Another Quiz About Parallel Structure in Sentences

By Mark Nichol

Errors of organization plague writing — not just in overall structure or paragraph formation but also even within sentences. One frequent problem is a misunderstanding about how multiple elements in a sentence must be marshaled to clearly communicate relationships between the components. In each sentence below, repair the lapse in parallel structure and then compare your solution to mine in the paragraph that follows the example:

1. “The thing to remember is that you are unique, original, and this is what you have to offer.”

The items in a run-in list (one integrated into a sentence, as opposed to a vertical list, as in a numbered or bulleted list) should all relate to one verb or should each be supported by their own; nothing in between is acceptable. But this sentence is deceptive; it doesn’t really include a list. The almost-but-not-quite-redundant words unique and original should be treated as one idea (separated by and), followed by the existing second clause: “The thing to remember is that you are unique and original, and this is what you have to offer.”

2. “The district attorney said Smith had been texting, driving at a speed that was unsafe for the conditions, and had failed to yield to Jones.”

This sentence, which does include a run-in list, also has a confused structure, because, as explained above, all three phrases should be preceded by a verb, or they should all share one. The same solution as in the example above can be employed here — in this case, the combining of the first two items into a simultaneous combination: “The district attorney said Smith had been texting while driving at a speed that was unsafe for the conditions and had failed to yield to Jones.”

3. “We have been spat on, called names, physically attacked, and censured by the administration for defending ourselves, even as our attackers went unpunished.”

This sentence implies that the administration is responsible not only for censuring the people in question but also for spitting on them and verbally and physically attacking them. However, it should be clear that distinct parties undertook those indignities and the censure; the administration did not commit the former acts. To clarify, distance the censure from the rest by making a separate list of the first three items (the last one preceded by and) and inserting “as well as” before censure: “We have been spat on, called names, and physically attacked, as well as censured by the administration for defending ourselves, even as our attackers went unpunished.”

4. “They may do so out of fear, guilt, unfamiliarity with alcohol problems, or because they seem to gain something.”

The word or in the middle of this sentence sends the statement off in a new direction, so the list that precedes it must be self-contained. The first inclination might be to revise it to “They may do so out of fear, guilt, or unfamiliarity with alcohol problems, or because they seem to gain something.” However, the reader may misread the structure as referring to “fear of alcohol problems,” “guilt about alcohol problems,” and “unfamiliarity with alcohol problems,” but the fear and guilt are not directly associated with “alcohol problems.” This revision more clearly organizes the thought: “They may do so out of fear or guilt, or unfamiliarity with alcohol problems, or because they seem to gain something.”

5. “Aside from intoxicating beverages, alcohols are used in flavorings, perfumes, as a solvent in medicines, various chemical compounds, as a medical antiseptic, hand sanitizer, and as a fuel for cooking and heating.”

This sentence benefits from a reorganization of its elements that lines up logical subgroupings as well as produces grammatically parallel elements: “Aside from intoxicating beverages, alcohols are used in flavorings and perfumes, as solvents in medicines and various chemical compounds, as medical antiseptics and hand sanitizers, and as fuels for cooking and heating.”

See this previous post for more examples and solutions to faulty parallel structure in sentences.

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


Share


Leave a comment: