Style Quiz #5: Parallel Sentence Structure

By Mark Nichol

All but one of the following sentences demonstrate faulty sentence structure; revise the sentences as necessary:

1. He works well individually, with partners, or small groups.

2. She makes perceptive comments during class discussions, as well as asking good questions.

3. You see the same advertisers again and again: furniture makers, bathroom-fixtures manufacturers, and high-end kitchen appliances.

4. Phones needed a quad-core processor and a shiny LED screen and had to be slim and light.

5. Lincoln was kept busy, what with waging the Civil War, emancipating slaves, enduring his wife’s eccentricities and his own depression.

Answers and Explanations

Component phrases in lists within sentences must be consistent in form.

1.
Original: He works well individually, with partners, or small groups.
Correct : He works well individually, with partners, or in small groups.

Individually is self-contained, and partners is accompanied by the preposition with, but “small groups” lacks its own preposition.

2.
Original: She makes perceptive comments during class discussions, as well as asking good questions.
Correct : She makes perceptive comments during class discussions, as well as asks good questions.

The two verbs in this sentence must match in form. (It would be better, however, to also replace “as well as” with and.)

3.
Original: You see the same advertisers again and again: furniture makers, bathroom-fixtures manufacturers, and high-end kitchen appliances.
Correct : You see the same advertisers again and again: furniture makers, bathroom-fixtures manufacturers, and makers of high-end kitchen appliances.

The last item in this list does not conform with the others, because it does not include a noun referring to the product provider.

4.
Original: Phones needed a quad-core processor and a shiny LED screen and had to be slim and light.
Correct : Phones needed a quad-core processor and a shiny LED screen and had to be slim and light.

Items in a list may themselves consist of more than one item; this sentence is correct.

5.
Original: Lincoln was kept busy, what with waging the Civil War, emancipating slaves, enduring his wife’s eccentricities and his own depression.
Correct : Lincoln was kept busy, what with waging the Civil War, emancipating slaves, and enduring his wife’s eccentricities and his own depression.

The final item (“his own manic depression”) lacks its own verb, but the absence of a serial comma indicates that the writer meant for what follows slaves to be a single item consisting of two phrases linked with a conjunction (as in the first part of the sentence in the previous example). However, an additional conjunction linking that compound item to the two preceding items is also necessary.

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