General Question

livejamie's avatar

Is this correct grammar?

Asked by livejamie (111points) December 11th, 2008

“Make sure you put down tarp first.”

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

42 Answers

ben's avatar

No, tarp is missing an article (like “a” or “the”).

I would also add in a “that”, though that’s not necessary, but more explicit.

Make sure that you put down a tarp first.

andrew's avatar

I disagree with Ben. I think this hinges on slang meaning of “put down” as a synonym for “apply”. Then there’s a question of whether such a verb works in conjunction with a direct object like tarp.

Obvious a sentence like “Make sure you apply paint first.” is grammatically correct.

I feel like “correctness” for this example depends on how far you push the idiom of the speech.

madcapper's avatar

Make sure that you first put down a tarp… I think that would be correct.

Jeruba's avatar

Agreed, an article is needed.

“That” makes the subordinate clause explicitly the object of the verb.

The position of the adverbs is ok as written but would be equally ok in other arrangements:

Make sure you first put down a tarp.
Make sure you put a tarp down first.
First make sure you put down a tarp.
First make sure you put a tarp down.

AstroChuck's avatar

I have to disagree. I think the sentence is fine as it is. It’s a bit like saying “lay down carpet” instead of “lay down the carpet.”

livejamie's avatar

Looks like the community is divided as my friend and I were. :)

andrew's avatar

@livejamie: Perhaps it has to do with experience with laying tarp down?

What about “You need to lay pipe first?”

Edit: I think we can all agree that it’s not the most formal sentence, but I’ll stand by the grammar of it.

Mizuki's avatar

is this refering to the T.A.R.P. of the finanical bail out?

AstroChuck's avatar

How did my answer end up posted fifth? When I posted it it was the second answer. Not complaining, I just find it weird.

Knotmyday's avatar

I’m going with the missing article tack; I think the sentence is an example of “instructional abbreviation,” or unnecessary terseness.
I have heard “tarp” used as a verb, though…“Make sure you tarp the load!” which sounds more idiomatic than correct.

Knotmyday's avatar

I think we can rule out alphabetical order…

bob's avatar

I don’t think the sentence requires an article before “tarp.” I can also imagine laying down newspaper when working on a messy project. I wouldn’t say “a newspaper,” even if I was probably going to use exactly one newspaper, because I’m referring to newspaper as a substance, not to newspaper in the sense of a folded edition. The sentence requires us to think of tarp as a substance like plastic or newspaper or carpet, not as a specific item.

The original sentence wouldn’t be a great construction in formal usage (e.g. as part of written instructions for a project), but for colloquial speech it seems acceptable and perfectly clear.

@Jeruba: The way you’ve moved “first” changes the meaning. If I say “First make sure you put down a tarp” I mean that there are a number of things you need to make sure of, and the first of those things is that you put down a tarp. If I say “Make sure you put down tarp first” I mean that there is one thing you need to make sure of, and that thing is that you put down tarp before doing anything else. Do you agree?

(“Make sure you first put down a tarp” has the same meaning as the original sentence, but putting “first” in front of “put down” feels like more work.)

cwilbur's avatar

What’s the audience? Is there a reason that you’re trying to be especially terse? Is there a reason that you’re trying to figure out if an elliptical construction is grammatically correct instead of just using the full sentence?

It seems to me that “Make sure that you lay down a tarp first.” is unambiguously correct. “Make sure you lay down tarp first” is elliptical (it leaves out the subordinating conjunction that and the article for tarp), and is a lot more telegraphic than I like, although I’m not sure I’d call it incorrect. So I’d consider the audience and the purpose before I used it.

AstroChuck's avatar

Why do I find it comforting seeing Ben and Andrew on opposite sides of the fence?
And congrats, livejamie, on getting both fluther gods on the same thread. I gave you lurve just for that.

cwilbur's avatar

@AstroChuck: it’s not definitive until Gail weighs in.

bythebay's avatar

Couldn’t it depend on whether said tarp was mentioned previously in the article/directions?

laureth's avatar

“Paint” and “pipe” are things of which there may be an infinite or unlimited amount. If “tarp” falls in that category, like you should lay down as much tarp as necessary before you paint, then the asker’s sentence is acceptable.

However, if there is a finite or fixed amount of tarp, such as the one you’re putting under your tent at the campsite, the tarp becomes something that needs an article.

Similarly, if you’re filling a bathtub from an amorphous source of water (like the city water supply), you can say, “Make sure you fill the tub with water.” It is not specific water. However, if you have a pitcher full of water that you need to pour into the tub, you would say “Put the water in the tub,” not “put water in the tub,” which could be any water.

kfingerman's avatar

My take is that it’s a question of whether we’re talking about a material that can or cannot be counted. Bear with me…the “plural” of sand is sand, the “plural” of water is water. These are things that we can’t (at least practically) count. A jar of beans (countable). A jar of flour (less so). The same applies when we’re talking about using it. We lay down “carpet” if we’re cutting an amount out of a larger whole to fill a space. Similarly, if it’s a rectangle of said material, we usually call it a “rug” and would say “lay down a rug.” Newspaper is another example. If you are putting one of them on a table you would call it “a paper” while if you were spreading out an abstract amount out of a larger whole (i.e. all the newsprint in the world) you could say “put down newspaper.”

So, on this one the question is thus. Is it a proper tarp, with reinforced edges, maybe metal eyelets at the corners for stakes? If so, “lay down a tarp.” If, however, you’re cutting off a larger roll of tarp, some amount to cover a surface, then you’d say “lay down tarp”

kfingerman's avatar

OOH @Laureth beat me to it by about 30 sec. Pretty much the same sense, different examples. Are we getting closer?

breedmitch's avatar

I’m with kfingerman and laureth. For me its correctness is dependent on how many there are, and the correct plural of tarp. Tarps?

kfingerman's avatar

surely, the correct plural of tarp is tarps. In which case it’s “put down a tarp.” However, if we’re talking about an abstract amount of a material, then there’s no plural and it’s “put down (some) tarp”

delirium's avatar

Gaaaaaiiiil, we neeed youuuu!

Jeruba's avatar

@bob, yes, I do agree, and that’s an issue when you’re performing an edit. But that was not the question here. All I said was that those alternatives were grammatically correct. Sentences do not have to have the same meaning in order to be equally grammatical.

As for “tarp” versus “the tarp,” the difference is whether you are treating “tarp” as a countable noun or not. If you regard it as an uncountable noun, an aggregate or collective term such as “wood” or “plaster,” then the article is unnecessary. But I don’t perceive a tarpaulin as being of that class. I believe it is referring to a single object, one that we would normally designate with an article.

Perhaps in the trade, though, where tarps are laid down before applying plaster or paint, it is not spoken of that way, just as in a medical office we hear “Doctor will see you now.” In that case, again agreeing with bob, context matters: is the audience a general readership expecting to see standard English, or are we just talking to the other painter guys? If the latter, I wouldn’t worry too much about grammatical perfection.

finkelitis's avatar

Steven Pinker has a great talk on what language tells us about innate geometric sense, and I think this ties in. They’re both correct, depending on whether you think of “tarp” as an object (i.e. the tarp we packed for the trip), or as a substance which can be cut to fit a situation—i.e. tarp as the raw material out of which you create a particular tarp. Carpet is a good analogue.

So depending what attribute of the tarp you want to underline, you can use either one.

pathfinder's avatar

Jeruba.That has a sence all of them.Nice english haw it is variouse.

livejamie's avatar

I never expected this type of discussion to grow out of such a simple question that came up yesterday in a conversation with a friend, I truly love this place. :)

breedmitch's avatar

Honestly, you brought up one of our favorite subjects.

mangeons's avatar


Make sure that you lay down a tarp first
Be sure to lay a tarp down first
Make sure to put a tarp down first

or something of that nature ;)

morphail's avatar

Altho asking whether it can be counted is a good start, ultimately the count/noncount distinction is purely grammatical. “Atmosphere” is a count noun, but “air” is not. We can’t count stars, but “star” is a count noun.

Jeruba's avatar

Beg your pardon, @morphail? When we speak of “the atmosphere,” it’s countable?

Some nouns do function both ways in different senses. (“Don’t give yourself airs.”) But a given noun in a given context is one or the other.

Stars are certainly countable. How many stars are in the constellation Cassiopeia? The fact that we are not capable of enumerating all the stars that exist does not prevent stars from being single distinct and hence countable entities.

morphail's avatar

“Atmosphere” is a count noun: we can have “an atmosphere”, as opposed to a noncount noun like “water”: we don’t have ”*a water”.

I was responding to kfingerman, who said that the distinction was between things that can be counted and things that can’t.

“A jar of beans (countable). A jar of flour (less so).”

However, stars are as countable or uncountable as flour or sand or salt. I can’t count all the stars in the sky just like I can’t count all the sand on the beach. And yet “star” is a count noun, and “flour”, “sand” and “salt” are noncount nouns.

morphail's avatar

How about this:
The earth has an atmosphere.
*The earth has an air.

The second sentence is ungrammatical. We have to say
The earth has air.

So “atmosphere” is count and “air” is noncount, but they both mean pretty much the same thing.

Jeruba's avatar

“This place really has atmosphere.”

(But not “Come outside and look at star.”)

You can’t infer countability from the presence or absence of an article. It works the other way around. And you can’t disregard idiomatic speech.

morphail's avatar

Yes you can infer whether or not the noun is count or not by the presence of the indefinite article “a/an”. Noncount nouns cannot be used with the indefinite article (*a water, *a sand, *a salt, etc). Like many nouns, “atmosphere” and “air” are both count and noncount nouns, and they have different meanings depending on how they are used. My point is just that it’s not about countability – about whether the thing can be counted. It’s a purely grammatical feature of some nouns.

90s_kid's avatar

It is an imperative sentence. So take out make sure you and you have: Put down tarp first. Put down tarp first

and you is understood as the subject.

make is a verb
sure is an adjective….I don’t think that it is a correct sentence because there is 2 verbs and no conjunction (unless I am wrong). You is always the subject in an imperative sentence, so I believe make sure must be the predicate. I don’t think it makes sense.

Noon's avatar

@90’s Kid
“make” is a verb
“sure” is a adjective or adverb
“Make sure” is an idiom or verb phrase. Or an idiomatic verb phrase (is that right?)
And lack of a conjunction in a multi verb sentence does not a grammatically incorrect sentence make. (Sorry was that sentence construction a stretch, it sounded good in my head)

Also, yes the subject “you” is understood in an imperative sentence, but does not make the sentence incorrect if you make it explicit.

As for the question I’m in the a-ok camp. Regardless if it is a roll of unprepared tarp or not I think the sentence assumes there is a lot of some stuff called tarp (that could be a pile of already cut and prepared tarp) and several of them will have to be used to cover what ever the tarp will be covering.

bob's avatar

Let me break this down for you guys.

“Make” is the subject (first word of sentence).
“Sure” is the verb.
“You” in this case is a direct object.
“Put down tarp” is a polynomial objectorial phrase.
“First” is a gelfling.

90s_kid's avatar

“You” is the subject.
Make is the verb.
In an imperative sentence, you is always the subject, whether it is in the sentence or not.

Strauss's avatar

Here’s how I see it:

”(You)” (subject understood, imperative sentence)
“make sure” (idiomatic verb phrase. thank you, @noon)
“you lay down tarp first” (noun clause acting as object)

In the noun clause “you lay down tarp first”, use of an article (“the” or “a”) before “tarp” is grammatically inconsequential. doesn’t make any difference

“You” is the subject of the clause, “lay” is the verb, “tarp” is the object. “Down” and “first” are adverbs modifying the verb “lay”.

SeventhSense's avatar

A tarp is most definitely an object of distinct size and it requires an article like “the” or “a”.
Carpet is like fabric and comes in varying lengths and can be used as an object such as “Cover the room with carpet” or “Cover the chair with fabric” but
“Cover the table with tarp”,or
“Cover the bench with tarp” do not work. You need the article a or the to preceed. So the answer to your question is no.

AstroChuck's avatar

Jesus. It’s been three and a half months. Hasn’t the goddamn tarp been put down yet?

SeventhSense's avatar

Look.. you guys are not getting paid by the hour next time and that’s final…

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