Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Doug’s Multiple-Level Coordination

Posted by Neal on March 10, 2008

What was going to be a Christmas present for Doug and Adam turned into a Valentine’s Day present. Then it turned into an (early) Easter present. But today, after months of delay, the game that Doug and Adam had been anticipating for months finally came out, and we went and picked up our copy of Hyper Crush Bros. Knockdown-Dragout. Doug and Adam started playing it as soon as we got home from our errands, and managed to get in a couple of rounds before it was time to wash up for supper. As we sat down, I asked them how they were liking it. Doug said:

We haven’t tried training mode, versing mode, or looked at all the items yet.

It’s another multiple-level coordination. Doug coordinated two noun phrases (training mode, versing mode) with a verb phrase (looked at all the items). If I tried to diagram it out, it would be something like this:


If Doug had phrased it in a strictly parallel manner, with the two NPs coordinated by themselves inside the tried VP, and that entire VP coordinated with the looked at all the items VP, it would have been like this:


Looking at the second diagram, you can see that the coordinated NP training mode or versing mode is on the third tier down from the top, while the VP looked at all the items is on the second tier down, so this is what I’m calling a one-tier-different multiple-level coordination.

I haven’t posted about multiple-level coordinations in a while, but I’ve been trying to record every one I see or hear. So far I have 25 (including those I’ve written about previously but not including this one), of which 23 are of the one-tier-different variety. Of these 23, four coordinate VPs with an entire sentence (see this post). The remaining 19 coordinate, like Doug’s example here, coordinate two NPs with a VP. To be more accurate, if the first verb is a form of be, then instead of NPs, the coordinated items may also be adjectives, or other things that can serve as a complement to be: prepositional phrases or participles. For example, the first multiple-level coordination I wrote about was Be pompous, obese, and eat cactus, which coordinated two adjectives with a VP. Anyway, of these 19 examples, 17 of them actually do have be as the first verb. So Doug’s multiple-level is an example of the most common kind — NP, NP, VP — but not of the most common within that kind (with be as the first verb). When I have about a hundred of these multiple-level coordinations, I hope I’ll be able to make some further generalizations about when this kind of error (if error it be) is most likely to occur. So if any of you are reminded of multiple-level coordinations you’ve heard, please send them in!

7 Responses to “Doug’s Multiple-Level Coordination”

  1. Lee said

    If Doug and Adam weren’t versing each other before supper (or trying out training mode, for that matter), does that mean they were simply taking turns versing the computer? Would they say that they verse the computer, or does that require a different verb? (It is kind of useful – but I don’t think I’ll use it again. Ever. 🙂 )

  2. Matthew said

    Maybe I’m a bit dull, but what’s the difference between this and the “friends in low places” construction.

  3. Neal said

    Yes, you’re right. I asked Doug, and he said what you describe is called classic mode. And yes, according to Doug, they would indeed be versing the computer.

    It just so happens that I heard another “Friends in Low Places” coordination last night and wrote it up just now, along with a review of my definition of one. Hope that helps!

  4. Viola said

    Perhaps it’s the proverbial kid in me, but I like the fact that Doug and Adam make up special words that need defining, even if it sounds as if they are having their very own literary contest.

  5. Lee said

    Viola – as in a miniature poetry slam? Very funny 🙂

  6. Viola said

    Harr Harr (Ed McMahan laugh.) Actually I wouldn’t mind being a fly on the wall during that particular poetry slam. ‘Course I’d be swat right away because I wouldn’t be able to control my convulsive laughter. My boys and I developed a few verses to a couple of songs the other day and had a ball. 🙂 I just get a kick out of the lil’ buggers.

  7. […] been more than four years since Doug and Adam got the game Hyper Crush Bros. Knockdown-Dragout for the GameCube. (The GameCube!) But they still play it, as well as the sequel game that came out […]

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