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What can I do besides...

“What can I do besides complaining” sounds wrong to me but I can’t say why ... I think it should be complain.

“What can I do besides complain?”
“What can I do but complain?”

However, “Besides complaining, what can I do?” sounds ok.

Any thoughts? Or am I completely off base here?

  • October 8, 2011
  • Posted by AnWulf
  • Filed in Style

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The word "beside" is a preposition, therefore it has no plural.

To my ear, the sentence "What can I do but complain?" sounds best. It is concise. It avoids the plural preposition and the unneeded gerund.

dogreed October 24, 2011, 7:52pm

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Sorry dude, you got it wrong.
Besides appears in both the OED and Chambers:-
besides prep
in addition to, as well as or apart from something or someone.
adverb 1 also; as well • We saw three more besides.
2 (often as a sentence connector) moreover; in any case • I don't want to go;
besides, I'm not dressed.
ETYMOLOGY: 13c: from, and originally with the same meaning as, beside.
The OED entry is somewhat longer.

I agree.
"What can I do but complain?" does sound better, as does "Besides complaining, what can I do?"
In fact, at the risk of incurring your wrath, both those forms sound more elegant.
Perhaps location is the key?
"Everyone, besides John, wore green." vs "Every one wore green besides John"

Hairy Scot November 5, 2011, 1:44pm

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To answer the original question of why: What can I do besides complaining sounds wrong because can and complaining conflict in their tense. You can complain. You can't complaining. You can *be* complaining. (Although it occurs to me I haven't got it quite right... 'do' could be the operative word... but you can't 'do complaining' either). Would what can I be besides complaining work?

Either way, complain is an action, complaining is a state of being. That is why your in-ear English radar picked up on it. Both can and do imply action. What can I do besides living? That just doesn't work. What can I do besides live? Much better.

(Note that you can replace all instances of 'besides' with 'but' and I'm fairly certain that all that I have said will still stand true)

Hacovo November 30, 2011, 5:18pm

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I think we all agree that the first one sounds wrong. This was raised by an ESL learner. I told her that the second two were better. I was just trying to put my finger on why.

@Dogreed, I think the "but" works better here as well.
@HairyScot ... I agree. Word order matters in English. In the end, I came to the same thoughts.


AnWulf November 6, 2011, 1:40am

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