It’s an occupational hazard, I suppose, but I find it hard to read a novel without noticing particular usage features. So while reading Fay Weldon‘s The Heart of the Country (1987) last week, I stumbled over this sentence, as it has an extreme case of pied piping (= avoidance of preposition stranding):
and then eight thousand pounds of Val’s money disappeared overnight into some great vat of coffee beans, if you put your hand in which you might pull out a fortume (p. 60)
In which??? Which if in? I can’t work out this sentence. Was this Fay Weldon’s editor attempting to get rid of a stranded preposition or avoiding a double object construction (“which, if you put your hand in it, might …”)? Or is it Fay Weldon herself, having us on grammatically so to speak? (I suspect the latter actually.)
But there are other sentences that set me thinking, primarily because in this project we are trying to identify new usage problems, or to see if old ones have disappeared from the prescriptivists’ agenda so to speak. Here is one:
She would have liked to have cried (p. 38)
Then they’d have had to have gone away (p. 48)
These are double perfect constructions, which prescrivists don’t tend to approve of, and haven’t done so since Robert Lowth first raised the issue in his grammar (not in 1762 actually: see The Bishop’s Grammar, 2011, p. 105, for more details).
Strict grammarians would prefer “She would have liked to cry”, and “Then they’d have had to go away”. I suppose people happily went on using double perfects, why should they bother about them? But what I’d be interested to know is if editors correct them, or if text writers avoid them. How much are users aware of the stricture against the double perfect? I know I am, but then I’m not a native speaker, and I am a teacher as well as an editor.