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Simple Words, Fancy Label

Whether you realize it or not, you’re well acquainted with correlative conjunctions. It’s a lofty term for phrases people say every day. The most common correlative conjunctions include either … or, neither … nor, not only … but also, and both … and. Here is a list of other familiar ones:

whether or
rather … than
as many … as
just as … so
hardly (or scarcely) … when
no sooner … than
what with … and

People constantly mishandle correlative conjunctions. This is due to faulty parallelism, which we discussed last week. Look at these innocent-looking sentences:

Either you’re with me or against me.
She not only invited us in but she also cooked dinner.
He was both happy about the promotion and he was nervous about it.

All three are flawed.

You’ll notice that the sentences each contain two sections. The second section should parallel the first one as closely as possible. However, in the first example, Either is followed by a complete sentence (you’re with me), but or is followed only by a phrase (against me). That is a classic case of faulty parallelism.

To fix it, we could add a second you’re to the or section: Either you’re with me or you’re against me. Another option is to place you’re in front of the entire either-or construction: You’re either with me or against me. When we do this, You’re governs both the either and the or parts, and both parts consist of prepositional phrases (with me, against me). That makes a clear, balanced sentence.

Let’s home in on the second example. Since She precedes the entire correlative conjunction (not only … but also), She affects both parts equally, making the second she unnecessary: She not only invited us in but also cooked dinner. Our other choice is to rewrite the first part to match the second: Not only did she invite us in but she also cooked dinner.

On to the final one. Removing the second he was gives us He was both happy about the promotion and nervous about it. Note that each component now features an adjective (happy, nervous), a preposition (about), and a noun (promotion, it). You can’t get more parallel than that. But we can do even better: He was both happy and nervous about the promotion.

There’s no avoiding sentences with correlative conjunctions. Making sure they are parallel lends clarity and style to speech and writing.

 

Pop Quiz

Are these sentences parallel? If not, can you fix them?

1. Not only am I angry but disappointed.

2. The book both fascinated me and it taught me a good lesson.

3. She’d rather stay at home than to go out.

4. I had hardly left when you arrived.

5. He’s either going today or he’ll be going tomorrow.

 

Pop Quiz Answers

1. I am not only angry but disappointed. OR Not only am I angry but I am disappointed.

2. The book both fascinated me and taught me a good lesson.

3. She’d rather stay at home than go out.

4. Hardly had I left when you arrived.

5. He’s either going today or going tomorrow. OR Either he’s going today or he’ll be going tomorrow. OR He’s going either today or tomorrow.

Posted on Tuesday, February 25, 2014, at 6:56 pm


2 Comments

2 Responses to “Simple Words, Fancy Label”

  1. Ann M. says:

    Oops! Your pop quiz answer #1 shows: “1. I am not only angry but disappointed. OR Not only am I angry but I am disappointed.” You left out the “also” after “but”…..it really makes no sense without it. I know the “modern” trend is to omit also, too, or as well, when the second thought intensifies the first, but I think it’s better for go for consistency, so unskilled writers learn to follow “the rule”….it could even be argued that the second thought ALWAYS intensifies the first.

    I REALLY enjoy your weekly newsletter. It’s a great refresher for my 50-55 year old junior and senior high school grammar, where I had excellent teachers…and my parents were excellent role models, as well. I write narrative reports for a living and pride myself on writing clearly and correctly; I often check out my sentence structure, to make sure I’ve got it right, although 99% of the people who read it would not know the difference.

    I was touched by your tribute to Jane on this third anniversary of her death. You honor her memory by perpetuating her vision. I thought you’d like to know that I send most of your weekly e-letters to my home-schooled granddaughter and great-nephews. They usually do pretty well on the quizzes….their mothers are real bears about learning good grammar. Jane would approve.

    • First, thank you very much for your kind words about the value you receive from the weekly e-newsletter, as well as how you were touched by the tribute to Jane. That is deeply appreciated.

      Regarding your interesting comment on Pop Quiz question 1, we may have to agree to disagree regarding: “You left out the ‘also’ after ‘but’ … it really makes no sense without it.”
      Not only … but (without an also), is a longstanding and valid correlative conjunction. It is not a modern barbarism. You say “I am not only angry but disappointed” makes no sense without also, but to us it makes perfect sense without it.

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