3 Errors Involving Correlative Conjunctions

By Mark Nichol

A correlative conjunction is a word that correlates with, or is complementary to, another such construction, establishing a connection or a comparison in a sentence. Each of the sentences below erroneously employs a pair of correlative conjunctions in a faulty syntactical structure, and the discussion that follows each describes the problem, while a revision demonstrates the solution.

1. A well-designed approach not only can play a key role in a company’s business processes, but also in its broader strategy.

Sentences that present a “not only . . . but also” point-counterpoint relationship often do so incorrectly. This occurs when the writer syntactically organizes the sentence so that words representing various parts of speech are not placed correctly to serve their functions. In this case, because the verb phrase “can play a key role” pertains to both choices (“a company’s business processes” and “its broader strategy), that phrase must precede “not only”: “A well-designed approach can play a key role not only in a company’s business processes but also in its broader strategy.”

2. This publication is neither intended to be a legal analysis nor a detailed cookbook of steps to take in every situation.

The same type of error occurs in a sentence that includes the correlative conjunctions neither and norintended applies to both choices, so it must precede the entire correlative construction: “This publication is intended to be neither a legal analysis nor a detailed cookbook of steps to take in every situation.” (Alternatively, the sentence can be written “This publication is not intended to be a legal analysis or a detailed cookbook of steps to take in every situation.”)

3. A skilled architect can produce a stunning blueprint, but an experienced contractor will tell you whether or not the structure in that blueprint can be produced, and at what cost.

Errors involving the correlative conjunction whether and or are rarely errors of incorrect syntax; generally, the error is including “or not” after whether when the phrase is extraneous: “A skilled architect can produce a stunning blueprint, but an experienced contractor will tell you whether the structure in that blueprint can be produced, and at what cost.”

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1 Response to “3 Errors Involving Correlative Conjunctions”

  • Dale A. Wood

    I think that “an experienced contractor will tell you whether or not the…” is idiomatic English. Surely the phrase “or not” is redundant, but on the other hand, sometimes redundancy is needed to pound the idea through some thick skulls!

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