You 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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