don't tease the dog, <otherwise>...

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velisarius

Senior Member
British English (Sussex)
In the WR Dictionary there is an example sentence to show one of the uses of the conjunction "otherwise":

"Button up your coat, otherwise you'll catch cold.":tick:

I was wondering how members feel about "otherwise" after a negative imperative, for example:
1. "Don't tease the dog like that, otherwise it will bite you." (?)
2. "Don't go out without a coat, otherwise you'll catch cold." (?)

I wouldn't use otherwise there - only "or":
1a."Don't tease the dog like that, or it will bite you.":tick:
2a."Don't go out without a coat, (or) you'll catch cold.:tick:

Any opinions are welcome, but I'd really like to see how the grammar books treat my sentences 1. and 2. and whether there are regional preferences. I couldn't find relevant information online.
 
  • Cenzontle

    Senior Member
    English, U.S.
    I think your intuition about this is good.
    "Otherwise" is a kind of negation, but it seems awkward to use it to negate another negation.
     
    I'm not sure the 'negative imperative' is a special case.

    I find 1. problematic, and the positive only a bit less so.

    1* Feed the dog, otherwise he'll not be in a mood to play. :(

    The imperative sets up a subject and one generally does well to keep it:

    1** [You] feed the dog, otherwise you'll put him in a bad mood.:tick:

    Obviously some changes of subject are allowed, if there's an apparent connection.
    "I plan to stay home, otherwise my mother will be disappointed when she phones."
    [Negative: "I won't leave home, otherwise...." OK.]

    However the negative imperative that's related, sounds 'off.' "Don't leave home, otherwise your mother will be disappointed when she calls."
     

    Parla

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    Focusing only on usage and ignoring the factual problems with both sentences: I'd use or rather than "otherwise" in both, and may rather than "will".
     

    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    Interesting point and one that I never thought about in lo these many years.

    Dipping my "or" in the water, I'll go for:

    1a."Don't tease the dog like that, or it will bite you.":tick:
    2a."Don't go out without a coat, (or) you'll catch cold.:tick:
     

    gramman

    Senior Member
    I'd really like to see how the grammar books treat my sentences. … I couldn't find relevant information online.
    I too was unable to find an examination of this issue, and so can only offer my opinion.

    Although I would be more likely to use "or," or perhaps "or else," in your sentences, I don't see any problem with otherwise.

    How do you feel about these examples:

    There's nothing wrong with demonstrating a solid vocabulary. Just don't overdo it. Otherwise, the readers will suspect that you're using impressive words as a smokescreen for poor content.Tips for Writing High-scoring GRE Essays

    Only quote as necessary. Don’t use too many; otherwise your essay may give the impression of ‘cut and paste’, and that you haven’t really grasped the topic. — Essay Writing Guide

    Teased dogs don't necessarily bite. Going coatless doesn't cause colds; viruses do.
    The sentence refers to a specific dog, not dogs in general. Going out without wearing a coat could contribute to catching a cold. Is it necessary to list all the conditions required?
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    Thanks for your opinions everyone. I hope members will ignore the factual problems, as they might be off-topic :) - but I apologise for them.

    Bennymix, I think you're right to question a sentence like "Feed the dog, otherwise he'll not be in a mood to play."
    I can see the change of subject lessens the sense of "dire consequences of not doing something" that is suggested by "otherwise".

    "You must take care of your animals; otherwise they will fall ill, maybe even die."



    I saw a few examples like those gramman has pointed out, and beginning a new sentence with "otherwise" does seem much more acceptable to me.

    I wonder whether there is a grammar rule or style guideline that would back up or demolish my "argument from instinct" here.
     

    Beryl from Northallerton

    Senior Member
    British English
    I agree with Cenzontle. This kind of 'otherwise' contains a negation.

    "Take a coat, otherwise you'll catch cold." = Take a coat, because if you don't (take a coat), you'll catch cold.

    "Don't go out without a coat, otherwise you'll catch cold." = Don't go out without a coat, because if you don't (not go out without a coat), you'll catch cold. ###
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    Thank you Beryl.

    "
    Don't go out without a coat, otherwise you'll catch cold."

    So in that sentence the double negation is just confusing; or would it mean the opposite of what is intended?
     

    Beryl from Northallerton

    Senior Member
    British English
    Oh yes, I must have sent that off half way through. I had meant to say that there a was double negative lurking in there, and that its presence was the most likely source of the jarring.

    That said, I'm no expert on double negatives, but I know they don't all jar.

    This kind of 'otherwise', I think, also does some pointing towards the previous clause (the words in brackets), and I'll venture that we don't much like to point to a negative, or an absence.

    cf. "Don't feed the duck, because it makes her fat." Here, I think the 'it' points to 'feed(ing) the duck', and I would contend, causes no such trouble.
     

    variegatedfoliage

    Senior Member
    English - US
    I think part of the problem is that otherwise isn't a conjunction but an adverb (and also an adjective). The initial sentence technically should have a semicolon:
    "Button up your coat; otherwise, you'll catch cold."
     

    gramman

    Senior Member
    I took a quick look at The Meaning and Use of Otherwise (Catherine Suyin Lai, Nov 2004), but didn't notice anything useful for this discussion. (And it could use a copyedit.)

    Otherwise, used as a connecting adverb, can in some contexts be read as "if not." I figure this gives rise to the concern about a double negative. But in:

    "Don't tease the dog like that, otherwise it will bite you."


    I would read otherwise as "or else." You can have an alternative to a negation, right?

    "If you do not refrain from teasing the dog, it will bite you."

    I expect some will see "if not" and "or else" as interchangeable.

    I'm reading otherwise, in these imperative contexts, as "if you do." Two more examples:

    Do not be evasive. Otherwise, you may be reprimanded by the judge and damage your credibility. — Helpful Tips for Witnesses

    If you are not charged, but you are being investigated, you must contact an attorney immediately. Do not delay! Otherwise, you will be giving up important rights. — Butler County Criminal Defense Lawyers
     

    Cenzontle

    Senior Member
    English, U.S.
    (1)
    Bennymix, I think you're right to question a sentence like "Feed the dog, otherwise he'll not be in a mood to play."
    I can see the change of subject lessens the sense of "dire consequences of not doing something" that is suggested by "otherwise".
    I don't have any intuition that supports this.
    If you replace "Feed the dog" with "The dog has to eat" (same subject), I don't see any greater sense of dire consequences.
    I'm uncomfortable with "Don't tease the dog; otherwise...", but I have no problem with "Stop teasing the dog; otherwise..."
    (2)
    Just don't overdo it. Otherwise, the readers will...
    Don’t use too many; otherwise your essay may...
    Gramman's two examples with negative imperatives (#9), plus those in #16, sound okay to me. I haven't figured out why yet.
    (3)
    I searched Quirk et al. for some statement about this use of "otherwise", but found none. They do (in Sec. 13.30) show a negative imperative followed by "or",
    pointing out the "virtual synonymy" of (a) "Make a move, and I'll shoot" and (b) "Don't make a move, or I'll shoot" (= If you make a move, I will shoot).
    And elsewhere in that section they show an example that replaces "or" with "otherwise", but not with a negative imperative.
     

    gramman

    Senior Member
    "Feed the dog" … "The dog has to eat" (same subject)
    Doesn't "Feed the dog" have an implied (elliptical) subject of "You"?

    I'm left wondering why we're having trouble finding grammarians discussing this if there's a problem. That said, I would agree that while there may be nothing improper with "Don't -------; otherwise" formulations, there may well be cases where it "doesn't sound right" and should perhaps be reworded.

    I did find widespread support for variegatedfoliage's statement in #15 regarding punctuation, e.g.,

    When a conjunctive adverb connects two independent clauses in one sentence, it is preceded by a semicolon and followed by a comma. — Using Conjunctive Adverbs, from UW-Madison's Writing Center

    But these examples seem to fall into the "short clauses" exception to the comma splice rule.
     
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