanted to say that), but it's not acceptable, because it's not relevant/useful.

We can also discuss acceptability, but that's a separate issue, often dependent on context (or other factors like ease/difficulty processing).

Quote
Il fait un peu frais, to which she responded: Il fait un peu frais beaucoup! Clearly it cannot be both a little fresh and very fresh at the same time. Taken out of context the response looks self-contradictory, but in context we appreciate that the speaker was being playful.
Yes, because the grammar allows you to modify what you said by adding "very". The meaning is essentially a contradiction, but the grammar still allows you to say that, if you want to.

Quote
(b) utterances which out of context look awry, but might actually be uttered and when uttered are not perceived as ungrammatical, but rather as the speaker being playful.
That's not a coherent class of sentences to investigate. You could research how speakers interpret certain utterances, but it wouldn't help you to understand how grammar works. "Playful" is also not a good way to narrow this down, because, among other things, it's not relevant to the original question here. Being playful is just one way to deviate from communicative expectations, and there can be various reasons and effects when doing so.
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Offline Forbes

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Re: Please look at this sentence
« Reply #8 on: August 02, 2019, 04:19:06 AM »
Mallu has presumably posted because s/he has some doubts about the sentence. The question posed is not whether it is grammatical but whether it is OK, which is wider, though of course s/he may have meant it to mean grammatical. jul16ws responded by suggesting the problem was one of semantics. My initial reaction was that the sentence could not really be classified as "OK". So we have, it seems, three people whose initial reaction is that the sentence is not OK.

It is one thing to assert that whether a sentence is grammatical can be determined without reference to semantics, but another to suggest that semantics can be ignored to determine whether a sentence feels right - not the same thing as whether it makes sense. In any event, does grammaticality not involve some element of intuition?

I am not sure a rule of grammar can be formulated which tells us whether and when "even" and "only" can be used in the same sentence, unlike, say, a rule which explains when to use "any" and when to use "some". When people speak the grammar function of the brain is not in absolute control. The waters can be muddied allowing people to say things like "Il fait un peu frais beaucoup" which out of context will be characterised as not feeling right.

Offline Daniel

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Re: Please look at this sentence
« Reply #9 on: August 02, 2019, 12:30:33 PM »
For context (no pun intended), Mallu has asked many similar questions here probing nuances of syntactic structure, so I'm assuming that's the intention, rather than a discussion of usage/acceptability, but I understand what you're saying, and I don't disagree with most of what you've written.
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Offline Audiendus

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Re: Please look at this sentence
« Reply #10 on: August 05, 2019, 05:17:44 AM »
I think "even...only" sounds natural in some circumstances. For example:

John's exam results were poor in every subject. He even scored only 60% in English, in which he normally excels.