Style Quiz #6: Parallel Lists

By Mark Nichol

In this exercise you need to pick the sentence version that correctly uses parallel syntactical structure in providing a list:

1.
a) The resulting story was creative, engaging, and used dialogue effectively.
b) The resulting story was creative and engaging and used dialogue effectively.

2.
a) He had droopy eyelids, watery, bloodshot eyes, and his breath smelled strongly of alcohol, according to the report.
b) He had droopy eyelids, his eyes were watery and bloodshot, and his breath smelled strongly of alcohol, according to the report.

3.
a) It’s quick, it’s easy, and it helps people choose items that are right for them.
b) It’s quick, and it’s easy, and it helps people choose items that are right for them.

4.
a) The essay was well written and thoughtful and demonstrated a sophisticated understanding of the difference between a religion and a belief system.
b) The essay was well written, thoughtful, and demonstrated a sophisticated understanding of the difference between a religion and a belief system.

5.
a) The atmosphere of Mars consists of about 95 percent carbon dioxide, 3 percent nitrogen, and 1.6 percent argon and contains traces of oxygen and water.
b) The atmosphere of Mars consists of about 95 percent carbon dioxide, 3 percent nitrogen, 1.6 percent argon and contains traces of oxygen and water.

Answers and Explanations

The general rule about multiple items in a list within a sentence is that they must either share a verb or must each have a unique verb (and, sometimes, a unique noun or pronoun).

1.
b) The resulting story was creative and engaging and used dialogue effectively.

Here, creative and engaging are combined into one item with the addition of a conjunction and the deletion of the comma following engaging.

2.
b) He had droopy eyelids, his eyes were watery and bloodshot, and his breath smelled strongly of alcohol, according to the report.

Eyelids, eyes, and breath should be more clearly identified as distinct elements.

3.
a) It’s quick, it’s easy, and it helps people choose items that are right for them.

(Another possibility: “It’s quick and easy, and it helps people choose items that are right for them.”)

4.
a) The essay was well written and thoughtful and demonstrated a sophisticated understanding of the difference between a religion and a belief system.

This revision uses the same solution as the one applied for the first example.

5.
a) The atmosphere of Mars consists of about 95 percent carbon dioxide, 3 percent nitrogen, and 1.6 percent argon and contains traces of oxygen and water.

Here, the quantifiable references to atmospheric elements and the information about trace elements are treated as two distinct components.

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