This use of 'so' was so confusing


“Erin Burnett was in tears. So will you.” This headline and subhead appeared on the CNN homepage, for a while. A few hours later, the wording had been changed, replaced by “An interview left Erin Burnett in tears. You will cry, too.”

Someone figured out that something was wrong with “So will you.” But to understand where that wording failed, we need to put under the microscope a word we use every day but probably never think about: so.

Like a lot of words, “so” qualifies as several different parts of speech, including adverb, conjunction and adjective. Some of its common uses are controversial among sticklers. More on those in a minute. But for now, we need to figure out what job it’s doing in this sentence.

My best analysis was that “so” was standing in for a verb. Look at “He will quit and so will she.” In the first clause, you have a subject, “he,” followed by a modal auxiliary verb, “will,” followed by another verb that works with the modal to complete the verb phrase, “quit.” I figured “so” was working kind of like a pronoun, standing in for the verb “quit.” But pronouns only stand in for nouns, not verbs. Therefore, in my analysis, “so” would have to be a verb.

I was wrong, but I found someone to set me straight for this recent column.

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