Archive for the ‘Parallel Structure’ Category

Changing “horses” in midstream is a poor sentence structure practice.

Monday, June 9th, 2014

horses midstreamParallel structure helps the reader move smoothly through a sentence because the reader does not have to keep "changing horses" or "switching gears" as far as the pattern is concerned. Once a writer sets a pattern for a series of items, he should stick to that pattern throughout the series. Consider this sentence from an excellent article about bullying that appeared recently in The Birmingham News:

Jefferson County Sheriff Mike Hale; rising Ramsay High School senior Brianna Gilbert; Christopher McCauley, the executive director of the David Mathews Center for Civic Life; and Birmingham Board of Education member Lyord Watson also said there needs to be better communication….\

The first, second, and fourth items in this series are in the same pattern: title, then name. For some reason, the writer jumps to a different pattern for the third item, giving the name first and then the title. Not only does this jar the pattern, it creates the necessity for semicolons between items because the title (coming after the name) must be set off by commas. 

It is simpler to write and to read this way:

Jefferson County Sheriff Mike Hale, rising Ramsay High School senior Brianna Gilbert, David Mathews Center for Civic Life executive director Christopher McCauley, and Birmingham Board of Education member Lyord Watson also said there needs to be better communication….

 

 


Parallel Structure Important, says Bob the Bookworm.

Monday, June 3rd, 2013

Bob the BookwormBob the Bookworm insists on good parallel structure. He likes his wording ducks all in the same row, so to speak. In the ad printed below (which he sent along from the Dallas Morning News), not all of the items in the bullet list follow the same pattern.

 

parallel structure goof

      In our corrected version, the pattern is the same in each bullet. Each  is a noun phrase. This way the reader does not have to keep shifting pattern gears, and the bullet list is easier to understand. The words "less invasive" have been removed from the final bullet because they simply repeat information from the first paragraph. (See below.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

— short outpatient procedure

— high-definition view to confirm diagnosis

— one treatment for multiple levels of the spine

— immediate relief for most patients

— less scarring, faster recovery

 


One child does not = THEY.

Friday, October 7th, 2011

My crusade to wipe out pronoun/antecedent disagreement continues.  Meanwhile, the tough new Alabama immigration law is creating difficulties in unexpected areas, including education. Here is a sentence from an article about the provision of this law that requires schools to check the citizenship status of students:

Craven in a press conference emphasized that no child will be blocked from enrolling in public school if they don't have documentation, and the names of those families will not be shared with anyone.

The primary problem in this sentence is pronoun/antecedent disagreement.  The word CHILD is singular, but the Birmingham News reporter chooses the plural pronoun THEY to refer back to CHILD.  That won't work.  I suggest changing CHILD to CHILDREN to avoid having to decide if the child should be referred to as HE  or SHE.

Second, the reading is much smoother if the phrase IN A PRESS CONFERENCE comes after EMPHASIZED instead of in front of it.

Third, THOSE FAMILIES doesn't really fit it.  You are talking about their children, so the term really should be THEIR FAMILIES.

Fourth, Craven emphasized two things in the press conference, but the lack of parallel structure in the sentence makes it sound as if he emphasized only the first point in the press conference.  A second THAT is needed to link the two things he emphasized. Here is how I think this sentence should be written:

Craven  emphasized in a press conference that no children will be blocked from enrolling in public school if they don't have documentation and that the names of their families will not be shared with anyone.

Four paragraphs later, pronouns get tangled up again. Consider these two sentences:

School systems will ask parents and guardians to provide a copy of the child's birth certificate when they enroll in public school for the first time.  If none is available, they will be asked for additional documentation and to sign a declaration that the student is a legal citizen or immigrant.

 Oh my! There are several problems here, too.  First, as written, it sounds as if the parents, not the child, are enrolling in school for the first time. THEY sounds as if it refers back to the PARENTS AND GUARDIANS. The word THEY cannot refer back to CHILD, and we know it is one child because it talks about THE CHILD'S (singular) BIRTH CERTIFICATE.

Second, by the time the reader gets to THEY WILL BE ASKED, it's totally unclear who THEY refers to, so the pronoun does not work.

Third, the second sentence is not parallel in structure.  FOR DOCUMENTATION is not in the same format as TO SIGN, and these two items should be parallel in format because they are both things the parents will be asked to provide if the birth certificate is not available. I would reword the sentence this way:

 School systems will ask parents and guardians to provide a copy of the child's birth certificate when the child enrolls in public school for the first time. If none is available, the parents or guardians will be asked to provide additional documentation and a signed declaration that the student is a legal citizen or immigrant.

 

Notice that I simply replaced the pronouns in the second example with the words they refer to (CHILD and PARENTS OR GUARDIANS).  Sometimes this is the best way to keep things clear.  COOK'S RULE: Use a pronoun only when its antecedent is perfectly clear.

 


Parallel Structure Eases the Read

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

In my Grammar Glitch workshops, I refer to parallel structure as "upper level" good writing.  If you create a series of phrases within a sentence, it is important to structure each item in the series in the SAME format so the reader's brain does not have to keep switching gears.

Take a look at this sentence that appeared in yesterday's The Birmingham News:

The Birmingham Education Foundation has raised $2.6 million as part of a $4.4 million campaign to increase parental involvement, academic rigor and prepare students for life outside of high school.

The fundraising campaign is for three things:

  • increase parental involvement
  • academic rigor
  • prepare students for life outside of high school

 

The first and third items are in parallel structure.  Each begins with a verb (INCREASE, PREPARE).  However, the second item contains only an adjective and a noun and does not, like the first and third, begin with a verb.  It is not in the same format. I would suggest adding the verb ENCOURAGE to the beginning of the second item in the series.  Then the sentence would read this way, without any shift in gears.

The Birmingham Education Foundation has raised $2.6 million as part of a $4.4 million campaign to increase parental involvement, encourage academic rigor and prepare students for life outside of high school.

 

 

The 


Is the casino operator also a lobbyist?

Monday, June 13th, 2011

Witnesses are beginning to take the stand in Alabama's big bingo trial. Here is a sentence I came across in the coverage over the weekend:

Jurors in the trial over allegations of vote-buying on a bingo bill will get their first look at the prosecution's evidence, which is expected to rely heavily on such recordings as well as testimony from a casino owner and lobbyist  who have plea agreements with prosecutors. 

When I read this sentence the first time, I thought the CASINO OWNER and LOBBYIST were one and the same person because the word A appears only before the first title.  Then I came to the verb HAVE, which is plural and would suggest that two separate people–A CASINO OWNER and A LOBBYIST–have plea agreements.

To clearly express what the reporter means to convey, which is that both a casino owner and a lobbyist (two separate people) have plea agreements, it is necessary to use parallel structure and place the word A before each of the people. The sentence should read this way:

Jurors in the trial over allegations of vote-buying on a bingo bill will get their first look at the prosecution's evidence, which is expected to rely heavily on such recordings as well as testimony from a casino owner and a lobbyist who have plea agreements with prosecutors.

 

 


Poor Parallel Structure Muddies Senator’s Sentence

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

Senator Richard G. Lugar wrote an essay entitled "The president's risky course on Libya" that first appeared in The Washington Post and was then picked up by other newspapers.  I read it this morning, June 7, 2011, in The Birmingham News.

Because of poor parallel structure, the last part of the first sentence in this essay ends up expressing the opposite of what the Senator means:

The House of Representatives sent the Obama administration a strong, bipartisan rebuke last Friday for failing to make the case for war in Libya or seeking congressional authorization for military action.

 When Senator Lugar used the words FOR FAILING TO, he was setting up the place where he wanted to explain the reasons (two of them) for the rebuke. When he used the word SEEKING, in the ING form, he put it on a parallel with the word FAILING. The sentence makes it sound as if Lugar is saying that the strong rebuke was for these two reasons:

  • FAILING TO MAKE THE CASE FOR WAR IN LIBYA
  • SEEKING CONGRESSIONAL AUTHORIZATION FOR MILITARY ACTION

 

The problem is that the Obama administration HAS NOT YET sought congressional authorization for military action–and Senator Lugar knows this–so it is impossible to rebuke the adminstration for that. What the sentence needed to do was put SEEK on a parallel with MAKE, not FAILING. It should have read this way:

The House of Representatives sent the Obama administration a strong, bipartisan rebuke last Friday for failing to make the case for war in Libya or seek congressional authorization for military action.

Senator Lugar does get high marks for the second sentence in this essay, which is an excellent example of GOOD parallel structure. It reads this way:

It is critical that the administration understand the significance of this vote, abandon its plans for a nonbinding resolution in the Senate and proceed to seek the requisite debate and authorization for the use of military force, as I have advocated for nearly three months.


Sloppy ad edits detract from newsletter quality.

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

A local newsletter arrived in my mailbox this week. The articles are well written, but many of the advertisements contain poor usage and punctuation. Here is one example:

I take Pride in what I do and putting Smiles on my client's  faces! 

Whoops! Does this business person have only one client? That is what the apostrophe before the S implies. Putting the apostrophe after the S implies much more business! I would also add the word IN before PUTTING to make the sentence more parallel.  NOTE: In advertising copy, I don't see a problem with capitalizing PRIDE and SMILES for emphasis. Here is my suggested edit:

I take Pride in what I do and in putting Smiles on my clients'  faces! 

Here is another Glitchy ad sentence from the same newsletter:

Our goal is to make sure your custom building needs are built the way you want it!

Whoops again!  NEEDS (plural) does not describe what the customer wants built. And IT (singular) cannot refer back to the plural NEEDS. The goal should be to complete the PROJECT the way the customer wants it. The sentence should read this way:

Our goal is to make sure your custom building project is built the way you want it!

 

 

 

 

 

I take II 

 


Agreement epidemic continues with “provisions…gives”

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

The epidemic of subject/verb agreement abuse continues. Here is a sentence created by Birmingham News staff writer Joseph D. Bryant. It appears in an article about the Birmingham City Council calling the city's police chief (A. C. Roper) to an inquiry:

Council President Roderick Royal Tuesday cited provisions of the Mayor/Council Act that gives the council authority to launch investigations and require participation of witnesses and the production of documents.

Whoops! The word PROVISIONS (plural) should determine the verb form that comes after the pronoun THAT in this sentence. The word ACT (singular) is simply the object of the preposition OF and should not affect the verb. The verb should be GIVE (plural).

I also think the last part of this sentence lacks good parallel structure. The use of the word AND between LAUNCH and REQUIRE works, but using it again before THE PRODUCTION is out of sync.  Both PARTICIPATION and PRODUCTION are objects of REQUIRE, but that is not clear.

I would reword this sentence as follows:

 Council President Roderick Royal Tuesday cited provisions of the Mayor/Council Act that give the council authority to launch investigations and to require both the participation of witnesses and the production of documents .

Rewording the sentence this way makes it easy to follow what goes with what, and that should always be the goal.


What is “a garage around the country”? Parallel structure glitch!

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

A recent advertisement for the International Vintage Guitar Collectors Association contains this puzzling sentence:

While that is an extreme example (a 1960 Gibson Les Paul guitar selling for $100,000), many rare and valuable guitars are stashed away in attics,  closets, basements, or in a garage around the country .

I do not understand why the association's staff writer Bryan Durbin uses the plural of ATTICS, CLOSETS, and BASEMENTS, then switches to the singular A GARAGE.  There are GARAGES (plural) around the country, just like ATTICS, CLOSETS, and BASEMENTS.  Why not keep the structure parallel?  This sentence should read as follows:

While that is an extreme example (a 1960 Gibson Les Paul guitar selling for $100,000), many rare and valuable guitars are stashed away in attics,  closets, basements, or garages around the country. 

Stay tuned.  Tomorrow's post will contain two more frustrating sentences from this same advertisement.  The association needs a proofreader!


Financial Advisor Needs Apostrophe Advice

Monday, February 21st, 2011

Financial advisor Stewart Welch writes a column of financial advice in the Sunday Birmingham News.  His articles are always interesting and practical.  This past Sunday he wrote about investing in microfinance and helping to save the world.  There were some great suggestions.

Unfortunately, this column contained two rather glaring apostrophe errors along with the good advice.  Here is the first one:

In all cases, the borrower's are expected to repay the loans, typically with interest.

Whoops #1: I have said it before, and I will say it again: WHEN ADDING "S" TO A WORD TO MAKE IT PLURAL, IT IS NOT NECESSARY TO USE AN APOSTROPHE.  This sentence should read as follows:

In all cases, the borrowers are expected to repay the loans, typically with interest.

Here is another sentence from the same column:

I believe this paltry figure is not accurate because American's have no heart for giving, but  rather that they too are struggling to pay bills and save for retirement .

Whoops #2 and #3:  AMERICANS is plural, not possessive, so there should be NO apostrophe.  Also, from my perspective, this sentence is not parallel in structure.  It should be written this way: structure NOnNONO NO   

I believe this paltry figure is inaccurate not because Americans have no heart for giving but  rather because  they too are struggling to pay bills and save for retirement.  

 

This column also contained a sidebar photo (See above left.) with a message about ENTREPRENEURS.  Yes, this word is difficult to spell, but it took me less than 15 seconds to check the correct spelling right on the Internet.

NOTE: If you are interested in microfinance, you can visit www.microplace.com or www.Kiva.com.