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  • It’s interesting to see the elements of style broken down in this way, Stan: I had never knowingly encountered this notion of parallelism before, but now you point it out it makes perfect sense.
    I was thinking that the addition of an adverb would perhaps make your inelegant example acceptable: The performance was lazy, shrill, and overall (or: in short) a disaster. If so, perhaps it is because the sequence of adjectives is interrupted and thus ceases to matter; we’re no longer waiting for the other shoe to drop.

  • Liz: I think parallelism flies under the radar most of the time either because we observe it automatically in our writing (some “faulty parallelism” is clearly ungrammatical) or because its lack doesn’t interfere with comprehension or draw attention to itself. But it’s useful to know about when we’re writing or editing and want to enhance effect or add polish. In the example you’ve adapted, the interpolation reduces the fault, I think, and for the reason you say. Though it wasn’t an egregious case to begin with.

  • I have no objection myself to adjectives and descriptive noun phrases being coordinated with commas and ‘and’. However, I keep noticing in the media the use of adjectives coordinated with verbs eg (to adapt your example) “The performance was lazy, shrill, and made me want to walk out”. Have others noticed this, and does it jar on them as much as it jars on me? I’ll try to get you a real-world example.

  • Stan:

    From the floorboard to the rafter,
    Neither, nor, until it’s after
    Either one thing, or anothe;,
    Father, mother, sister, brother,
    And from where the family sit,
    The matter seems quite opposite

  • Elizabeth: That’s a good illustration of something I’ve noticed too: not just in journalism but in academic prose that I’m editing. My example, though not fully parallel, isn’t very bad, but your adaptation is further along the line towards fault.

    In formal prose one’s parlance
    Ought to strive towards balance,
    But a lot of the time,
    Unevenness is fine.

  • Here are a couple of recent examples of non-parallel coordination. From the New Scientist magazine (10 May 2014): “Is it asthma, a chest injury, or are they having a heart attack?” And from a listing of National Trust events for spring 2014: “Come along and make mud pies, wild art and track wild animals.”

  • Thanks for reporting those examples, Elizabeth. I’ve come across two or three similar cases in the last week, and routinely edited them to make the prose read better.

  • Elizabeth’s second example highlights the major problem with non-parallelism (if that’s a word). While saying a performance was “lazy, shrill, and a disaster” may be inelegant, at least it’s clear. (Personally, I don’t even find it especially inelegant, but that’s another story.) But “come along and make mud pies, wild art and track wild animals” is confusing. The problem is that the verb “make” wants to attach itself to all three items that follow, but “track wild animals”, which has its own verb, rejects the attachment. The reader has to unravel the sentence in order to understand it. I see this a lot in the work I edit for clients.

  • In the email notification about this post, I clicked on the link in “Read the rest for more *analysis of parallelism*, and some good discussion in the comments” and this came up:

    Secure Connection Failed

    An error occurred during a connection to http://www.macmillandictionaryblog.com. SSL received a record that exceeded the maximum permissible length. (Error code: ssl_error_rx_record_too_long)

    The page you are trying to view cannot be shown because the authenticity of the received data could not be verified.
    Please contact the website owners to inform them of this problem. Alternatively, use the command found in the help menu to report this broken site.

  • Ken: That’s true, yes. I should perhaps have picked a more objectionable type than “lazy, shrill, and a disaster” in order to stress the point. Your example of faulty parallelism is similar to what I sometimes see in poorly edited official communication (as well as in my own editing work), and illustrates the problem well.

    Mark: Thanks for reporting this technical glitch. I assume someone at home base is looking into it, or will do so as soon as possible.

  • You might be interested in some recent research that suggests parallelism sometimes has a negative impact on recall of information: see /proswrite.com/2014/07/23/use-parallel-structure-in-lists-to-increase-reading-efficiency/.