5 Cases of Faulty Parallelism

By Mark Nichol

Sentence construction is often compromised by simple errors involving a gratuitous comma or a missing conjunction, and often both. Here are five faultily constructed sentences shored up by correcting minor problems such as these.

1. “As a consequence, he said, he lost his job, his family, and has scraped by from one low-wage job to the next to make ends meet.”
In this sentence, the listed results of a previously referenced misfortune are not parallel in construction, as you can see by attaching he to each item: “he lost his job,” “he his family,” and “he has scraped by . . . .” The simple solution is to provide a verb for the second item, but better yet, merge the closely related first two items so that they share a verb: “As a consequence, he said, he lost his job and his family and has scraped by from one low-wage job to the next to make ends meet.”

2. “During the peak of the grove’s early popularity, presidents Benjamin Harrison, Theodore Roosevelt, and many other prominent people had visited it.”
Here, presidents is intended to be shared between “Benjamin Harrison” and “Theodore Roosevelt,” but the comma after the first name cuts the term off from the second name. As with the previous example, delete the comma and add and to enable sharing of the word: “During the peak of the grove’s early popularity, presidents Benjamin Harrison and Theodore Roosevelt and many other prominent people had visited it.”

3. “Females must produce an egg, carry, and nourish the embryo.”
Once again, an obstructive comma (in this case, two such commas, actually) prevents the sharing of a part of speech. Carry must be allowed access to embryo, but using the previous solution renders the sentence “Females must produce an egg, carry and nourish the embryo.” To smooth the sentence out, the remaining comma must also be replaced with and: “Females must produce an egg and carry and nourish the embryo.”

4. “It enables individuals and groups to meet online to collaborate, share presentations, applications, or their entire desktop while increasing reliability and security, and reducing costs.”
In this example, there are two levels of organization: First, individuals and groups collaborate and share, and second, they share in one of three ways. This hierarchy should be represented by distinguishing the simple element of collaboration and the more complex counterpart of sharing by preceding each with its own infinitive (to): “It enables individuals and groups to meet online to collaborate, and to share presentations, applications, or their entire desktop, while increasing reliability and security and reducing costs.”

The commas framing “and to share . . . their entire desktop,” rendering that phrase parenthetical, are essential to clarify that while refers to additional benefits, rather than simultaneous ones. Also, the comma that precedes “and reducing costs” in the original sentence exemplifies the case of punctuation problematically used as a “breath here” marker, confusing the issue; I’ve deleted it from the revised version.

5. “They stretch across our cities by the dozens, those drooping threads that connect houses to power plants, telephone, cable television, and broadband companies.”
Here, again, there are two categories: power plants and companies (of which three types are mentioned). To distinguish them, “power plants” must be set off from the list of types of companies by and: “They stretch across our cities by the dozens, those drooping threads that connect houses to power plants and to telephone, cable television, and broadband companies.” I’ve also inserted to before the list of types of companies to discourage the implication of a close relationship between “power plants” and telephone.

Click here to get access to 800+ interactive grammar exercises!


Share


2 Responses to “5 Cases of Faulty Parallelism”

  • Dale A. Wood

    We have a gross piece of false parallelism on a repetitive TV commercial that is shown in the United States and Canada**.
    The unseen narrator of the commercial says: “You have you choice between going bald and a full head of hair.” The false parallelism is obvious because the first half of the object is a present participle (“going”), but the second half does not have a verb at all.

    The sentence should have been stated as “You have the choice between going bald and having a full head of hair.” Hence, both halves of the object are based around present participles that act as nouns: “going” and “having”.

    The writers of such things simply do not give a hoot. I heard of an even worse piece of language in another TV commercial several years ago. I went to the trouble of telephoning someone who was in a position of responsibility concerning that advertising, and here is what she told me: The commercial was rated as O.K. by our test audience, and that is all we care about.

    My response was that it is easy to find 20 to 25 dummies for a test audience, but what is wrong is wrong, and what is right is right. Still, nobody there gave a hoot, and that same broken ad continued to be broadcast for months and months.

    **Remember that whatever is broadcast in the northern tier of states in the United States is automatically broadcast in Canada, whether it is broadcast by any Canadian stations at all. CATV and DBS satellites have extended the reach of American TV, too. Besides direct TV broadcasts from American cities like Buffalo, Bangor (Maine), Detroit, Plattsburg (New York), Sault Ste. Marie (Michigan), and Seattle, I have looked at the CATV schedules, and American TV stations are carried by CATV in the large Canadian cities like Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Windsor, London (Ontario), Winnipeg, and Vancouver. Also, American TV stations in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Massachusetts are carried on CATV nearly everywhere in the English-speaking provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. Stations in eastern Alaska, such as in Juneau, cover parts of British Columbia, too.
    I will leave it up to you to find out where American stations go on CATV in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and the remainder of Manitoba – and also remember that American DBS satellites cover all of southern Canada, just like the same satellites cover the Bahamas, Cuba, and northern Mexico in the south. I have read that the Spanish-language TV stations in Miami are quite popular in Cuba. People there like to hear the truth, too, instead of just communist propaganda from Cuba.

  • Dale A. Wood

    How to correct this sentence much more simply. Why wasn’t this mentioned?
    The orginal:
    5. “They stretch across our cities by the dozens, those drooping threads that connect houses to power plants, telephone, cable television, and broadband companies.”

    The corrected version:
    5. “They stretch across our cities by the dozens, those drooping threads that connect houses to power plants, telephone companies, cable television companies, and broadband companies.”

    Also, the first item on the list should be “electric power plants”, to be specific. Why not say what you mean? Further, there are other kinds of power plants, such as ones that output power in the form of hot, pressurized steam; rotary power on heavy shafts; compressed air; or high-pressure water.

    For example, many power plants on large ships give power in the form of high-pressure steam, and then that goes into steam turbines to produce power carried by rotating shafts. Many other ships have their power plants in the form of gas turbines that burn fuel to produce mechanical power more directly. Interestingly, most of those gas turbines are identical to the ones used in the large turbofan engines that are used in such aircraft as the Boeing 747, Boeing 767, Boeing 777, MD – 11, Lockheed L – 1011, C – 5 Galaxy, C – 17 Globemaster III, and various forms of airliners by Airbus Industies. Most of these are made by two American compaies: Pratt & Whitney (of the General Dynamics Corp) and General Electric, and one British company, Rolls Royce.

    We have many public people, such as on TV, who do not know that power comes in many forms besides electric power:
    mechanical power, steam power, aerodynamic power, pneumatic power, water power, biological power, chemical power…
    A good way to help remember many of these is to remember the many forms of engineering:
    aerospace engineering, civil engineering, chemical engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, nuclear engineering, petroleum engineering…

    It is just a shame that our general educational systems about science and technology are so poor in such countries as the United States, Canada, the U.K., France, Russia, and so forth. I am writing about the general kind of education that any high school graduate should have, and not about people who study engineering and science in college and in graduate school.
    D.A.W.

Leave a comment: