As we drove between Crainlarich and Callendar today, my father began pondering road signs. He’d been fretting at it for a while before he spoke. He couldn’t decide whether to be bothered by how often the word SLOW was painted across the road when he thought is should say SLOWLY, or to accept that the cost of all those Ls and Ys would have been a terrible waste of public funds.

Which led to a debate on how the word SLOW functions in that context. I’d aways assumed it was an abbreviated form of an imperative phrase (SLOW DOWN). He agreed, but thought the phrase was GO SLOWLY.

Before I could even touch the brake, we found ourselves caught in grammatical knots. Just how does one parse SLOW DOWN? Is slow really a verb?

But if you think that’s too easy, gold stars to the person who best parses or diagrams this sentence (but no prizes for those who guess Dad is from Tennessee):

Y’all slow down now, y’hear?

JPEG, Word or Publisher diagrams can be offered by email by those who have both the grammatical and technological savy to do so.  

This is another Hermione Granger moment, isn’t it? 

7 thoughts on “slow”

  1. It’s a Bill Felver moment. Slow is certainly a verb. I slow the car, you slow, he she or it slows, we slow, you slow, they slow. I slowed, I used to slow, I had slowed, I will slow. I believe one’s distaste at ‘slow!’ arises from the fact that one would normally add an object – I slow the bus, and the conductor cries: ‘Clapham Junction’….As well as ‘slow down!’ one might posit: ‘Slow your car, bike, or bus, lorry, van or cattle float!’

  2. I’m sure you’re right, Rosemary. On reflection, I think it’s an issue of American usage. With the exception of ‘slow down’, all of the phrases you suggest would be understood, but not very readily created by any native (American) speaker. I wonder if Bill would have agreed.

  3. And “down” is a particle in that context, used, I believe, when it’s intransitive.

    Let’s see, imperative… “now” as adverb… I’ve forgotten what “Y’all” would be called (same form as “Kimberly, slow down!” – what is that???)… “do you hear?” is sort of a comma spliced independent clause functioning as an intensifier???? Hee… I have to admit I loved diagramming sentences in the 8th grade, but it’s been over 20 years. Care to set up the answer with your nifty software?

    I have to admit that I was thinking about that very sort of sign earlier this week, as I tend to think along the same lines as your father, considering it an adverb with an understood verb.

    However, regarding that adverb minus the -ly which so bugs me, I read an article recently that claims that anything is an adverb if it is acting like one – that is, the entire definition is functionally based. I couldn’t decide what I thought of that. Given the changes in English grammar and spelling in the past few hundred years, I’m sure that’s right, but I’d still prefer the standard form.

    And then you hop continents and it all changes again.

  4. Sort of “Slow, slow, quick quick slow” usage?
    Y’all’ is interesting. Same, perhaps, as Glasgow usage in “yous”? Anyway, second person plural pronoun, intensified by “all”….and I realise I’ve forgotten the incantation that was a properly parsed word, always done in the same order, word at a time. And Graphic Analysis – all gone in the mush that currently informs my writing. But when I was 11 years old – then there was no stopping me! And of course, this was over 50 years ago – which appalls me. No wonder I can’t remember.

  5. You see how much fun this is? We already have two competing theories: y’all as vocative (Sister Sarah) or y’all as intensified subject (Chris).

    Chris is wrong on one point though. Y’all is singular.

    ‘yous’ has it’s place in American dialect to. It’s more Northern. As in ‘How all yous guys doin’ ? (usually asked by perky waitresses as they come to ask for your drinks order)

  6. I do beg to differ slightly. Y’all is plural most of the time. But you’re right that it can be used as a singular, in which case the plural is “All y’all” if I remember correctly! I think we need Sumner’s input…

    Isn’t “yous guys” a Pennsylvania thing?

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