Tag Archives: parallel construction

Can You Fix This Sentence?

I’ve found that even professional writers sometimes don’t know how to do parallelism. Here’s a problematic sentence from today’s local newspaper, The Ledger:

Patten said Publix accepts coupons from manufacturers, competitors, and some online coupons. NOT PARALLEL

The best way to learn parallelism is to make the sentence look like a little poem. (It’s also useful to remember that the third part of the sentence is usually the source of the problem–in this example, “some online coupons.”)

Let’s try it with this sentence:

Patten said Publix accepts coupons from

  • manufacturers
  • competitors and
  • some online coupons.

Saying “coupons from some online coupons” doesn’t make sense. So let’s rewrite the sentence:

Patten said Publix accepts coupons from

  • manufacturers
  • competitors and
  • some websites.

Now it’s correct! Here it is again, formatted as a regular sentence:

Patten said Publix accepts coupons from manufacturers, competitors, and some websites. CORRECT

To read more about parallelism, click here.

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Can You Spot These Writing Mistakes?

The Galloping Grammarian is at it again!

Here are two sentences with writing mistakes I came across recently.  The errors should have been corrected before they were published. Can you identify the problems?

The first is from a news story about Ines Sainz, the sports reporter who claims she was treated badly during a locker room interview:

Yes, she wears low-cut shirts, tight jeans and has photos on her employer’s website showing her in a bikini.

The second is from a literature blog:

A central figure in the Harlem Renaissance, McKay’s Home to Harlem (1928) was the first novel by a black author to make the best-seller lists.

Here are the answers:

The first sentence isn’t parallel. You can easily see the problem when the sentence is written like a three-part poem:

Yes, she wears

low-cut shirts

tight jeans and

has photos on her employer’s website showing her in a bikini.

Remember that parallelism errors are about lists, and the mistake almost always shows up in the third item. Here’s one way to correct the sentence:

Yes, she wears low-cut shirts and tight jeans, and she has photos on her employer’s website showing her in a bikini.  CORRECT

The second sentence is a dangling modifier. McKay’s Home to Harlem is a book, not a central figure in the Harlem Renaissance. That “central figure” was McKay himself.

Here’s one way to correct it:

McKay, a central figure in the Harlem Renaissance, wrote Home to Harlem in 1928. It was the first novel by a black author to make the best-seller lists. CORRECT

It’s often a good idea to write two shorter sentences, as I did here, rather than a long one. Cramming a lot of information into one long sentence often leads to errors.

Are you still confused about the dangling modifier? Let’s look at another one:

After filling the tank and changing the oil, Jill’s car was ready for the trip.  DANGLING MODIFIER

Jill’s car didn’t fill its gas tank and change the oil! Jill had to take care of those tasks herself. (Wouldn’t it be nice if cars did their own maintenance? Sorry – it doesn’t work what way.)

Here’s the corrected sentence:

After Jill filled the tank and changed the oil, her car was ready for the trip. CORRECT


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Parallelism in Sentences

Very few writers use parallelism correctly. Here’s an example from a Dear Abby letter published today. This sentence isn’t parallel and needs to be fixed:

He is intelligent, financially stable, and loves me and my son.  NOT PARALLEL

Writing the sentence as if it were a poem can help you see where the problem lies:

He is

intelligent

financially stable

loves me and my son

“He is” doesn’t match “loves me and my son.”

A better sentence would have been:

He is

intelligent

financially stable

loving to me and my son

(He is intelligent, financially stable, and loving to me and my son.)

Or the sentence could have been written this way:

He is intelligent and financially stable, and he loves me and my sonCORRECT

The problems always arise with the third item in the list. Make sure it matches the other two – or make it a new sentence.

Here’s another non-parallel sentence. Can you see how to fix it? I’ll add a correction at the end.

We need to mop the floors, wash the windows, and the bathroom needs scrubbing.

We need to

mop the floors

wash the windows

the bathroom needs scrubbing

Correct version: We need to mop the floors, wash the windows, and scrub the bathroom.

OR: We need to mop the floors and wash the windows, and the bathroom needs scrubbing.  CORRECT

Parallelism is impressive, important, and easy to learn.

"Dear Abby" - Pauline Phillips

“Dear Abby” – Pauline Phillips

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