Proper Parallel Construction of Sentences with “Not,” “Neither,” and “No Longer”

By Mark Nichol

When writing sentences in which a comparison is made with not, neither, or “no longer” as the focus of the contrast, be vigilant about achieving logical parallel structure, as discussed and demonstrated in the explanations about and revisions to the following examples.

1. Becoming a better parent is not about becoming a different person, but doing what it takes to do less of the behavior that is not true to who you are.

When the contrasting word or phrase (in this case, not) is associated with the preposition about, which is often the case, if not precedes about at the beginning of a point, about must be repeated at the beginning of the counterpoint: “Becoming a better parent is not about becoming a different person but about doing what it takes to do less of the behavior that is not true to who you are” (a “not about [this] but about [that]” construction). Alternatively, precede not with about for a “about not (this) but (that)” construction: “Becoming a better parent is about not becoming a different person, but doing what it takes to do less of the behavior that is not true to who you are.”

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

In a neither/nor construction such as this one, when the key verb (here, intended) applies to nor as well as to neither, the word must precede the first word as well as the second: “This publication is intended to be neither a legal analysis nor a detailed cookbook of steps to take in every situation.” Alternatively, revise the sentence to hinge on not and or rather than neither and nor: “This publication is not intended to be a legal analysis or a detailed cookbook of steps to take in every situation.”

3. Compliance is no longer viewed primarily as a legal risk to be avoided, but rather an operational one to be monitored.

Similarly, when employing “no longer” to compare a previous state with a current one, make sure that the verb or verb phrase before “no longer” is located so that the verb applies both to that phrase and to the concluding part of the sentence describing the current state: “Compliance is primarily viewed no longer as a legal risk to be avoided, but rather as an operational one to be monitored.” Alternatively, convert the second half of the sentence to an independent clause by inserting a verb: “Compliance is no longer viewed primarily as a legal risk to be avoided; rather, it is an operational one to be monitored.”

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3 Responses to “Proper Parallel Construction of Sentences with “Not,” “Neither,” and “No Longer””

  • Dale A. Wood

    In all three of your examples, you have stumbled into cases of “psychobabble”, or at least of “bureaucratese”.
    This suggests the subject of your next article: “Psychobabble”, since you have already commented on the dangers of “bureaucratese”.

  • Dale A. Wood

    An improvement in all three of the examples, above, would be to rephrase them in the form of “Not only X, but also Y.”

  • Dale A. Wood

    Example #1 is confusing and unclear in ALL of the of the forms in which it was presented. Try this one out, instead:
    “Becoming a better parent is about not becoming a different person, but rather about doing what it takes to do less of the behavior that is not true to who you are.” This one is still confusing, but less so.
    The true solution involves two steps: a) getting rid of some of the “psychobabble”, a.k.a. jabberwocky, and b) rewriting it with two sentences instead of just one.

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