Not quite parallel

artist mowerYou know that vague, disquieting feeling you get when something is just a little off … but you don’t quite know why? You read or hear a sentence that makes a kind of sense, but it’s just wrong somehow .

A picture hangs atilt on the wall. Someone whistles off-key. You live in a house with no 90-degree corners and the walls are all accidental trapezoids.

1: If those things don’t bother you, stop reading right now. You’re probably happier than the rest of us.

2: If you have a passion for sense-making, you’ll appreciate parallelism.

English usage employs many devices that insist on it. A singular subject takes a singular verb. For instance, you would not say:

I walks my dog twice a day.

If you would say that, see Step 1. Otherwise, read on.  Here’s a radio ad that misses the mark. Only slightly, but a miss is a miss:

We can give you a loan in as quick as ten days.

“As quick as ten days?” Ten days is a measure of time, not speed. A quick cheetah might run 35 miles per hour, but a quick loan would be funded in as few as ten days. Or as little as ten days’ time.

An event announcement states:

A reception will be held between 1 to 5 PM.

A case of mixed pair-word conjunctions. The parallel pairs are between-and and from-to. It’s either:

between 1 and 5
– or –
from 1 to 5

In another pair-word conjunction not only—but also, the verb placement makes all the difference:

She not only paints portraits but also landscapes.

When paints comes after the not only, it implies that the artist plants and maintains yards as a sideline. To describe her skills in two painting styles, say:

She paints not only portraits but also landscapes.

Or you could repeat the subject and verb:

She not only paints portraits but she also paints landscapes.

Still, you must admit, parallel or not, that someone who can render a fine likeness in oils or acrylics … then whip your lawn into shape… deserves our admiration.

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2 thoughts on “Not quite parallel

  1. “I am away of my desk right now, but if you leave a message, I will be back soon and get back to you. Have a great day!”

    –An answering machine message from a bank employee.

    I do not keep money there any longer.

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