Tutorial: Lists

Welcome to today’s grammar tutorial. We will discuss a few aspects of the grammar in lists with the most crucial aspect being parallelism. Lists can use every part of speech–nouns, adjectives, verbs, etc. After reviewing the basics of lists, we’ll apply those lessons to editing complex sentence structures.

Lists & Word Classes

When you list a series of adjectives, verbs, nouns, etc., ensure that each item in one list is parallel (belongs to the same word class).

Here are some example lists:

Betsy wore blue, red, and green ribbons in her hair. (adjective list)

I drove to Food Lion and bought milk, eggs, and bread. (noun list)

We spent the vacation hiking, swimming, and fishing. (present tense verb list)

On the vacation, we hiked, swam, and fished. (past tense verb list)

The dogs belong to him, her, and me. (pronoun list)

At the sound of his “late” alarm, Max sprang out of bed tiredly, angrily, and anxiously. (adverb list)

Errors in Lists

As you can see, a list can be comprised of items that belong to any word class or part of speech. The problem we examine today relates to mixing up word classes/ parts of speech in a list. Like subject-verb agreement, the preliminary rules seem basic but become essential when editing complex prose. Also, as with subject-verb disagreement, these errors might throw you off while reading even if you couldn’t pinpoint the reason. I’ll rewrite two of the example sentences to have lists that don’t parallel.

I drove to Food Lion, bought eggs, milk, and bread.

We spent the vacation hiking, swimming, and visited some caverns.

The items in the first list are drove to Food Lion, bought eggs, milk, and bread. The first two items are verb phrases, and the second two are nouns. The items must fall under the same word class to be parallel.

The items in the second list are hiking, swimming, and visited some caverns. Though the three listed items are verbs, they aren’t parallel because two are in the present tense, yet one is in the past tense. Because verbs are the most complex word class to list, a more in-depth blog post on the subject is forthcoming.

Errors in Complex Sentences

Now, I’ll apply what we’ve discussed to complex sentence structures. Errors like these occur primarily in sophisticated prose because they are harder to catch and sometimes difficult to reword. Here is an example:

Because I’ve spent three to four hours a week searching hashtags, reading blogs I’ve found, tweeting authors, editors, and following blogs, I’ve gained 100 followers.

Every item in that list aside from editors is a present tense verb, specifically a gerundsearching hashtags, reading blogs, tweeting authors, and following blogs. The simplest way to fix this issue is by adding and editors to the item tweeting authors. Here’s the correct version:

Because I’ve spent three to four hours a week searching hashtags, reading blogs I’ve found, tweeting authors and editors, and following blogs, I’ve gained 100 followers.

Here is another example of a listing error in a complex sentence:

However, his unfiltered commentary, filled with bitterness, burning lust, and resenting his family, constantly reminds the reader of his animal status.

Burning lust and bitterness are nouns, but resenting his family is a verb phrase. Though burning and resenting are both verbs in gerund form, burning describes lust here, whereas the subject of the sentence, he, is taking the action of resenting his family. This example more aptly reflects the awkwardness that comes with rephrasing unparalleled lists sometimes.

Shifting the verb phrase to a noun to match the other items is one way to fix the sentence:  

However, his unfiltered commentary, filled with bitterness, burning lust, and resentment for his family, constantly reminds the reader of his animal status.

Occasionally, you may be forced to change a sentence altogether because the list is so fractured. While that’s not the case with this example, we can still practice rephrasing a sentence with a list. Here’s the statement reworded:

However, he, resenting his family, reminds the reader of his animal status through an unfiltered commentary filled with bitterness and burning lust.

However, he resents his family and reminds the reader of his animal status through an unfiltered commentary of burning lust and bitterness.

However, his unfiltered commentary, filled with bitterness, burning with lust, and revealing his resentment for his family, reminds the reader of his animal status.

One More Thing!

I argued with a coworker yesterday over the accuracy of this sentence:

My blog is not jumbled; rather, it’s clean, symmetrical, and utilizes white space.

The items in the list are clean, symmetrical, and utilizes white space. The first two items are adjectives, and the last is a verb phrase. I would rephrase the sentence as:

My blog is not jumbled; rather, it’s clean, it’s symmetrical, and it utilizes white space.

He claimed that straightforwardness trumps technicality, and since the original sentence was easily deciphered, it need not be changed. I’m clearly the kind of girl who likes her grammar rules and sticks to them. At the end of the day, the discretion is yours; if you write a sentence like the one above and don’t want to change it, don’t. Because this type of error in text can detrimentally affect reader comprehension, I recommend always keeping your lists parallel.

One comment

  1. Thanks for these grammar tips. I proof read out my outgoing correspondence with more confidence, and the finished product is more professional. 🙂

    Like

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