Write well. Write often. Edit wisely.
A recent article (Answering Your Questions about Specifics) focused on resources where writers and editors can find answers for very specific punctuation and grammar questions. The article was actually the introduction to a series on readers’ questions.
You may one day need the same information that’s been discussed in a couple of the comment threads here at the blog, so I’m going to put a few of those questions and answers together in articles. (Both questions and answers may be edited from their original forms for clarity and to provide a more complete picture.)
Question regarding two verbs in the predicate, specifically transitive and intransitive pairs and linking verbs—
When it comes to verbs, does it matter if the verb is transitive or intransitive? I’ve heard that it matters if the verb is a linking or action verb (e.g., you shouldn’t write this: I ate popcorn and am beautiful), but would a sentence like this be wrong: Last night, I ate popcorn and listened to a song?
Your sentence is fine as is—Last night I ate popcorn and listened to a song.
I think the main problem with pairing verbs comes when the first verb can be either transitive (requires an object) or intransitive (doesn’t take an object) and the second verb is transitive. When the first verb could be either transitive or intransitive but is intransitive, readers might treat it as a transitive and try to attach it to the direct object that follows the second verb. So—
I sang and ate the bonbons.
Readers might (at least momentarily) wonder how the speaker sang the bonbons.
There are many fixes—
I sang my sad songs and ate the bonbons.
I sang and I ate the bonbons.
I ate the bonbons and sang.
We don’t have that same problem if the first verb can only be intransitive. Readers wouldn’t be confused by the following sentence because they don’t expect a direct object after succumb—
I succumbed and ate the bonbons.
It’s easy to say something you don’t mean to say when you put a verb that can be both transitive and intransitive before a transitive verb and don’t modify it in any way.
I twisted and threw the ball.
Does this mean I both twisted the ball and threw the ball or I twisted myself around and then threw the ball?
These kinds of problems can be difficult to see in our own writing—since we know what we mean—which is another great reason to have someone else proofread your stories. It’s also another reason to let stories cool before you edit them. It’s likely that you’ll catch double meanings or confusing phrases if you’ve been away from the text for a while.
As for linking verbs paired with action verbs, you can link them. Yet, as in the example you used—I ate popcorn and am beautiful—sometimes the results don’t work. But many times they do. These work—
I fainted and was thoroughly embarrassed.
She fell and seemed embarrassed.
She seemed embarrassed and covered her face.
Tom ate the candy and turned blue.
Lola passed the test and was greatly relieved.
Kenneth jumped higher on his third attempt and was finally successful.
Part of the problem with your example is the mix of verb tenses. Another problem is that the two elements aren’t connected. Eating popcorn and being beautiful don’t have a logical connection. These variations do work—
He ate popcorn and was happy as a result.
Shelby washes the gunk off her face and is pleased.
“I walked to and watched the event” would be fine from a grammatical standpoint because the verbs are the same tense, even though, in this case, walked takes a preposition and watched doesn’t. (Nevertheless, it probably sounds better as “I walked to the event and watched it.)
Yes, that sentence is definitely okay. While grammar might seem picky, it actually allows us many ways to word our sentences.
What you want to be careful with concerning prepositions after verbs is in making sure the preposition fits. Make sure that if you’re using two prepositional phrases with the same verb that you include two different prepositions if necessary.
So try the boy sang into the can and at the top of his lungs rather than the boy sang into the can and the top of his lungs.
Question on possessive or attributive for band’s song—
the Beatles’ song “Hey Jude”
the Beatles song “Hey Jude”
I would say “Beatles’ song” because it’s possibly possessive.
Just as we would say:
For your example, you want Beatles as a possessive—so do include the apostrophe after the S. Substitute a different noun/subject to test—
The boy’s song “Wowza” was an instant hit.
But Beatles could operate as an adjective (an attributive noun) under other circumstances—
Beatles paraphernalia always sold first.
Christmas decorations always sold first.
Related question about band titles being singular or plural—
And if a band’s title ends in “s,” is the verb always plural?
The Beatles are …
The Rolling Stones are …
Alice in Chains are…
The Dave Matthews Band is…
As for the singular/plural issue . . .
You’ll find lots and lots of argument about this one and little agreement. In their decision making concerning band names, people wonder if they should consider the issue of collective nouns and the different ways BrE and AmE treat those collective nouns.
To make it easy on yourself if you’re using AmE, look at the names (the words) themselves. Treat plurals as plurals—the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Eagles, The Clash, The Who. Typically this means groups that begin with the or have plural words in the title that could refer to the individual members—he’s a Beatle, he’s an Eagle. (As always, there are exceptions. Some would consider The Clash and The Who as singular.)
Treat singular names as singular—Alice in Chains, Chicago, Kansas, Creedence Clearwater Revival, KISS, Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews Band.
Those writing for BrE audiences can treat all band names as collective nouns and therefore as plurals. (In BrE, most collective nouns are treated as plurals.)
This answer is not an absolute—this is a style issue, after all. And until some referencing body declares they’re setting a definitive rule, you’ll find band names treated by some as plural and by others as singular.
As for a plural always being treated as a plural? Sometimes we break the rules even for this.
So can a plural be followed by a singular verb? Sure it can. When the plural is actually singular . . .
The Beatles is an odd name for a band.
If you have comments or questions about these topics, please chime in. I’d especially love to hear from those who might have a different slant on an issue or can point us to a great resource that covers the issue.