1. JJ_Maxx
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    JJ_Maxx Banned

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    Is this a correct sentence?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by JJ_Maxx, Mar 2, 2014.

    Saw this in my Facebook feed under the heading, 'Why the English language is dumb.'

    Here's the sentence:

    "All the faith he had had had had no effect on the outcome of his life."

    I mean, I understand it in my head but is it correct?
     
  2. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    I get a headache just thinking about it, J.J.

    If you think that is head melting, check out this page:

    7 sentences that sound crazy but are still grammatical


    Paracetemol, here I come!
     
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  3. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    Edit: Thinking on it... yes, I think it is.
     
  4. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    It's deep in the pluperfect, but it parses fine. I have an urge to put a comma between the second and third had, just to break them up, but it wouldn't be correct.
     
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  5. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    And now I'm going to have to go and look up 'pluperfect.' ;)
     
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  6. JJ_Maxx
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    JJ_Maxx Banned

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    Similar to past perfect.

    Even though the sentence is grammatically correct, I wonder if there would be a better way to write it.
     
  7. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    I'm not sure. To me it just feels as if there are two 'hads' too many. The original doesn't feel economical. I'm still at the stage where I lack the means to express why I believe it to be the case. If you remove them:

    All the faith he had, had no effect on the outcome of his life.

    There's no meaning lost, but it feels a bit clunky. I don't think there's much can be done with it, as it stands. 'Had' is a dull word at any rate.
     
  8. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    The hads are clearly two pairs. The first pair imply to me that the faith is now gone, no longer in evidence. Your version, dropping two of the hads, doesn't imply that to me. I still have good reason to believe he still has faith, it just didn't cause an effect.
     
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  9. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    I see where you are coming from, I guess I just think it's a really boring way to say it.

    I just have a desire to either cut to the chase, like:

    Faith had no effect on the outcome of his life.

    Or: Go the completely opposite route and embellish it considerably.
     
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  10. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    That's from Wikipedia. I think the sentence in question is grammatically correct but syntactically horrendous. Any competent writer could find several simpler, clearer ways to express the thought.
     
  11. JJ_Maxx
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    JJ_Maxx Banned

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    I was also thinking along the lines of:

    The weapons we had had had had a tremendous impact on the battle.

    Just silly.
     
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  12. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    This is leading me to a question.

    What constitutes good syntax?
     
  13. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    The elimination of cluttered or confusing repetition or structures. ;)

    This sentence is grammatically correct as far as I can tell, but as noted above, it is not very economical. Although, the word "All" bugs me a bit. I just don't like the construction.

    Personally, I would like to see something like, "None of the faith he had had had had any effect..." But I admit that undercuts some of the gravitas.

    I would probably space it out with words. Maybe, "For all the faith he had had, none of it had had an effect..." (or something similar).

    I also think you could eliminate one "had," though it would blend cross tenses a little bit: "All the faith he had had had no effect..."

    Or you could use a contraction, which would seem more natural with this construction: "All the faith he'd had had had no effect..."

    This certainly a teaser. o_O
     
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  14. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    :) Ta for that, @Andrae Smith.

    I like the addition of 'For.' Is the second pairing really necessary?

    "For all the faith he had had, none of it had an effect..."

    I'm liking this better already.
     
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  15. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It is syntactically and semantically correct. It is not particularly effective.
     
  16. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    I actually don't find the the final "had" necessary in any of the possible constructions. It's just one of many ways that you could relay the message. The first pairing creates a sense of finality to everything, and the second maintains the element of consistency. Still, I think it a a more formal, and somewhat archaic construction, not very consistent with today's speech.
     
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  17. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    Ok, then @Andrae Smith. One last time before my head explodes:

    "For all the faith he'd had, none of it had an effect..."

    That's me. I'm done. :D
     
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  18. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    I used syntactically and that might be the wrong adverb. What I was trying to convey is this: The sentence is grammatically correct but exceptionally clunky. It is like a sentence from the Circumlocution Office in Little Dorrit, the specialty of which office was "How not to do it."

    Any competent writer could do better. Any competent writer should do better.

    To come back around to your question: What constitutes good syntax? I think it's on a par with what constitutes good phrasing in a singer. See Sinatra as one example of "How to do it." And what makes Sinatra's phrasing so special? I doubt that words can answer that.
     
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  19. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    That's probably how I would write it too. :p
     
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  20. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    A good example I can relate to. Jargon throws me for loop. Drawing these kind of parallels is very helpful. Sinatra may not be my cup of tea, exactly, but I always thought he had a unique ability to convey a lyric with an almost simplistic clarity that, in itself, made me understand his appeal.

    Good to know. It's the best sounding way to doctor the sentence, I can think off, whilst keeping the 'hads.' :D

    My only real reservation is that contraction. I suppose it becomes a matter of context. From what I gathered early on, many would consider its inclusion in a piece of narrative, bad form. Certainly, in a formal piece I'd be inclined to agree. I'll admit to using them quite freely to convey mood. (That is, if a casual feel is what I'm striving for.)

    Going back to what @Wreybies said, up thread:

    With the contraction this seems less apparent to me. I would rather muddy the clarity a little to have it read more smoothly. I'd like to think the overall context would do enough to evoke the realisation that the subject's faith faltered, at some point in the past. I'm not sure I like the idea that the understanding of this concept hangs entirely on the word, 'had.'

    I think that's what I find difficult about treating one sentence in isolation.
     
  21. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, I think that's the best one.
     
  22. cazann34
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    "All the faith he had had, had had no effect on the outcome of his life."
    Just one too many 'hads' in my opinion. And the sentence needs a comma.
     
  23. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    Same here. I've never been a raving Sinatra fan, but he came to mind because those who praise him highly almost always talk about his sense of phrasing.

    The late James J. Kilpatrick was a master at phrasing in this sense. Check this passage from his The Writer's Art where he walks through his revisions of a column, thinking carefully about cadence (click thumbnail to enlarge):

    [​IMG]
     
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