How to Correct an Awkward Interruptive Phrase
When writers interrupt themselves to expand a thought, they must take care to ensure that they retain a parallel balance on the structure they’ve built. Here are three sentences thrown off balance, followed by solutions that will help the writers (and their readers) keep on their feet.
1. “High school students who carry a poor or no understanding of evolution into college are less likely to pick careers in the biological and geological sciences.”
This sentence is technically correct, but the juxtaposition of the modifiers poor and no is awkward. This revision somewhat eases the effort to modify poor: “High school students who carry a poor, or no, understanding of evolution into college are less likely to pick careers in the biological and geological sciences.” (Alternatively, parentheses or a pair of em dashes could replace the commas.)
However, this version, though longer, is more elegant: “High school students who carry a poor understanding of evolution into college, or none at all, are less likely to pick careers in the biological and geological sciences.”
2. “She has proven herself willing and capable of making progress with challenging ideas and procedures.”
The problem with this sentence is that the two qualities are presented in nonparallel forms. If the second of the two qualities is omitted from the sentence, it clumsily reads, “She has proven herself willing of making progress with challenging ideas and procedures.”
The sample sentence here, like the preceding example, benefits from a more relaxed syntax, in this case one in which each adjective is associated with a distinct verb phrase appropriate for its form: “She has proven herself willing to make, and capable of making, progress with challenging ideas and procedures.” (And, again, parentheses or em dashes can be used in place of commas.)
Or, more simply, replace “capable of” with “able to” and change the verb phrase to “to make”: “She has proven herself willing and able to make progress with challenging ideas and procedures.”
3. “He has shown leadership in guiding, indeed sometimes demanding of them, to keep their focus on the task at hand.”
There is no easy fix for this sentence, but it can be fixed — it just requires more significant reorganization. Relocate the ill-fitting parenthetical that interrupts an otherwise coherent sentence, tagging it onto the end of the sentence, and reword it so that the verb form matches that of the verb phrase that immediately follows the subject: “He has shown leadership in guiding them to keep their focus on the task at hand — indeed, he sometimes even demands that they do so.”
Want to improve your English in five minutes a day? Get a subscription and start receiving our writing tips and exercises daily!
Keep learning! Browse the Style category, check our popular posts, or choose a related post below:
- Comma After i.e. and e.g.
- Is There a Reason “the Reason Why” Is Considered Wrong?
- Plurals of Proper Names
Stop making those embarrassing mistakes! Subscribe to Daily Writing Tips today!
- You will improve your English in only 5 minutes per day, guaranteed!
- Subscribers get access to our archives with 800+ interactive exercises!
- You'll also get three bonus ebooks completely free!