Friday, July 07, 2017

We couldn't do anything besides go to the hotel

(Grammar Questions I Couldn't Answer)

A student had written that:
[Because of the rain] "we couldn't anything beside go to the hotel and watch the sky"

During class feedback, I suggested the corrected version should be:
"we couldn't do anything besides go to the hotel and watch the sky"

But the students wanted to know why "go" and "watch"  were not in the past tense.

"do" of course, was easy enough to explain.  It was the infinitive form after "could".

And in a sentence like: "We could go home and eat dinner" , could would cover both "go" and "eat".

And I was tempted to say the same rule applied here.  But there were some complications in this case.  "Couldn't do anything" was in the negative, whereas: "go to the hotel" and "watch the sky" were the things that they actually could positively do.

And how was "besides" functioning in this sentence?  As a preposition, or a linking adverb?  And would the connection to "could" still survive across "besides" ?


Chi Chi said...

Why not "going"and "watching" because after the preposition we use V-ing?

Joel Swagman said...

My native speaker intuition is telling me that "going" and "watching" sound unnatural in this context. But I couldn't tell you the reason why.

Possibly "besides" is acting as a linking adverb in this sentence, and not as a preposition? I'm not sure.

If it is acting as a linking adverb, then does that mean "go" and "watch" are in different clauses? And if so, would they still be in the infinitive form because of"couldn't" ?

Or is my native speaker intuition off on this case?

Chi Chi said...

I don't know for sure. You're a native speaker, not me. This is hard to explain, isn't? If my students ask me why, I absolutely have no idea. Plus, I have never used "besides" as a linking adverb.