The Grammarphobia Blog

You do something to me

Q: I was the guy who called you on Iowa Public Radio about the incorrect use of the subjunctive. I have another pet peeve: the use of “do … do.” Example: “Do you do copying here?” Is there ever a time when such a double use of the same word is anything but redundant?

A: As a matter of fact there is. The use of “do … do” that you mention is legitimate, and not ungrammatical at all.

The first “do” in that sentence is an auxiliary verb (as in “Do you make copies here?”) and the second one is the principal verb. The auxiliary “do” is often used with a “to”-less infinitive to form a question (“Do you snorkle?”).

As a verbal auxiliary, “do” can also be used, among other things, for emphasis (“Do be careful”) and to make a negative sentence (“I don’t know the answer”). The principal verbs in those two examples, “be” and “know,” are also infinitives.

Here are some other examples of “do” acting as an auxiliary:

(1) Do you do that? … Yes, I do do that. [Or, elliptically: Yes, I do.]

(2) Did you do that? … Yes, I did do that. [Or, elliptically: Yes, I did.]

(3) Do you see that? … Yes, I do see that. [Or, elliptically: Yes, I do.]

(4) Did you eat that? … Yes, I did eat that. [Or, elliptically: Yes, I did.]

On the other hand, a similar-sounding usage (“The point is, is …”) isn’t grammatically correct. I wrote a blog item last year that touched on this double “is” business. And I wrote another a couple of months ago about doubled words in general.

As for double “do”-ing, I’ll let Cole Porter have the last word: “Do do that voodoo that you do so well.”


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