3 Faulty Constructions of In-Line Lists

By Mark Nichol

The interrelationship of words or phrases in a list of things set out in a sentence (known as an in-line list, as opposed to a vertical list) is often obscured by erroneous syntax. For each of the following examples, discussion and revision point out the errors of equivalency.

1. The average large project runs 45 percent over budget, 7 percent past deadline, and delivers 56 percent less value than expected.

The verb runs pertains to the first two figures but not to the last, so the first two list items must be connected by a conjunction to share it, and because doing so reduces the number of list items from three to two, no commas are necessary: “The average large project runs 45 percent over budget and 7 percent past deadline and delivers 56 percent less value than expected.”

2. Cybersecurity is a critical organizational priority in the boardroom, C-suite, information technology department, and every area of the business.

Each of the first three items in this list, to be parallel with the final item, should have their own iteration of the: “Cybersecurity is a critical organizational priority in the boardroom, the C-suite, the information technology department, and every area of the business.” Alternately, the structure of the sentence can be altered so that the first three items constitute one larger item, which requires a couple of revisions to the sentence so that it and the final item are equivalent: “Cybersecurity is a critical organizational priority in the boardroom, C-suite, and information technology department and in every area of the business.”

3. Over the years, Jones would also master piano, bass guitar, clarinet, alto and tenor saxophone.

Alto is not a distinct list item—it is part of the item “alto and tenor saxophone”—so that phrase must be preceded by a conjunction: “Over the years, Jones would also master piano, bass guitar, clarinet, and alto and tenor saxophone.”

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1 Response to “3 Faulty Constructions of In-Line Lists”

  • Connie Ingalls

    For #3, shouldn’t saxophone be made plural? Otherwise, it should be “and alto saxophone and tenor saxophone.”

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