Style Quiz #13: Parallel Run-In Lists

By Mark Nichol

Each of the following sentences features a list of words or phrases with flawed structure. Revise as necessary.

1. The film is aimless, seemingly deceptive and spreads a poor message.

2. She continues to suffer pain and anguish, incur medical expenses, and has been unable to carry out her usual duties and activities.

3. The liver takes in glucose, turns it into fat, and more inflammation results.

4. Clouds and higher humidity slowed flames from advancing through brush and trees, giving firefighters room to set backfires, dig containment lines, and to strengthen lines around threatened communities.

5. After medical school, osteopathic physicians go on to specialize in their chosen fields as cardiac surgeons, internists, neurologists, manual medicine specialists, or any of the other branches of medicine.

Answers and Explanations

1.
Original: The film is aimless, seemingly deceptive and spreads a poor message.
Correct : The film is aimless and seemingly deceptive, and it spreads a poor message.
Alterna.: The film is aimless, is seemingly deceptive, and spreads a poor message.

The second item lacks its own verb, so it has been attached to the first phrase to share is. Alternatively, it can be assigned its own verb.

2.
Original: She continues to suffer pain and anguish, incur medical expenses, and has been unable to carry out her usual duties and activities.
Correct : She continues to suffer pain and anguish and incur medical expenses and has been unable to carry out her usual duties and activities.
Alterna.: She continues to suffer pain and anguish, is still incurring medical expenses, and has been unable to carry out her usual duties and activities.

The middle item has no verb of its own to parallel continues, so the sentence has been revised so that “incur medical expenses” shares that verb. The item can also be given its own helping verb to match the structure of the other items.

3.
Original: The liver takes in glucose, turns it into fat, and more inflammation results.
Correct : The liver takes in glucose and turns it into fat, and more inflammation results.
Alterna.: The liver takes in glucose, then turns it into fat, and more inflammation results.

The descriptions of the two sequential events are combined in one phrase because the original sentence implies the progression “The liver takes in glucose, the liver turns it into fat, and the liver more inflammation results.” Another option is to insert the transitional word then into the second item.

4.
Original: Clouds and higher humidity slowed flames from advancing through brush and trees, giving firefighters room to set backfires, dig containment lines, and to strengthen lines around threatened communities.
Correct : Clouds and higher humidity slowed flames from advancing through brush and trees, giving firefighters room to set backfires, dig containment lines, and strengthen lines around threatened communities.
Alterna.: Clouds and higher humidity slowed flames from advancing through brush and trees, giving firefighters room to set backfires, to dig containment lines, and to strengthen lines around threatened communities.

The extraneous infinitive in the final phrase has been omitted. Another revision, correct but unnecessarily complicated, inserts the infinitive in the second item so that each item has its own. (This solution is appropriate when each list item is extensive.)

5.
Original: After medical school, osteopathic physicians go on to specialize in their chosen fields as cardiac surgeons, internists, neurologists, manual medicine specialists, or any of the other branches of medicine.
Correct : After medical school, osteopathic physicians go on to specialize in their chosen fields as cardiac surgeons, internists, neurologists, or manual medicine specialists, or in any of the other branches of medicine.
Alterna.: After medical school, osteopathic physicians go on to specialize in their chosen fields as cardiac surgeons, internists, neurologists, manual medicine specialists, or doctors specializing in other branches of medicine.

The phrase “or in any of the other branches of medicine” is not part of the list of specific types of doctors, so a conjunction must precede the final item in the list, and a preposition has been added to the final phrase to render it parallel to the main clause. The final phrase can also be rewritten to function as another item in the list.

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