Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

I Forgot to Go to the Store and Get Any

Posted by Neal on July 23, 2012

A few days ago, as I was pulling into the garage, I suddenly said to myself,

Well, crap! I forgot to go to the store and get any club soda.

How annoying. We had run out of club soda two days before, so my wife couldn’t make any more of her favorite drink: club soda with cranberry juice (the sweetened kind, with lime flavor already in it). I couldn’t make any more for myself, either, and when that happens and there’s no iced tea made, it gives me an unfortunate excuse to continue my love-hate relationship with Coke.

Of course, that’s not what compels me to write about my utterance here on the blog. As with my last post, I was interested in a negative polarity item (NPI), in this case, the word any. You can’t say things like,

*I got any club soda.
*I want to get any club soda.
*I went to the store and got any club soda.

There has to be a negation or question or something similar involved; for example,

I didn’t get any club soda.
Do you want any club soda?

The verb forget counts as something similar, with its implicitly negative meaning of “not remember,” so you can certainly say,

I forgot to get any club soda.

So because my sentence had forgot as its main verb, there should be nothing surprising about having the NPI any somewhere in the complement to forgot, right? But in that case, why doesn’t this next sentence work?

*I forgot to scoop out the litterboxes and get any club soda.

At least, I don’t think it works. Do you? And the reason it doesn’t is the same reason that you can’t say something like

*Club soda is what I forgot to scoop out the litterboxes and get [ ].

For you to make a relative clause out of club soda, which plays a part in only one of the coordinated verb phrases, those verb phrases have to have some sensible relation to each other. Go to the store and get club soda go together as two steps in a single undertaking. On the other hand, scoop out the litterboxes and get club soda don’t have any relation to each other. Unless…

  • …you keep bottles of club soda buried in your litterboxes.
  • …scooping out the litterboxes is something that always happens right before you get club soda.
  • …scooping out the litterboxes sets a Rube Goldberg apparatus in motion that results in the delivery of club soda.

In those situations, that sentence would work, and so would I forgot to scoop out the litterboxes and get any club soda, I think. This is interesting. I hadn’t read or thought about NPI licensing as something that could be relevant to these coordinations that require a special relationship between the coordinated items.

P.S. I see that when I view the preview for this post using Chrome, the words continue, housecleaning, and filled are hyperlinked to spammy sites. I’ve been using Firefox up until now, and I see that these tacky ads don’t show up in that browser. Good on you, Firefox, and Chrome, I’m very disappointed.

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15 Responses to “I Forgot to Go to the Store and Get Any”

  1. Dw said

    The verb forget counts as something similar, with its implicitly negative meaning of “not remember,” so you can certainly say,

    I forgot to get any club soda.

    Not grammatical in my ideolect (BrE -> AmE immigrant). It would to be “some soda”, or just “soda”

    • Neal said

      Both of your options are also grammatical for me. However, “forgot to * any” seems to be well-attested.

    • For those (especially BrE speakers) who doubt the validity of ‘forgot to get any’, this is from Practical English Usage by Michael Swan, ‘the’ bible for many British EFL teachers:

      “We use ‘any’ in affirmative clauses after words that have a negative or limiting meaning”

      And amongst his examples: “I forgot to get any bread.”

  2. Not sure what the grammatical reason is, but you can say the things listed above in longer constructions:

    * I got any club soda that was on sale.
    * I want to get any club soda that has lime flavor.
    * I was craving club soda, so I went to the store and got any club soda I could find.

    • I think it’s a different usage.

      I can’t say “I want to get any soda”, the opposite of “I don’t want to get any club soda”. That would have to be “I want to get some club soda”.

      But I could say “I want to get ANY club soda”, with “any” having emphasis (phrasal stress?), meaning, “I want to get club soda, and I’m not picky about which kind”. Though, more likely would be a 2nd person usage, “You can get any club soda”.

    • Neal said

      You and Ellen are both right. In my enthusiasm for talking about NPIs, I forgot to mention a complication: In addition to its NPI usage, any can also be used in the ways Thomas mentions. It’s often called “free choice any“. A lot has been written about it; here is a 2004 paper on it by Veneeta Dayal of Rutgers. I haven’t read this paper, but it was on the first page of search results, and it’s by a linguist who has written some other papers I’ve read.

  3. Ran said

    So, to be clear: you’re saying that your original utterance, “Well, crap! I forgot to go to the store and get any club soda”, is fine for you, right? As in, it only caught your attention because it’s superficially similar to *”I forgot to scoop out the litterboxes and get any club soda”?

    If so, then — yeah, I mostly-share all of your acceptability judgments. Like Dw, I do prefer “I forgot to get club soda” or “I forget to get some club soda”, but I don’t find “I forgot to get any club soda” to be out-and-out ungrammatical. So I guess for me, “forget” creates an only-marginally-negative-polarity context.

    [Insert spam/dupe disclaimer here.]

    • Neal said

      Yes, what I said was grammatical for me, but unusual enough for me to notice it, especially since I’ve been thinking about these kinds of unusual coordinations.

  4. Eugene said

    If you put this in a particular context – you should have got some club soda – then not getting any works better because any is the negation, or opposite, of some. Sometimes we want to make grammaticality judgements on sentences – nothing wrong with that up to a point – but I think that in real language use utterances are grammatical when we can imagine a context in which they are appropriate and/or effective.

  5. For me, (BrE) – ‘I forgot to get any soda’, is perfectly OK and even sounds more natural than ‘I forget to get some soda’, so I have no problem with that aspect.

    But the intervening ‘go to the store and’ seems to change it for me. When I first read it, it did look a bit strange. I can see that logically ‘forget’ applies to both verbs, but it doesn’t quite work for me; perhaps the ‘any’ is a bit too far removed from ‘forget’.

    • I’ve just had a thought. When we say ‘I’m going to go and do something’, that ‘and’ really means ‘(in order) to’. It’s not really about two parallel activities or structures. If you substituted ‘to’ for ‘and’ in your sentence: ‘I forgot to go the store to get any soda’, I don’t think it would work at all; we need to use ‘some’. Perhaps that’s why I find ‘any’ strange in your sentence, while having no problem with ‘I forgot to get any soda’.

      • Neal said

        Your analysis has been hit upon by others analysing these kinds of coordinations. The idea is appealing, because you can explain away the troublesome non-parallelism by saying, “This and isn’t really a conjunction. It’s a homonymous subordinator!” However, this easy way out isn’t actually so easy to take. Although in practical terms, “forgot to go to do s.t.” and “forgot to go and do s.t.” have the same meaning, the to and and start to behave differently when you poke them. For example, it’s been noted that you can cancel the implicature that you actually accomplished what you set out to do when you say, “I went to the store to get some club soda … but they were all out.” Try to do that with and, and it doesn’t work: “I went to the store and got some club soda … but they were all out.” WTF? At this point, the and=to explanation will require enough additional stipulations to get the facts right that it loses its advantage over just saying that this is the same conjunction and as any other time, and explaining the facts under that assumption.

      • Thanks for the reply, but I think your last example is a false analogy. Your original sentence was ‘I forgot to go to the store and get any club soda.’ Get here is what? a bare infinitive? And that’s what I’m talking about – the construction – ‘to go and do something’. But your last example isn’t about this construction – it has no infinitive, but two finite verbs. All it’s doing is missing out the second ‘I’ – ‘I went to the store and (I) got some club soda’. It’s just two coordinate clauses linked with ‘and’. This really is a parallel structure.

        I would only argue my point about ‘and’ meaning (in order) to’ where ‘and’ comes after a non-finite verb: an infinitive (as above), a gerund – ‘She thought of going and getting him’, or in an imperative – ‘Come and look at this’, ‘Try and eat something’, ‘Wait and see’.

        Once you start using finite verbs, I agree, things start to get complicated; it seems to depend on context. ‘He often comes and sees us at the weekend’, I think does imply purpose. But – ‘She stayed and played with the children’ – we simply don’t know whether it was her purpose to play with the children, or if it just happened that way. Personally, I would never argue this point where two past tenses are used in a parallel structure like this, the second verb simply describes an accomplished fact, not necessarily an intention.

  6. Your post has inspired me to put together a lesson on my blog for advanced foreign learners:

    http://random-idea-english.blogspot.com/2012/08/random-lesson-non-assertive-words-plus.html

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