A burglar at the Berwick Inn forced a fruit machine to steal £40.

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High on grammar

Senior Member
Farsi
Hello everyone:

LONGMAN GUIDE TO ENGLISH USAGE, by Sidney Greenbaum, says this sentence is a grammatically wrong, but doesn't provide an explanation.

A burglar at the Berwick Inn forced a fruit machine to steal £40.


Could you tell me what the problem is?

How would you fix the problem?

Thanks.
 
  • The Newt

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Actually, I'm not sure that it's "wrong," but it is ambiguous. "To force" can mean 1) to make someone do something; 2) to break into something. If the idea is "in order to steal..." then it's okay.
     

    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    If the idea is "in order to steal..." then it's okay.
    :thumbsup::thumbsup:
    For those not familiar with "fruit machines" (not having visited British pubs)

    Collins Concise English Dictionary © HarperCollins Publishers::

    fruit machinen
    1. brit a gambling machine that pays out when certain combinations of diagrams, usually of fruit, are displayed
     
    The problem is that 'to steal L40' is misplaced, giving rise to a comical suggestion {how would a burglar force a machine to commit an act of stealing?}

    The burglar, to steal L40, forced the machine. {Correct}

    This is a version of the problem of the sentence, The man saw a tree walking up the hill.:confused:

    More similar:
    The man pushed a bystander to get a better view of the parade. {??}


    Hello everyone:

    LONGMAN GUIDE TO ENGLISH USAGE, by Sidney Greenbaum, says this sentence is a grammatically wrong, but doesn't provide an explanation.

    A burglar at the Berwick Inn forced a fruit machine to steal £40.


    Could you tell me what the problem is?

    How would you fix the problem?

    Thanks.
     
    Last edited:
    Respectfully, I would disagree. Only the mechanic could force a machine to steal.

    Would you approve of (an analogue)--

    The man pushed a bystander to get a better view of the parade.

    I would add too, that sentence to be passable in grammar and usage has to pass a higher test than 'No one would misinterpret it.' Example, I saw a tree walking up the hill.

    I agree with The Newt and SDG; in AE, the sentence is fine. No one would misinterpret it.
     
    The example in the OP is used by Quirk (an associate of Greenbaum) in his Introduction
    to Grammatical and Lexical Variance in English
    available online:

    http://project.phil.spbu.ru/lib/data/slovari/quirk/quirk.html

    It probably did not dawn on the writer of this sentence that — without any wilful intent to misinterpret — a reader could understand it in any of several sharply different ways. But just as destructive as ambiguity is the diversion of an addressee's attention by an unintentional absurdity or double entendre. In a Sussex newspaper it was reported that

    OP: A burglar at the Berwick Inn forced a fruit machine to steal £40.

    In an American Sunday paper, a thoughtless failure to anticipate a misreading resulted in the following:

    New: Buckingham Palace said that 22-year-old Prince Andrew, son of Queen Elizabeth and a Navy helicopter pilot, would sail with the Invincible.

    ===

    The point is about placement of phrases and structuring sentences to clearly say what one means to say without unnecessary ambiguity. The test 'would not be misinterpreted', applied to the new, Buckingham Palace example, above, does not give the correct result (that the sentence is defective).
     
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    perpend

    Banned
    American English
    I share benny's reservation, that the whole construction with "force" is odd (to my ears), regarding the grammar. It may be a pond issue.

    Hello everyone:

    LONGMAN GUIDE TO ENGLISH USAGE, by Sidney Greenbaum, says this sentence is a grammatically wrong, but doesn't provide an explanation.

    A burglar at the Berwick Inn forced a fruit machine to steal £40.

    Could you tell me what the problem is?

    How would you fix the problem?
    I would say: A burglar at the Berwick Inn broke/smashed a fruit machine (= gambling machine) to steal £40.
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    I don't think it's a BE/AE difference (or "pond issue" as perpend calls it). "Forced open" might be better.

    I think this ambiguity is a case of unacceptably bad style rather than bad grammar though. The sentence could also be fixed like this:
    A burglar at the Berwick Inn forced a fruit machine in order to steal L40.

    It's one of those rare occasions when "in order to" would say more than a simple "to".
     

    perpend

    Banned
    American English
    We can't use a mere "forced" to mean "forced open", in AmE.

    Thus, benny's quandary, if I understand correctly.
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    Benny (and Newt) sees ambiguity, so I suppose he thinks the two meanings are possible. Two other AE speakers think there's nothing wrong with the sentence.
     

    perpend

    Banned
    American English
    In related news: Would you force a vending machine to get something to eat, velisarius?

    (Just checking the wording.)
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    (I'll ignore that slur on my character perp.)
    If I were starving I might "force (open) a vending machine (in order) to get something to eat", yes.

    Edit: I could force a vending-machine, in the same way as I could force the lock on a door. (Oh dear, I seem to have added the crime of breaking and entering to my charge list.)
     
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    perpend

    Banned
    American English
    I'd never slur, velisarius. You know me. You are golden. :)

    It seems a pond-divider.
    If I were starving I might force a vending machine. (BrE)
    If I were starving I might force open a vending machine. (AmE).

    Does that jive with other English speakers?
     
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    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    ... LONGMAN GUIDE TO ENGLISH USAGE, by Sidney Greenbaum, says this sentence is a grammatically wrong, but doesn't provide an explanation.

    A burglar at the Berwick Inn forced a fruit machine to steal £40.
    ...
    HoG, can you tell us exactly what the Longman Guide says?

    The sentence is a good example of Quirk's diversion of an addressee's attention by an unintentional absurdity or double entendre.

    But I find it hard to see why it should be described as "grammatically wrong".
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    It seems a pond-divider.
    The Merriam-Webster gives this definition of the verb force, with no additional label suggesting that this is mainly British:
    5 : to achieve or win by strength in struggle or violence: as

    a : to win one's way into <force a castle> <forced the mountain passes>

    b : to break open or through <force a lock>
    Can I not conclude that this use is also available in AmE? Benny and Parla seem fine with it.
     

    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    The Merriam-Webster gives this definition of the verb force, with no additional label suggesting that this is mainly British:

    Can I not conclude that this use is also available in AmE?
    Our very own dictionary here, which seems to be decidedly American, does likewise:

    WordReference Random House Learner's Dictionary of American English © 2015

    force /fɔrs/ n., v., forced, forc•ing.
    • v. [~ + object]
    • to compel, constrain, or make (someone) to do something[~ + object + to + verb]The police forced him to confess.
    • to drive or propel against resistance:to force one's way through a crowd.
    • to bring about or effect by force:We'll have to force a solution.
    • to obtain or draw forth by or as if by force; extort:to force a confession.
    • to break open (a door, lock, etc.):The thieves forced the window
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    I agree with The Newt and SDG; in AE, the sentence is fine. No one would misinterpret it.
    I misinterpreted it. In fact, it's quite hard for me to twist my brain in order to see the correct meaning as "He forced the machine" is not something I would say. I can force a lock, but I don't know how to force a gambling machine/video game/etc.

    Second edit: I just realized that he broke into the coin box. I was thinking that he forced the machine in some way to cause it to pay out. I managed to misread it two ways. :oops:
     
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    pob14

    Senior Member
    American English
    I also misinterpreted it; the burglar reprogrammed the machine to force it to steal from other people. (How that would help the burglar, I don't know.) I'm with Myridon; I can see forcing a door, forcing a window, or forcing a lock, but forcing a machine is strange to me.
     
    I think when a machine is in part, a container for money, it can be 'forced' in AE, though 'forced open' is perhaps clearer.

    The issue, however, is the placement of 'to steal' and the wrong impression given. The sentence is no better than (my example):

    The man pushed a bystander to get a better view of the parade.:confused:

    Velisarius' fix works for this: The man pushed a bystander in order to get a better view of the parade. :tick:

    I'm not sure about her point, however:

    I think this ambiguity is a case of unacceptably bad style rather than bad grammar though. The sentence could also be fixed like this:
    V*: A burglar at the Berwick Inn forced a fruit machine in order to steal L40.
    ----

    The 'fix' is not entirely felicitous in my opinion. Consider this variant: Is it a good fix:

    V**: A burglar at the Berwick Inn forced a fruit machine with intent to steal L40. {?}


    Sentence structure falls under grammar as well as style, in my opinion.

    Would she say, "I saw a tree walking up the hill" is (just) very bad style?
     
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    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    I think when a machine is in part, a container for money, it can be 'forced' in AE, though 'forced open' is perhaps clearer.
    I still don't see the internal container.
    The burglar forced the ATM. :mad: I picture him using a fake card or putting a screwdriver in the slot the money comes out of.
    The burglar forced the ATM's safe. :confused: He removed the safe from the ATM?
    The burglar forced the ATM open. :confused: Now he can see the safe, but he doesn't have the money.
    The burglar forced the lock on the ATM's safe. :tick: The desired meaning.
     
    Good points Myridon! But how do you stand on the main issue? I believe you said,
    above (#19) that you misinterpreted the sentence. Ergo it's not a good one, right?

    I still don't see the internal container.
    The burglar forced the ATM. :mad: I picture him using a fake card or putting a screwdriver in the slot the money comes out of.
    The burglar forced the ATM's safe. :confused: He removed the safe from the ATM?
    The burglar forced the lock on the ATM's safe. :tick: The desired meaning.
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    It's very confusing. I think I would mark it "very awkward" if not "wrong". Try this one:
    A burglar at the Berwick Inn forced a fruit machine through a window to steal £40.
    Think about it for a second before you read on...

    Did he reach through the window and break into the fruit machine, or did he take the fruit machine outside ... perhaps both? ;)
     
    At first reading, the structure seems OK IF he pushed the machine (out) 'through the window'. In such case, the phrase is properly placed.

    The other alternative is odd:

    A burglar at the Berwick Inn forced a fruit machine reaching through a window.:eek:



    It's very confusing. I think I would mark it "very awkward" if not "wrong". Try this one:
    A burglar at the Berwick Inn forced a fruit machine through a window to steal £40.
    Think about it for a second before you read on...

    Did he reach through the window and break into the fruit machine, or did he take the fruit machine outside ... perhaps both? ;)
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    To clarify, sound, you are saying that in BE, the sentence is fine? (thumbing your nose at Quirk, Greenbaum, and your boys!)
    Well, it's not "ungrammatical", benny. That's why I'm puzzled by HoG's post 1, and why I asked the question in my post 15.
     
    If you look at Quirk's Introduction (link in my post #7), he uses a variety of terms for errors, defects, and failings of sentences. The term 'grammatical' does not come up much, there. If we agree the sentence in the OP had one or more of the above, to a serious degree, isn't that enough? Is it critical to say that "I sawed a tree walking up the hill" is ungrammatical, but, "I saw a tree walking up the hill" is (merely?) 'poor usage' and fine in its grammar?


    Well, it's not "ungrammatical", benny. That's why I'm puzzled by HoG's post 1, and why I asked the question in my post 15.
     
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    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I'm afraid i don't understand your point, benny.

    I'm simply asking HoG to tell us exactly what The Longman Guide to English Usage said about this sentence.
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Is it critical to say that "I sawed a tree walking up the hill" is ungrammatical, but, "I saw a tree walking up the hill" is (merely?) 'poor usage' and fine in its grammar?
    If the tree was small enough to carry, there's no reason that you couldn't have been sawing while walking with a hand saw (I don't recommend walking with a running chainsaw). Even if it's planted in the ground, you could probably saw a couple of strokes as you pass by. ;)
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    I don't agree that we can't, but we seldom do. I know I've encountered it before, but then maybe it was from British authors.
    I've read forced used this way in British books but I haven't seen it in American English that I recall. "Broke into" or "forced open" would be immediately clear to me. To force something usually means to break a lock or catch, but I wouldn't use it when the catch was part of a component of something else. "Forced a cash register" sounds very strange, or "Forced a car". You could force a cash register drawer or force a car door but to use it for the entire object sounds very odd to me. I can see a burglar breaking into a house by forcing a window but not by forcing a house.
     

    bibliolept

    Senior Member
    AE, Español
    That the specific use of the verb force in this construction is more popular in BE than AE doesn't make the sentence incorrect though, does it?

    I will admit that it is, at best, less advisable a choice in AE. There's no reason to throw some share of readers off, even if momentarily.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    No, not wrong, in my opinion, but odd enough that it isn't really understandable in American English without more context. I only knew about fruit machines because of some BBC program I had watched where a man owned a beachfront arcade with fruit machines. Even knowing that, the sentence was very confusing.
     
    Last edited:
    I agree the 'fruit machine' was confusing. I thought it was a dispenser of apples.

    But surely the point of the whole exercise and discussion is raised with this new,
    trans-Atlantic version.

    OP# (trans Atlantic): A burglar at the Berwick Inn forced a door to steal L40.

    Newt, Parla, SDG and others: Are you 'fine' with this sentence?


    No, not wrong, in my opinion, but odd enough that it isn't really understandable in American English without more context. I only knew about fruit machines because of some BBC program I had watched where a man owned a beachfront arcade with fruit machines. Even knowing that, the sentence was very confusing.
     

    sound shift

    Senior Member
    English - England
    To clarify, sound, you are saying that in BE, the sentence is fine? (thumbing your nose at Quirk, Greenbaum, and your boys!)
    Since Greenbaum doesn't deign to support his assertion (see post 1) with any kind of explanation, he invites nose-thumbing. I admit that I don't pay much attention to what these arbiters of good English say; perhaps I should (?) No, seriously, the sentence sounds fine to me.
     
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    JamesM

    Senior Member
    I have no problem with "OP# (trans Atlantic): A burglar at the Berwick Inn forced a door to steal £40."

    (I fixed the £ sign :))
    I have no problem with it, either. However, I would have a problem with " A burglar forced a slot machine to steal $60", which would be more like an AE 'translation' of the original.
     
    You are assuming that the OP quoted all relevant material. We do not know what
    Greenbaum said, but I have given the link to Quirk, Greenbaum's buddy, and his explanation regarding the exact sentence. Beyond that, isn't it obvious by now
    what the issue is? This type of sentence (see post #36) is <---> bizarre due to the
    structure, wording, and unclear reference of the final phrase:

    A burglar at the Berwick Inn forced a door to steal £40. {Variant of OP}

    or, my own example,

    The man at the parade pushed a bystander to get a better view.

    Since Greenbaum doesn't deign to support his assertion (see post 1) with any kind of explanation, he invites nose-thumbing. I admit that I don't pay much attention to what these arbiters of good English say; perhaps I should (?) No, seriously, the sentence sounds fine to me.

    < ---> Insignificant deletion (Rule 9). Cagey, moderator. >
     
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    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    I have no problem with "OP# (trans Atlantic): A burglar at the Berwick Inn forced a door to steal £40."

    (I fixed the £ sign :))
    I have no problem with it, either. However, I would have a problem with " A burglar forced a slot machine to steal $60", which would be more like an AE 'translation' of the original.
    Now I am puzzled:(

    Generic sentence : A burglar forced {an inanimate object} to steal £40.

    This sentence is OK if {...} is a door, but not if {...} is a fruit machine/slot machine/one-armed bandit. ?
     

    sound shift

    Senior Member
    English - England
    You are assuming that the OP quoted all relevant material. We do not know what
    Greenbaum said, but I have given the link to Greenbaum, Quirk's buddy, and his explanation regarding the exact sentence. Beyond that, isn't it obvious by now
    what the issue is? This type of sentence (see post #36) is <---> bizarre due to the
    structure, wording, and unclear reference of the final phrase:

    A burglar at the Berwick Inn forced a door to steal £40. {Variant of OP}

    or, my own example,

    The man at the parade pushed a bystander to get a better view.
    You can't possibly know what's in my mind. I didn't assume anything; I just didn't want to cast aspersions on the thread starter;). I don't see that there is an issue, since the OP can mean only one thing to me. And quite frankly, when I look at the link to Greenbaum, I find that the OP can still only mean one thing to me, since when I consider what fruit machines are capable of, I don't detect either the "absurdity" or the "double entendre" that he spots. Perhaps his understanding of "fruit machine" is not the same as mine.
     
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    JamesM

    Senior Member
    Now I am puzzled:(

    Generic sentence : A burglar forced {an inanimate object} to steal £40.

    This sentence is OK if {...} is a door, but not if {...} is a fruit machine/slot machine/one-armed bandit. ?
    Exactly. See post #33. :)

    The construction works for me with some objects (the objects being actually forced open) but not the larger object as a whole. I can't say "The burglar forced a house to steal some jewelry." "Forced" doesn't work for me in that context. Even "The burglar forced open a house" doesn't work for me. He didn't force open an entire house. He forced open a window or a door to gain entry to the house.
     
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    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    But you can "force open" the cash compartment of a fruit machine - I would assume that that was the sense, even if I the "cash compartment" was omitted: "He forced open a fruit machine to steal...", or, as in the original "He forced a fruit machine ..."
    In all of them the "compel an inamimate object to do something" is not a sense that ever comes to (my) mind, except when grammar is artifically divorced from sense/logic etc. Oh well:)
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    But you can "force open" the cash compartment of a fruit machine - I would assume that that was the sense, even if I the "cash compartment" was omitted: "He forced open a fruit machine to steal...", or, as in the original "He forced a fruit machine ..."
    In all of them the "compel an inamimate object to do something" is not a sense that ever comes to (my) mind, except when grammar is artifically divorced from sense/logic etc. Oh well:)
    I think it's just the word is rarely (if ever) used that way in American English so it doesn't 'map' correctly as I am trying to interpret it. "He forced X to Y" first gets the meaning "He made X do Y". Add to that the strange combination of a large object and "forced" and it just doesn't compute. It can be worked out but it takes re-thinking it to do so.

    If I think of forcing open a car I think of something like the jaws of life bending the entire car in order to get into it, not fiddling with the car door to get the door open.

    This is forcing open a car:

    jaws-of-life-360.jpg

    This is forcing open a car door:

    BurglarPryingCarDoor.jpg

    You may have picked up the meaning of "force" as you grew up, Julian, and so it has a built-in meaning that adapts well to the sentence. I didn't and I don't.
     
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    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    LONGMAN GUIDE TO ENGLISH USAGE, by Sidney Greenbaum, says this sentence is a grammatically wrong, but doesn't provide an explanation.

    A burglar at the Berwick Inn forced a fruit machine to steal £40.

    Could you tell me what the problem is?

    How would you fix the problem?
    As Bennymix explained in # it is wrong because it sounds very funny because it is ambiguous


    “A burglar at the Berwick Inn forced a fruit machine to steal £40.” means:


    1. A burglar at the Berwick Inn forced a gambling machine in order to steal £40.
    or
    2. A burglar at the Berwick Inn used physical force to compel a gambling machine to steal £40 from the inn.

    You correct it by using 1 above.

    To force something – to apply physical pressure in order to open something (BE)
     
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