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quick grammar question: "It's more likely than not it w

Posted: Thu Feb 21, 2013 2:17 pm
by hereinchina
Is the following sentence grammatically correct or does it have one to many "it"?
"It's more likely than not it will rain tomorrow."

Posted: Thu Feb 21, 2013 7:14 pm
by fluffyhamster
It's not so much a question of grammatical (in)correctness as a matter of chosen phrasing. Leaving aside the 'more...than not' for a second, if the speaker or writer starts with 'It's likely', they have committed themselves to an initial clause with a "dummy subject" (it) already. There are then several ways of proceeding, the shortest of which seems 'to rain tomorrow' (a to-infinitive, non-finite subordinate clause functioning as complement/completion of the adjective 'likely'. (To compare adjective versus adverb uses of this word, see here: )). Or one could make the second/subordinate clause fuller by giving it its own subject and finite verb, as is the case in the original example: (that) it will rain tomorrow, or (that) it's going to rain tomorrow.

The original example may appear a rather long way of saying things, but how else can one express and add a finer degree of likelihood to the rather bald modal 'will'? It is however possible to squeeze everything into just a single-clause sentence, i.e. the modal 'will' can become the first and then lone finite verb/replace the 'is', and then calls like all modals for a following non-finite verb without a 'to' before it: It's likely-to rain tomorrow > It will-likely-rain tomorrow (*It will likely to rain tomorrow). NB: Don't let the intervening 'likely', which coming after the 'will' here is thus now an adverb LOL [cf. probably] and somewhat moveable, distract you from the fact that 'will rain' is a verb phrase, cf. the single verb + complement of is + likely (+ complement to/completion of the adj).

Now for the 'more...than not'. This simply increases the "chosen phrasing" factor already mentioned, with the various/variant wordings explored above remaining the same in each case. Note that we can ellipt the 'It is' only when there is a compensating '(I)t will' i.e. we need at least one dummy subject. Which basically just mirrors all that we've been through.

(It is) (M)ore likely than not it will rain tomorrow
*(It is) (M)ore likely than not to rain tomorrow
*(It will) (M)ore likely than not rain tomorrow

Thank you

Posted: Fri Feb 22, 2013 12:39 pm
by hereinchina
Hello Fluffyhamster,
Thank you very much for the detailed answer.
Best wishes,

Posted: Sun Apr 07, 2013 12:25 pm
by LarryLatham
Hello Fluff and Hereinchina,

Although I rarely login anymore, having retired long ago and being generally persuaded of my limitations now, given that I'm out of practice, I'm currently in Hong Kong enjoying the delights of this fine city, and, having a little time available decided to check out the happenings at Dave's ESL Cafe.

I'm still impressed, Fluffy, with the thoroughness and appropriateness of your answers to real questions. I do hope readers take you with the seriousness they should. You have offered a splendid analysis for the sentence posted by Hereinchina; one based in solid scholarship. That has always been typical for you, and I believe visitors to this forum ought to appreciate your work as it deserves.

One thing your answer implies, though you did not specifically point it out, is how important it is for students of language to recognize that speakers make choices. There often are many different ways in which a speaker can package what he wants to express, and he chooses words and grammatical structures to taylor his meaning just as he desires. The hearer's job in the communication equation then, is to unpack it so as to interpret exactly why the speaker put it that way while leaving aside other possibilities. "It likely will rain tomorrow" isn't exactly the same message as "It's more likely than not it will rain tomorrow." Keen listeners will understand the differences.

Short answer for Hereinchina is: your sentence is grammatically acceptable.


Posted: Sun Apr 07, 2013 9:16 pm
by fluffyhamster
Hi Larry, give Hong Kong my regards. :wink:

Part of the reason I tend to give rather involved answers to apparently simple questions is that I'm not so much educating the OP (or myself!) as trying to anticipate the often conflicting demands of potentially quite querulous Asian teachers of English (who have tests to administer). :P

Maybe the hearer/unpacker will take away roughly the same proposition in each case, while simply thinking the 'It will likely rain' speaker a bit terse, and the 'It's more likely than not it will rain' speaker a bit long-winded? :D

Talking of (T)aylor, have you read his take on modals? This forum, top post of page 7 of the Brian Browser thread. :)

Posted: Mon Apr 08, 2013 4:07 am
by LarryLatham
I did read what you posted from Talor in your reply to Jotham's comment to Tessa Olive's question. It seems reasonable enough, but I also agree with your subsequently expressed opinion that Michael Lewis has the clearest, easiest to understand and perhaps most rigorous treatment of modal auxiliaries in The English Verb. Kersti Börjars and Kate Burridge also have published a wonderful text called Introduction to English Grammar that pretty much backs the views of Lewis and Taylor. (I am assuming, I suppose, that Taylor would support Lewis generally, though those two gentlemen might quibble over some minor details.)

I will give your regards to HK, with pleasure. It is my favorite city, full of culture, fine food, utterly gorgeous scenery, lovely people, and is so easy to move around in owing to its convenient public transportation system. If I could afford to buy a house here (frightfully high real estate prices are the city's only major negative), I'd move here in a heartbeat.

Regards also to you and all the good folks on this forum


Posted: Mon Apr 08, 2013 5:06 am
by fluffyhamster
Thanks for mentioning the Börjars & Burridge. I recall seeing it in Japan, but it was probably a bit too pricey an import, and at the time only the First Edition and lacking the Glossary, for example.

Posted: Mon Apr 08, 2013 5:27 am
by LarryLatham
It is an excellent introduction, IMO. I downloaded it for free a while back, but I forgot from where. A google search would probably find it again, though.