Category Archives: parallel construction

Friday Quiz: Leavitt, Yamane, Soldner (episode 2)

Hi. I don’t know why I can’t get this thing to work right, but it keeps playing last week’s video. I had it working just fine this morning, and now it’s misbehaving. So gr. I’ll keep working on it. Check later.

We had so much fun with last week’s Friday Quiz that I thought we’d ask Leavitt, Yamane, and Soldner back for a second go-around. Watch this short television commercial and identify the grammatical error. Then click “continue reading” and see if your answer matches mine!

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Continue reading Friday Quiz: Leavitt, Yamane, Soldner (episode 2)

Pretty Maids in a Row: Parallel Construction, Part One

The best music from the eighties, nineties, and now!

Honolulu radio station KSSK is guilty of this shiver-inducing catchphrase. From a purely aesthetic viewpoint (and we’re big on the aesthetics of language), it’s actually not bad: It has a nice flow and is as close to poetic as a radio catchphrase is likely to get.

However.

Think about what the sentence is saying. There are three items in this list of “best music.” What are they? Let’s outline the sentence and you’ll see where we’re going with this:

The best music from the

  1. eighties,
  2. nineties, and
  3. now.

What we’re looking at is a problem in parallel construction. Items in a series need to be in the same form, or the catchphrase doesn’t make sense. KSSK, without meaning to, claims that it plays the best music from THE eighties, THE nineties, and THE now, since all three of these items follow the in the sentence. A simple fix would be to add the to the first items in the list:

The best music from the eighties, the nineties, and now!

It’s still not a great phrase, because “the best music from now” is kind of a weird thing to call current hits, but at least now our catchphrase actually says what it means to say.

Here’s another quick example:

I like their coffee because it’s hot, fresh, and the price is the lowest in the state!

This is the kind of non-parallel writing I hear most often in television commercials or even from television journalists. Let’s talk about that coffee! It’s…hot! It’s…fresh! It’s…the price is the lowest in the state! Do you see how that last phrase doesn’t line up with the other items in the list? Here’s the fix, as if you didn’t already see it coming:

I like their coffee because it’s hot, fresh, and lower in price than anywhere else in the state!

or

I like their coffee because it’s hot, it’s fresh, and it’s most inexpensive.

You have to decide for yourself what the rewrite should look like, since you can see that there are shades of difference in the meanings of these two sentences. Just keep it parallel and go with what works best for your intended meaning!

If I had to pick one quick-fix for almost anyone’s writing in the professional world, I would pick parallel construction. It is amazing to me how often I see parallelism problems in television commercials, news reports, and professional correspondence. Take a look around and I’m sure you’ll spot it all over the place, now that you’re conscious of it!

For those still perhaps a bit hazy on the issue, please stick around. This is a topic we will return to with great frequency!