3 Sentences with Flawed Parallel Construction

By Mark Nichol - 2 minute read

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In each of the following sentences, an attempt to make a list within a sentence has gone awry. Discussion after each example explains the problem, and one or two revisions suggest solutions.

1. We have specific plans about what we are going to do, how and when.

This sentence implies a list consisting of “what we are going to do, how we are going to do them, and when we are going to do them,” but it elides one word too many: “We have specific plans about what we are going to do, and how and when.”

2. He holds various roles, from celebrated guest, martial arts envoy, unofficial chargé d’affaires, and even close confidant.

If what appears to be a list of associated nouns or noun phrases is preceded by from, it is not a list, but a range that includes one or more intermediate parameters, so from should be complemented by to, and the sentence must be further revised so that parameters are connected with conjunctions, thereby combining to be clearly associated with either to or from: “He holds various roles, from celebrated guest to martial arts envoy and unofficial chargé d’affaires, and even close confidant.

Alternatively, revise the sentence slightly to avoid the range construction altogether: “He holds various roles, including celebrated guest, martial arts envoy, unofficial chargé d’affaires, and even close confidant.”

3. The company has embarked on the initiative with the objectives of process improvement, increased automation, compliance with internal and public company requirements, and to support future growth.

The grammatical structure of the final list item is inconsistent with those preceding it—it alone includes an infinitive phrase (“to support”)—so revise it to match the others by shifting support from a verb to a noun: “The company has embarked on the initiative with the objectives of process improvement, increased automation, compliance with internal and public company requirements, and support of future growth.”

Alternatively, convert the third item to a final item by inserting a conjunction before it, then make what was the final item a distinct phrase by inserting an of before it to make it parallel with the list (which is preceded by of) and changing the form of the verb: “The company has embarked on the initiative with the objectives of process improvement, increased automation, and compliance with internal and public company requirements and of supporting future growth.”

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1 Response to “3 Sentences with Flawed Parallel Construction”

  • Rich Wheeler

    #1 got me. My change would have been incorrect.

    The second alternative version of #3 is still a mess — perhaps not grammatically, but stylistically and logically.

    First, let’s accept the assumption that the short phrase parallels the long phrase containing the list. By the time a reader gets to the final phrase, he has forgotten that the first phrase began with ‘of.’ It looks like the list ends with two ‘and…’ items, with the final item breaking parallelism due to the ‘of’. That sends the reader to the board to diagram the sentence to make sense of it.

    If the final phrase truly parallels the long phrase, then the order can be reversed. “The company has embarked on the initiative with the objectives of supporting future growth and of process improvement, increased automation, and compliance with internal and public company requirements.”

    Second, the parallelism is still broken. Each listed item should begin with the same conjugation of verb. “The company has embarked on the initiative with the objectives of supporting future growth and of improving processes, increasing automation, and complying with internal and public company requirements.”

    Third, the sentence needs logical improvement. Improving processes, etc., are not objectives, but strategies. Supporting future growth is an objective because it expresses an end state or a purpose. What is the purpose of the strategies? Here’s an example: “The company has embarked on the initiative with the objectives of supporting future growth and of raising quality by improving processes, increasing automation, and complying with internal and public company requirements.”

    Of course, one could also break up the sentence.

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