or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, May 05, 2006

Side By Side

Today we have two examples from Salon.com of the complete and utter lack of parallel structure, and I can't get too mad about them, I suppose--it's such an easy mistake to make--but they sure are jarring if your brain is attuned to them.

First up, from a letter to an advice columnist:

Our son is old enough that he will not be severely affected by separation. What has, continues and will continue to affect him is seeing a very confusing dysfunctional relationship between his parents.

Can't really blame the letter-writer too much, but it would have been nice if someone had cleaned it up. It should have read something like "What has affected him--what continues and will continue to affect him--is...." The verbs aren't all the same for the past, present and future forms, and if you're going to imply some verbs rather than spelling them out, you can't compose the sentence as if they were all the same.

In an introduction to a video, someone who should have known better wrote:

This charmer marks the return here of Chocolate Cake City, who you'll remember from having created one of the first -- and surely the finest -- "Brokeback Mountain" parody of all.

Here the problem in parallelism isn't the verb, as is so often the case, but the noun: the adjectival phrase "one of the first" requires a plural noun, while "the finest" calls for a singular noun, which was used: "parody". The sentence ought to have been written as something like "...having created one of the first "Brokeback Mountain" parodies, and surely the finest of all." Even though the second adjective requires a singular noun, we can get away with leaving it out because the addition of "of all" implies "of all parodies", and the plural parallel structure is preserved. (This also points up another problem with the sentence: pasting "of all" at the end implies the clause "one of the first parodies of all", which is bad; if we absolutely had to use that qualifier, we'd write "one of the first of all parodies".)

Parallel structure isn't that hard to master, but I have a feeling it's not being taught much in schools nowadays--someone prove me wrong!--and as a result we have legions of people who either don't know any better or have the feeling that their writing isn't quite correct but just plain don't know why.


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