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In the past, I have come across several examples of ~たり~たり seemingly being used with other final verbs than する, which is generally taught to be mandatory at the end of ~たり~たり phrases.

Is this grammatically acceptable?

Here are some example phrases from some quick googling:

  • 立ったり座ったり働く
  • 話したり笑ったり食べる

Also, these seem to be describing that final verb. They could be rephrased (as I understand them) as Vながら~たり~たりする, or something to that effect. Am I understanding this correctly?

Edit #1

As @snailboat pointed out in chat, my interpretation of these can also be rephrased as:

  • 立ったり座ったりして働く
  • 話したり笑ったりして食べる

Is this what those mean? Or are they, for example, 立ったり座ったり働いたりする?

My feeling is that they mean the former. However, one example I found which I feel could go either way is 「のんびりしたりうろついたり食べるのが好きです」. I'm not really sure how to interpret that one.

Edit #2

Can this also be done with adjectives? I have come across several examples:

  • 可愛かったり美しい
  • ダルかったりキツい日
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3 Answers

I will be honest. Both 立ったり座ったり働く and 話したり笑ったり食べる sound very wrong and strange (if the phrases actually end like that). I do not even understand what either of the two means --- specifically, I do not understand the relationship between the first two actions and the third action described in each phrase.

If the two phrases (I could not even call them sentences) were meant to be what Snailboat (or is it you?) said they were, then they are still incorrect and highly unnatural.

To summarize so far :

立ったり座ったり働く makes no sense. It does not mean anything.

立ったり座ったりして働く makes perfect sense. Your job requires sitting down and standing up (repeatedly).

立ったり座ったり働いたりする makes little to no sense because it means "(I) stand up, sit down, work and things like that."

Moving on, 「のんびりしたりうろついたり食べるのが好きです」 makes sense in informal speech. I do not like to bring grammar into a discussion of colloquial speech but the sentence would be much clearer if the 食べるのが part were replaced with 食べたりするのが. The sentence means "I like doing things like chilling out, wandering about and eating."

Finally, 可愛かったり美しい makes little sense without a noun at the end. Even with a noun, it still is sloppy colloquial speech. Many Japanese-learners seem to like to use たり these days but not many of them seem to know that it makes what they say sound very informal.

ダルかったりキツい日 is of course "correct" colloquially.

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I do not understand at all why you say the first two phrases (as they are - I never called any of the above sentences) "very wrong and strange" and completely meaningless, but のんびりしたりうろついたり食べる is perfectly acceptable. Can you please explain? –  rintaun Nov 26 '13 at 11:43
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First of all I would like to point out that apart from する, なさる and できる and other する-ish verbs are also game.

Second of all, it is important to note that ~たり~たり is a 終止形 construction and thus supposedly forms a bracket of a complete idea or sentence. 終止形 usually doesn't interact with anything specifically outside of itself, but when it does it tends to act like a nominalization that can at times form compound nouns and at other times like a quotation bracket.

My classical dictionary actually mentions this nominalization as an argument for why たり is paired with する. The very similar construction ~ぬ~ぬ is -not-, and the logic behind this is that it is not volitional, so it conflicts with する, and ends up just attaching to a verb that describes its action: "浮きぬ沈みぬ揺られければ"

There are several examples in my dictionaries that have ~たり~たり and ~つ~つ (which たり is derived from) that are not directly connected with する, but instead they are succeeded by a noun phrase that is equivalent to their action:

"僧都(そうづ)乗っては下りつ、下りては乗っつ、あらまし事をぞし給ひける" == 僧都は乗っては降りたり、降りては乗ったり、乗りたがっている事をしました。

"掃いたり抜(ぬご)うたり、塵拾い、手づから掃除せられけり" == 掃いたり抜いだり、塵拾い、自分の手で掃除しました。

However, the volitional nuance for つ/たり is completely lost in modern Japanese as ぬ is completely gone, so it's not worth going into any further.

Now, moving on, your first two examples have serious problems.

立ったり座ったり働く

I searched "立ったり座ったり働く" and got "立ったり、座ったり、働くときの姿勢..." - This is perfectly correct. Looking at the former phrase, it is disjointed because there is nothing connected between 立ったり/座ったり/働く (it would be "I stood, I sat, I work" in an archaic sounding Japanese), but as you can see in the latter phrase, this is exactly how it's supposed to be. In other words, the parts of the phrase interact like this: 立つこと、座ること、(などの)働くときの姿勢...

話したり笑ったり食べる

I searched "話したり笑ったり食べる" and got "自信を持って話したり、笑ったり、食べる事が出来る". - This is again perfectly valid, if not a little strange. It equates talking and laughing with the act of eating, but I suppose in a way that makes sense. After all it's not like anyone needs confidence to eat. (Extracting the たりs gives you 自身を持って食べる事が出来る.) It is in regards to the act of eating.

可愛かったり美しい

First of all 可愛かったり、美しい人 is not really equivalent to 可愛かったり美しかったりする人. I would assume it is closer to: 可愛かったり、いや、取り敢えず美しい人. It's more nuance than anything else, especially in this case, but without する, 可愛かったり is properly disjointed from 美しい. That is my academic argument, but the realistic one is that because saying something like 可愛かったり美しかったりする人, or 可愛かったり綺麗だったりするもの is just too much of a mouthful for some people. It probably just got なきゃ'd from it's original なければならない. Again, this is partially possible because without much of a stretch, it still makes sense grammatically but with a different but not quite as important nuance.

ダルかったりキツい日

I again use my former argument: "だるかったり、(取り敢えず)キツい日" キツい irregardless of whether the reason for that is it being だるい or not. - I did not find any examples of this on Google though.

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I just found this in a book:

横顔が妙に青白い。呼吸が浅く、早くなった。救急隊員が酸素吸入をしたり、口腔内異物の吸引をしたり、忙しく働いているそばで、蝶子は、有作が意外に重傷で、助からぬのではないかと不安になった。

If I'm understanding what you're saying correctly, I think this is what you would call an "example of ~たり~たり...being used with other final verbs than する".

"These [~tari verbs] seem to be describing that final verb."

I had the same feeling as you when I read that sentence from my book. 救急隊員が酸素吸入をしたり、口腔内異物の吸引をしたり is describing 忙しく働いている. You could also say that 救急隊員が酸素吸入をしたり、口腔内異物の吸引をしたり are two examples of the actions that make up the contents of 忙しく働いている. I became more confident that this interpretation is correct after this exchange with ちょこれーと in chat:

ogicu8abruok: i'm not really satisfied with either of [the answers to this question]...

ogicu8abruok: 握ろうとする can be generalized to use other verbs in place of suru: 握ろうと手を伸ばす (does this make sense? correct me if i'm wrong). maybe you can do the same thing with -tari + suru, where you replace suru with a different, more descriptive verb like hataraku.

ちょこれーと: 「救急隊員が酸素吸入をしたり、口腔内異物の吸引をしたり、忙しく働いている・・・」は

「AしたりBしたり、忙しくはたらいている」って感じで

「Aしたり、Bしたり(と)、忙しく働く」みたいな感じかな?

「酸素吸入をしたり、口腔内異物の吸引をしたり」は、「忙しく働いている」の内容を説明してる、と言うか・・

(my emphasis)

In the part of the chat where i'm talking about 握ろうとする, I'm trying to make an analogy between this ~たり~たり、する pattern and the ~おうとする pattern. Don't worry to much if it doesn't make sense; I'm not sure I explained it well.

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