Parallel structure in lists, plus “criticisim gravy”: Copy Desk Notes
Today, I’d like to talk about a sentence structure I see a lot. It’s something like this:
I went to the cafe and bought a unicorn latte, a rainbow bagel, and two pounds of activated charcoal.
Fair enough. Each item on this list refers back to the verb “bought,” creating a pleasing parallel structure for the reader. But it’s easy to go wrong:
I went to the cafe and bought a unicorn latte, a rainbow bagel, and sat on a bench.
In this example, the writer introduces a second verb (sat). Take away the first two items on the list and the sentence doesn’t make sense: I went to the cafe and bought sat on a bench. Ouch.
Another example of non-parallelism:
This compact apartment in Kiev has two bedrooms, 1,000 square feet of space, and is on the 66th floor.
Take away the first two items and you have: This compact apartment has is on the 66th floor. An easy fix? Add the word and after bedrooms, separating the two verb phrases: This compact apartment in Kiev has two bedrooms and 1,000 square feet of space, and is on the 66th floor.
Items in lists don’t always have to share a verb, however. Take a problem sentence like:
The Apple Watch can tell you directions, when to go to sleep, and track your heart rate.
The verb tell applies to the first two items, but not the third. An easy fix here to is affix a verb to the second clause:
The Apple Watch can give you directions, tell you when to go to sleep, and track your heart rate.
Per the New York Times, “Bryan A. Garner, in his Modern American Usage, describes parallelism as ‘the matching of sentence parts for logical balance,’ and says it helps satisfy readers’ ‘innate craving for order and rhythm.’”
Isn’t that great?
Copy Error of the Week
Caldwell, New Jersey’s Patch.com site blogged about Helen Rosner’s epic story of New Jersey Turnpike rest stops. There’s a lot going on here, but criticisim gravy is the highlight (and a good reminder to read back over your writing).
H/T Helen! Let me know if you spot an excellent typo.
In Other News
At the Curbed offsite this week, we played an IRL grammar game and spelling bee — congratulations to team ;! They correctly spelled Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, among other Curbed-y words. (Thank you Kelsey Keith for the image!)
And finally, some additions to the word lists: catalog, cataloging, cataloger, cataloged, farther (use for physical distance), further (use for metaphorical or figurative distance), census (lowercase, except capitalize in reference to the U.S. Census Bureau), nerve-wracking, botanical (rather than botanic), heads up (noun), heads-up (adjective), row house, crabcake, John Dory, and margherita.
Have a great week,