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Welcome to this week's writing lesson from

 MyEnglishTeacher.net

Don't Repeat Yourself!  Don't Repeat Yourself!  Don't Repeat Yourself!  

Lesson Topic: Using Parallel Structure And Avoiding The Repetition of Words in Writing.


Is there anything wrong with the following sentence?
Martin felt the movie was boring, silly, and was too long.

Yes, there is something wrong.  Did you find the problem?  Well, if you didn't find the problem, keep reading, and we'll tell you later.  

Did you ever pick up a book and read something like this:

Carol picked up her books.
Carol picked up her pens.
Carol picked up her jacket.

Hopefully, you haven't seen too much of this type of writing.  Although there are some situations where this form of writing is necessary (maybe for emphasis), it is usually not necessary to repeat words over and over again.  We can write the above sentences like this:

Carol picked up her books, pens, and jacket.

Taking out repetitive words and combining similar sentences and ideas is called parallel structure, parallel construction, and parallelism.   In parallel structure, it is important to group similar ideas and items together.  For example, in the three sentences above, the words Carol picked up her... repeat.  Additionally, the words that do NOT repeat are all nouns: books, pens, and jacket.  Since books, pens, and jacket are all nouns, they can be grouped together.  Thus, we can correctly write the following:

Carol picked up her books, pens, and jacket.

Notice that the commas are placed after each noun in the list except the last one.  For more information about commas, please see our previous lesson about commas.  

When using parallel structure, the main rule to remember is that the things in the list must be the same grammatical form.  This is best summed up in the following:

The items in the list must be all nouns, all infinitives, all prepositional phrases, all gerunds, or all clauses.   

 

book recommendation

cover Action Grammar: Fast, Easy Answers on Everyday Usage and Punctuation

The author, Joanne Feierman, focuses on the grammar most of us need in everyday life, from "Five Lies Your English Teacher Told You" to "Simple Business Verbs You Should Know." She also includes helpful sections on memos, letter writing, and e-mail etiquette, as well as an appendix of troublesome words and phrases, and words that are easy to misspell.  Click here for more information.

Take a look at this sentence:

Paula went to work, a restaurant, and to the movies.

If the preposition or article (a, an, the) is the same for all items in the list, the writer can decide to include them in all of the items or write it just in the first.  Therefore, the above sentence is incorrect.   The items in the list are work, a restaurant, and the movies.  However, the writer used the preposition to with the first and third items only.   

INCORRECT Paula went to work, a restaurant, and to the movies.
CORRECT Paula went to work, a restaurant, and the movies.
CORRECT

Paula went to work, to a restaurant, and to the movies.

Here is another example:

There are trains leaving the station in the morning and noon.

The preposition is in.  When proofreading, ask yourself, "Is this the correct word for each item?"

In the morning?  YES!
In noon?  NO!

The correct preposition for noon is at.  Therefore, we must write

There are trains leaving the station in the morning and at noon.

Some words and verbs use prepositions as well.   Look at this example:

The cancer researcher is interested and excited about the new advances in medical technology.

What are the words in the parallel structure?  They are interested and excited.  When the writer wrote excited, she also correctly wrote about.  How about interested?  Do you use about with interested?  Let's do the proofreading test that we learned above.

excited about the advances...?  YES!
interested about the advances...?  NO!

The correct preposition used with interested is in.  Therefore, the above sentence is INCORRECT.   The correct preposition must be used in each item of the parallel structure.  The following is correct:

The cancer researcher is interested in and excited about the new advances in medical technology.

For a list of common verbs with prepositions, click here.  

There are a number of situations which require you to use parallel structure.  They are

Both X and Y . . .
Not X but Y
Not only X but also Y . . .
Neither X nor Y . . .
Either X or Y . . . 

Remember the rule of parallel structure: the words in the list must be the same grammatical form.  In this situation, the X and Y must be the same grammatical form.  Many common problems with parallel structure can be easily corrected.  Look at the chart of examples below.

INCORRECT CORRECT
In counseling, I think both talking and to listen are important In counseling, I think both talking and listening are important.
We are not for war but peace We are not for war but for peace.
This car is not only fast but also it is safe to drive. This car is not only fast but also safe.
The trip to the city is neither a long one nor expensive. The trip to the city is neither long nor expensive.
Either you must stay home or go with us. You must either stay home or go with us.

When using the above constructions, the X and Y must be the same grammatical forms:  both nouns, both infinitives, both prepositional phrases, both gerunds, or both clauses.

So what's the problem with the first sentence in this lesson?
Martin felt the movie was boring, silly, and was too long.

The words in the list of items are not the same: boring and silly are adjectives; however, was too long begins with a verb.

book recommendation

cover Better Sentence Writing in 30 Minutes a Day features clear discussions of rules and strategies for good writing. Clear explanations and lots of exercises reinforce the skills needed for strong written communication. From filling in the blanks to joining short sentences into longer and more graceful combinations, this book will improve your writing. All the answers to the quizzes are given in the back of the book.  Click here for more information.

Quiz time

Directions: Read the following sentences.  If the sentence is correct, don't change anything.  If the sentence is incorrect, find the parallel structure problem and fix it.


1. The factory workers were ready, able, and were quite determined to do a great job.

2. The computer network is safer, stronger, and more secure.
 

3.  We cannot be worried or terrified of difficulties in life. 

4.  The actor taught his student how to read, how to stand, how to cry, and to talk with fans. 

5.  The requirements for a chemistry degree are not as strict as a medical degree.

6.  Either you can join the army or the navy.

7.  The reorganization of the company is neither simple nor it will be cheap.  

8.  When I was in high school, I learned piano and how to play the guitar.

9.  Fred supports the idea because, first, its simplicity; second, it is unique.

10.  They are either our friends or they are not.

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Answers are in red.

1. The factory workers were ready, able, and were quite determined to do a great job.

The factory workers were ready, able, and determined to do a great job.

2. The computer network is safer, stronger, and more secure.
 

NO CHANGE.  This sentence is correct.  All items in the list are comparative adjectives.  Safer and stronger use -er, but secure uses more.

3.  We cannot be worried or terrified of the difficulties in life. 

We cannot be worried about or terrified of the difficulties in life. 

4.  The actor taught his student how to read, how to stand, how to cry, and to talk with fans. 

The actor taught his student how to read, how to stand, how to cry, and how to talk with fans. 

5.  The requirements for a chemistry degree are not as strict as a medical degree.

The requirements for a chemistry degree are not as strict as the requirements for a medical degree.

-OR-

The requirements for a chemistry degree are not as strict as those for a medical degree.  (Those refers to the requirements)

6.  Either you can join the army or the navy.

You can join either the army or the navy.

7.  The reorganization of the company is neither simple nor it will be cheap.  

The reorganization of the company is neither simple nor cheap.  

8.  When I was in high school, I learned piano and how to play the guitar.

When I was in high school, I learned how to play the piano and guitar.

9.  Fred supports the idea because, first, its simplicity; second, it is unique.

Fred supports the idea because, first, it is simple; second, it is unique.

10.  They are either our friends or they are not.

They are either our friends or our enemies.

 

  Rules to Remember!

1 Parallel structure is sometimes called parallel construction and parallelism.
2 When using parallel structure, the items in the list must be all nouns, all infinitives, all prepositional phrases, all gerunds, or all clauses.
3 It is important to know the rules for commas and semicolons when using parallel structure.  We recommend you review our previous lessons on both of these topics.

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