Main units:

>  COUNTERRORIST MEASURES [Tactics for Vanquishing Other Errors in Grammar and Syntax]
 
36.  Beyond Compare—in the Worst Way
37.  Falling In and Out of Like
38.  Comparatives are odious when superlatives are better.
39.  This sentence is not as good or better than the others.
40.  Don’t leave out the other—or else.
41.  One of these things is not like the others.
42.  Reconcilable Differences
43.  Welded Helping Verbs
44.  We don't like him driving. We can’t tolerate his driving.
45.  Fault Lines
46.  Elliptical Workouts
47.  Here is one of the clumsiest, if not the clumsiest, sentence ever. No, wait: here is one of the clumsiest, if not the clumsiest, sentences ever.
48.  If you have questions about conditional sentences, this book has the answers.
49.  Oh, the lengths I would go to avoid this error . . .
50.  Time-Shifting Participial Phrases
51.  The past tense is a tense with a past.
52.  The Clumsily Unsplit Infinitive
53.  That we can do without.
54.  That we do need.
55.  This rule is too vague.
56.  I’ve had my car broken into twice this year.
57.  Just because other writers write sentences like this doesn’t mean you have to.
58.  A middle-aged incompetent, the author and his best friend lament the error in this sentence.

  ^^   36 

Beyond Compare—in the Worst Way
 

It's perfectly logical to compare one restaurant with another, or one chef with another—but it would be folly to compare a restaurant with a chef, or a chef with a menu, or a menu with a take-out order of extra-spicy tofu with garlic sauce. Comparisons are valid only when the two things or persons being compared are members of a single category. Sentences attempting to express a comparison (or a contrast, for that matter) often sink sadly into the senseless. Screwball comparisons abound.

Compared with the lower floors, the population on the upper floors is more rarefied. (New York Times)

Lower floors are being compared with a population.

Compared with the lower floors, the upper floors have a more rarefied population. OR: Compared with the residents on the lower floors, the population on the upper floors is more rarefied.
E-books have exploded, surpassing print sales for some new releases. (New York Times)

E-books are being compared with print sales (sales of books in print form).

E-books have exploded, surpassing print-format books in sales for new releases.

E-books are now being compared with print-format books.

Commercial rents north of 96th Street are strikingly lower than south of 96th, a major crosstown artery, said Benjamin Fox, executive vice president for retail leasing at Massey Knakal Realty Services. (New York Times)

Rents are being compared with a place (south of 96th Street).

Commercial rents north of 96th Street are strikingly lower than rents south of 96th. . . . OR [to eliminate the repetition of rents by substituting a pronoun with rents as its antecedent]: Commercial rents north of 96th Street are strikingly lower than those south of 96th. . . .

Rents are now being compared with rents.

In the end, the women’s clothes, and many of the models, were indistinguishable from previous HBA [Hood by Air] shows, which is to say that they were genderless, or gender mixed. And maybe that was the point. (New York)

Clothes (and many models) are being compared with previous HBA shows.

In the end, the women’s clothes, and many of the models, were indistinguishable from those in previous HBA shows. . . .
The atmosphere in Jardine’s course resembled a political rally. (Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus [Free Press], by Dinesh D’Souza)

An atmosphere is being compared with a rally.

The atmosphere in Jardine’s course resembled that of a political rally.
More than 80 percent of Korean young people go to college, and parents here spend more money per child on extra classes and outside tutoring—including military-style “cram schools”—than any other country in the O.E.C.D. (New York Times)

Parents are being compared with any other country.

More than eighty percent of Korean young people go to college, and parents here spend more money per child on extra classes and outside tutoring—including military-style “cram schools”—than those in any other country in the O.E.C.D. OR: . . . than parents in any other country in the O.E.C.D.
His [the chef’s] voice boomed manically around the matchbox space, and in comparison with other, more classically decorous sushi joints in town, the helter-skelter choreography with his (equally large, non-Japanese) sous-chef seemed almost comically awkward. (New York)

A category of restaurants is being compared with the behavior of a chef and his sous-chef at one particular restaurant in that category.

. . . and in comparison with the almost classical decorum of other sushi joints in town, the helter-skelter choreography with his (equally large, non-Japanese) sous-chef seemed almost comically awkward.
Because what he sees is different from other directors, he is able to show things in new ways that are right and illuminating. (San Francisco Chronicle)

“What he sees” is being compared with “other directors.”

Because what he sees is different from what other directors see, he is able to show things in new ways that are right and illuminating.
Primary Wave now controls the copyrights to about 10,000 songs—a minuscule catalog compared with giant music publishers like EMI and Universal, but the company has also established marketing, branding, television and artist management units to exploit songs to their fullest. (New York Times) [A hyphen should be inserted between artist and management; see Chapter 86.]

A catalogue is being compared with publishers.

Primary Wave now controls the copyrights to about ten thousand songs—a minuscule catalog compared with that of a giant music publisher like EMI or Universal. . . .
Amazon’s library of streaming music is tiny compared with Spotify or Pandora, but it might be fine if you have a phone full of MP3s. (New York Times)

One service’s library of streaming music is being compared with one competing service or another.

Amazon’s library of streaming music is tiny compared with that of Spotify or Pandora, but it might be fine if you have a phone full of MP3s. OR: Amazon’s library of streaming music is tiny compared with Spotify’s or Pandora’s. . . . [In the second revision, the noun phrase library of streaming music is implied after Spotify’s and Pandora’s.]
Sales are up so far this year, yet those gains are small comfort considering 2011's performance was on par with 2004 (and that's without adjusting for inflation). (Wall Street Journal)

Performance is being compared with 2004.

Sales are up so far this year, yet those gains are small comfort considering 2011's performance was on par with 2004’s. . . .  
Yet as they reach adulthood, the overarching quest of many in this first generation to be identified with Asperger syndrome is the same as many of their nonautistic peers: to find someone to love who will love them back. (New York Times)

A quest is being compared with “many of their nonautistic peers.”

Yet as they reach adulthood, the overarching quest of many in this first generation to be identified with Asperger syndrome is the same as that of many of their nonautistic peers. . . .
Women also showed a decline in academic performance, though smaller than their male counterparts. (New York Times)

A decline in academic performance is being compared with male counterparts.

Women also showed a decline in academic performance, though smaller than that of their male counterparts.
Second, the real-world effect of [Martin Luther] King’s “Letter” [“from Birmingham Jail”]—and what is power without consequence?—was and is greater than probably any American poem yet written. (Beautiful & Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry [Harper], by David Orr)

An effect is being compared with “any American poem yet written.”

Second, the real-world effect of King’s “Letter”—and what is power without consequence?—was and is greater than that of probably any American poem yet written.
In recent advertisements called “Cable Guy,” Verizon highlighted its technicians’ dress shirts as a way to differentiate its fiber optic service from cable competitors. (New York Times) [A hyphen is needed between fiber and optic; see Chapter 86.]

Fiber-optic service is being compared with cable competitors.

In recent advertisements called “Cable Guy,” Verizon highlighted its technicians’ dress shirts as a way to differentiate its fiber-optic service from that of its cable competitors.
The effects of light therapy are fast, usually four to seven days, compared with antidepressants, which can take four to six weeks to work. (New York Times)

 Effects of light therapy are being compared with antidepressants.

The effects of light therapy are fast, usually within four to seven days, compared with those of antidepressants. . . .
Harvard admits its full list price of $45,620, while comparable to other elite private universities, is a burden to all but the most wealthy. (Associated Press) [It would be helpful to insert that after admits; see Chapter 54.]

A full list price is being compared with other elite private universities.

Harvard admits that its full list price of $45,620, while comparable to that of any other elite private university, is a burden to all but the most wealthy.
Ilili’s décor is reminiscent of a grand Parisian cafe in the early 20th century (or the Old Lebanon, if you will). (New York Observer)

Décor is being compared with a café.

Ilili’s décor is reminiscent of that of a grand Parisian café in the early twentieth century. . . . OR: Ilili’s décor is reminiscent of a grand Parisian café’s in the early twentieth century. . . .
Compared to some of their previous encounters and recent exchanges on the campaign trail, the GOP hopefuls appeared constrained—either by the debate's rigid format, the spirit of the approaching holidays or by a desire to leave a positive impression with voters who will head into the state's crucial caucuses in just 22 days. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) [The sentence also suffers from faulty parallelism; see Chapters 41 and 42.]

Encounters and exchanges are being compared with GOP hopefuls.

Compared to some of their previous encounters and recent exchanges on the campaign trail, this debate found the GOP hopefuls appearing constrained. . . .
These loans tend to be at lower interest rates than banks and credit cards (starting at 7.5% for person-to-person vs. 13% for conventional loans). (Parade)

Interest rates are being compared with banks and credit cards.

These loans tend to be at lower interest rates than those offered by banks and credit cards. . . .
What we love about Apple isn’t necessarily the company’s approach to design, which in truth isn’t much different from other great design-led businesses like Muji or Bang & Olufsen. (Wall Street Journal)

One business’s approach to design is being contrasted with other businesses.

What we love about Apple isn’t necessarily the company’s approach to design, which in truth isn’t much different from that of other great design-led businesses like Muji or Bang & Olufsen.
Compared with last season, the show's audience was down about 20 percent among 18- to 49-year-olds. (New York Times)

 Last season is being compared with the show’s audience.

Compared with last season’s, the show's audience was down about twenty percent among 18-to-49-year-olds. OR: Compared with that of last season, the show's audience was down about twenty percent among 18-to-49-year-olds. [Why have extra hyphens been added? See Chapter 86.]
In 2000, the deadly Ebola virus struck Uganda. And like the current outbreak in West Africa, now the largest in history, Uganda was completely unprepared. (Wall Street Journal)

The outbreak of a disease is being compared with a country.

And as with the current outbreak in West Africa, now the largest in history, Uganda was completely unprepared.
The cost of keeping an elderly, infirm person in prison is more than $100,000 a year, about double the average prisoner, Mr. Fischer said. (New York Times)

A cost is being compared with an average prisoner. 

The cost of keeping an elderly, infirm person in prison is more than $100,000 a year, about double the cost of housing the average prisoner.

CHEAT SHEET: Here are the correct patterns for the most common ways to express a comparison (see also Chapters 37-40):
—A’s X is better than B’s X.
—A’s X is better than B’s.
—A’s X is better than that of B.
—A’s Xs are better than those of B.

We’ve seen that in resolving a faulty comparison, a writer can avoid the awkward repetition of a noun by using phrasing such as that of or those of. Sometimes, though, a writer takes things too far and ends up with what might be called a surplus-possessive construction.
He found Mr. [Kim] Cesarion, and was captivated by his confidence and love of the spotlight, in addition to his falsetto, similar to that of Michael Jackson's. (Wall Street Journal)

The phrasing that of is redundant, because the noun Michael Jackson has already been converted to possessive form with an apostrophe and an s.  

. . . his falsetto, similar to Michael Jackson's. OR: his falsetto, similar to that of Michael Jackson.

  ^^   37 

Falling In and Out of Like 
 

 You might not want to start a sentence with the preposition like unless you know in your bones that you’re a person with a strong sense of direction and follow-through in your thinking and writing. That simple little preposition, after all, is going to acquire a noun (or sometimes a pronoun) as its object; and as soon as your reader takes in the full sweep of your introductory prepositional phrase, she’ll expect it to be followed by one thing and one thing only: an independent clause whose subject is a noun (or a pronoun) that belongs to the very same category of persons or things as the object of the preposition at the outset of your sentence. Any other sort of subject will plunge the sentence into illogic.

Like Mr. Bush, his [Mike Huckabee’s] approach to politics seems, at bottom, highly emotional, marked by great spurts of feeling and mighty declarations as to what the Lord wants. (Wall Street Journal)

A former president is being likened to an approach.

Like Mr. Bush, Mr. Huckabee ultimately seems to approach politics in a highly emotional way. . . .
Like many people, more of my viewing time has gravitated to Netflix, which I can stream through my Internet service on plans that start at $8 a month. (New York Times)

People are being likened to viewing time.

Like many people, I've been devoting more of my viewing time to Netflix. . . .
[the uppercasing has been retained from the source] (Like any pop act, what they were doing was looking for variations on their previous hit, the descending scalar crotchets of THANK YOU GIRL's middle eight being recycled from the verse of PLEASE PLEASE ME.) (Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties [Henry Holt], by Ian MacDonald)

A pop act is being likened to an action.

(Like any pop act, they were looking for variations on their previous hit, and for the middle eight of “Thank You Girl,” they recycled the descending scalar crotchets from the verse of “Please Please Me.”)
Like any good beat cop, his philosophy is to meet the people. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

A policeman is being likened to a philosophy.

Like any good beat cop, he believes in meeting the people.
Like Coach, Target’s sales soared. (New York Times)

A chain of luxury stores is being likened to sales.

Like Coach’s sales, Target’s have soared. [The noun sales is implied after Target’s.]
Mr. Aitchison and his counterparts at other elite schools had expected to walk out of their final exams this week and into a summer position promised back in the fall. Like summer associate jobs at most white-shoe law firms, they would have earned around $3,000 a week, plus free meals, field trips and other goodies. (New York Times)

Jobs are being likened to summer employees.

Like summer associates at most white-shoe law firms, they would have earned around $3,000 a week. . . .
Like the NoMad Bar, there are two dining levels here [at Bar Primi], although this one has an actual second story rather than just a mezzanine, which makes it marginally easier to spread out and enjoy a meal with your drink. (New York)

One restaurant is being likened to the two dining levels at another restaurant.

Like the NoMad Bar, Bar Primi has two dining levels, although there’s an actual second story here rather than just a mezzanine. . . .
Like the Forsyth Street restaurant [Birds & Bubbles], the entrance [to Root & Bone] is crowded, most evenings, with a rabble of food tourists and neighborhood gastronomes clamoring to get in (“The wait’s about an hour and a half,” the friendly gate minder told me on one visit). (New York)

A restaurant is being likened to the entrance to another restaurant.

Like the Forsyth Street restaurant, this one has a crowded entrance most evenings, with a rabble of food tourists and neighborhood gastronomes clamoring to get in. . . .
Like Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, and the other photographers whose approach to landscape was dubbed “New Topographics” in the nineteen-seventies, [Ray] Mortenson’s eye is artfully matter-of-fact. (New Yorker)

Some photographers are being likened to another photographer’s eye.

Mortenson has an eye that is artfully matter-of-fact. OR: Mortenson has an artfully matter-of-fact eye. OR: Mortenson is possessed of an artfully matter-of-fact eye. OR: Mortenson is artfully matter-of-fact. OR: Mortenson has a vision that is artfully matter-of-fact. OR: Mortenson has an artfully matter-of-fact vision [OR: approach].
Like waiters with hungry customers who’d punish them for a slow-moving meal, our customers were quick to tongue-lash us if they felt inconvenienced. (Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail [Portfolio], by Caitlin Kelly)

The writer has intended to compare diners at a restaurant with customers in a store, but she ends up comparing waiters with retail customers.

Like hungry diners who would punish their waiters for a slow-moving meal, our customers were quick to tongue-lash us if they felt inconvenienced.

  A writer sometimes manages a comparison correctly in one clause of a sentence but mismanages a comparison in another clause.

Like [Bob] Hope, he [Bugs Bunny] was usually paired with a more inward character who loves to sing (Daffy Duck is Bugs’s Bing, though blustery rather than cool), and, like Hope, his appeal rises entirely from the limitless brashness and self-confidence with which he approaches even the most threatening circumstances. (New Yorker)

In the third independent clause of the sentence, Bob Hope is being likened to the appeal of a cartoon character.

. . . like Hope’s, his appeal rises entirely from the limitless brashness and self-confidence with which he approaches even the most threatening circumstances. [The noun appeal is implied after Hope’s.]

A writer can get things right in the first sentence of a paragraph, then bollix things up in the second.

Like Otto, Rudi was a Czech. Like Otto, his birthplace varies from record to record. (The Girls: Sappho Goes to Hollywood [St. Martin’s],by Diane McLellan)

In the first sentence, one man is likened to another. So far, so good. But in the second sentence, a man is being likened to a birthplace.

Like Otto’s, his birthplace varies from record to record. [The noun birthplace is implied after Otto’s.] OR: Like Otto’s birthplace, Rudi’s varies from record to record. . [The noun birthplace is implied after Rudi’s.]

The quickest fix sometimes involves ditching the preposition like and substituting as in or as with.

Like Wikipedia, articles in knol (the name derives from “knowledge”) will be free to read online. (Times [London, U.K.])

An online encyclopedia is being likened to articles.

Like articles in Wikipedia, those in knol (the name derives from “knowledge”) will be free to read online. OR: As in Wikipedia, articles in knol (the name derives from “knowledge”) will be free to read online.
And like any good marriage, everyone gets something out of the deal. (New York)

A good marriage is being likened to everyone.

And as in any good marriage, everyone gets something out of the deal.
[about the song "With a Little Help from My Friends" (the uppercasing has been retained from the source)] Like many other Beatles songs of the period, its origin on the (to them) foreign medium of the piano is clear in its regular crotchet beat; indeed Lennon may have had it in the back of his mind during the early stages of I AM THE WALRUS, written in a similar way. (Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties [Henry Holt], by Ian MacDonald)

Songs are being likened to the origin of a song.

As with many other Beatles songs of the period, its origin on what was to them the foreign medium of the piano is clear in its regular crotchet beat. . . . OR: Like many other Beatles songs of the period, it originated on what was to them the foreign medium of the piano, as is clear in its regular crotchet beat. . . .
[from a review of a Monsters of Folk CD] Like Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, there is a political consciousness here, but it's a little mushy: "We don't agree about September," sings Ward on “Baby Boomer,” in an apparent reference to the 9/11 conspiracy debate. (Rolling Stone)

A folk-rock quartet is being likened to a political consciousness.

As with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, there is a political consciousness here, but it's a little mushy. . . .
Like Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury strips, there is usually a punch line after the punch line in which the author reacts to the situation. But where Doonesbury characters typically react with wisecracking aplomb, rage comic characters respond with—well, rage. (New York Times) [In the second sentence, a hyphen needs to be inserted between rage and comic; see Chapter 86.]

Comic strips are being likened to punch lines.

As in Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury strips, there is usually a punch line after the punch line in which the author reacts to the situation.
Written by Mr. Anderson and Roman Coppola (they worked together several times before), “Moonrise Kingdom” breezes along with a beautifully coordinated admixture of droll humor, deadpan and slapstick. Like all of Mr. Anderson’s films, though, there’s a deep, pervasive melancholia here too, a sense of regret evident in Mr. Bishop’s slouch (with his plaid pants, he is a walking John Cheever tragedy) and in the way Captain Sharp and Mrs. Bishop look, and don’t look, at each other. (New York Times)

Films are being likened to melancholia.

As in all of Mr. Anderson’s films, though, there’s a deep, pervasive melancholia here, too. . . .
[about Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos] Like all great and obsessed entrepreneurs, his ambitions were imperial, his optimism rooted in an overweening confidence in his own rectitude. (The Nation) [Detect a second problem in the sentence? See Chapter 46.]

Entrepreneurs are being likened to ambitions.

As is true of all great and obsessed entrepreneurs, his ambitions were imperial, and his optimism was rooted in an overweening confidence in his own rectitude.

Many writers have as much trouble with the preposition unlike as they do with like. 

Unlike lots of Sichuan establishments around town, the chile oil here [at Han Dynasty] is made from scratch, by first blanching the chile peppers to bring out their taste before adding the oil to complement the spicy heat. (New York)

Restaurants are being contrasted with chile oil.

Unlike lots of Sichuan establishments around town, Han Dynasty makes the chile oil from scratch. . . .
Unlike painkillers such as aspirin or Tylenol, consuming large quantities [of opioids] is unlikely to permanently damage the organs. (New Yorker) [Is the split infinitive in this sentence an avoidable distraction? See Chapter 52.]

Painkillers are being contrasted with consuming.

Opioids, unlike painkillers such as aspirin or Tylenol, are unlikely to damage organs permanently when consumed in large quantities. OR: Unlike painkillers such as aspirin or Tylenol, opioids are unlikely to cause permanent organ damage when consumed in large quantities. [Some readers, though, might object to the appearance of both unlike and unlikely in such a short sentence. A further revision: In contrast to painkillers such as aspirin or Tylenol, opioids are unlikely to cause permanent organ damage when consumed in large quantities.]  
So, unlike the CD—where each crap track costs perhaps one-twelfth of a $15 album price—all of the crap tracks online just sit harmlessly on some server, ignored by a marketplace that evaluates songs on their own merit. (The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More [Hyperion],by Chris Anderson)

A CD is being contrasted with tracks.

So, unlike the crap tracks on the CD—each of which costs perhaps one-twelfth of a $15 album price—those online just sit harmlessly on some server. . . .
Unlike creative people whose confessional work is an extension of their confessional personalities, [Sharon] Horgan’s confessional work reflects a powerful instinct to tamp down her feelings. (New Yorker)

Creative people are being contrasted with one creative person’s work.

Some creative people’s confessional work is an extension of their confessional personalities, but Horgan’s confessional work reflects a powerful instinct to tamp down her feelings. OR: Some creative people’s confessional work is an extension of their confessional personalities, but Horgan’s reflects a powerful instinct to tamp down her feelings. OR: Unlike creative people whose confessional work is an extension of their confessional personalities, Horgan reveals in her confessional work a powerful instinct to tamp down her feelings.
Unlike most drugstores, where prescriptions make up the majority of sales, half of Duane Reade’s sales come from food, cosmetics, and the like. (New York)

Drugstores are being contrasted with sales.

Unlike most drugstores, where prescriptions make up the majority of sales, Duane Reade relies on food, cosmetics, and the like for half of its sales.
And unlike the late 1990s, there is no flood of new companies coming to market. (New York Times)

Part of a decade is being contrasted with a flood of new companies.

And unlike in the late nineteen-nineties, there is no flood of new companies coming to market.
[about escape rooms, real-life equivalents of video games] And unlike a video game, all five senses are involved. (New York Times)

A video game is being contrasted with the five senses.

And unlike in a video game, all five senses are involved. OR: And unlike a video game, escape rooms involve all five senses.
Unlike, say, Walmart, which expects its employees to start each day with a group cheer, there was little company-enforced regimentation of how and when we were to do our jobs [at The North Face]. (Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail [Portfolio], by Caitlin Kelly)

A chain of stores is being contrasted with regimentation.

Unlike, say, Walmart, which expects its employees to start each day with a group cheer, our store lacked almost any company-enforced regimentation of how and when we were to do our jobs.
Texts can also be viewed from the Google Voice Web site, which allows texting from a computer. And since this is a service offered by Google, the texts saved online can be searched using keywords. But, unlike other texting and instant messaging apps, you cannot attach pictures to Google Voice texts. (New York Times) [A hyphen must unite instant and messaging into an adjectival compound; see Chapter 86.]

Apps are being contrasted with you, a potential user of Google Voice.

But, unlike other texting and instant-messaging apps, Google Voice does not allow you to attach pictures to texts.
Unlike the more polished Forsyth Street restaurant [Birds & Bubbles], however, the food here [at Root & Bone] is a work-in-progress. (New York)

One restaurant is being contrasted with the food at another restaurant.

Unlike the fare at the more polished Forsyth Street restaurant, however, the food here is a work-in-progress.
Unlike our father, who makes jokes no one understands and leaves his listeners baffled and anxious to get away, it was fun to hear what our mom might come out with. (New Yorker)

A father is being contrasted with “to hear what our mom might come out with,” which is the true subject of the independent clause (in this sentence, the expletive it is functioning as what grammarians call the anticipatory subject or dummy subject).

Unlike with our father, who makes jokes no one understands and leaves his listeners baffled and anxious to get away, it was fun to hear what our mom might come out with.  OR: Although our father makes jokes no one understands, leaving his listeners baffled and anxious to get away, it was fun to hear what our mom might come out with. 

  ^^   38 

Comparatives are odious when superlatives are better. 
 

Adjectives have their work cut out for them. Not only do they have to be on call in their standard forms (such as pink and comfortable), which a grammarian would call their positive forms. But they also need to be ready at a moment’s notice for duty in what are known as their comparative and superlative forms.
 You reach for the comparative form of an adjective when you're comparing two persons or things: She’s the younger of the sisters. She’s more intelligent than her brother. You need the superlative form of an adjective when you want your readers to understand that one of three or more persons or things has the highest or lowest degree of a particular quality: She’s the wittiest of the sisters. She’s the most intelligent of the interns.
 You can produce the comparative form in two ways. If the adjective is only one or two syllables long, all you need to do is tack on an er (or, if the adjective—like strange—already ends in e, just an r). If the adjective is longer, insert the adverb more or less in front of it.
 You can also produce the superlative form in two ways. For a short adjective, add est (if the adjective ends in e, add st only). For a longer adjective, slip the adverb most or least directly in front.

[from a review of three situation comedies] It would be great if “The Goldbergs” were the wittier show of the three—Jeff Garlin (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”) plays the kind of dad who hollers, tells his children they are morons and proudly gives his middle son an REO Speedwagon tape for his birthday, which his son, who favors Flavor Flav, takes as an insult. (New York Times)
It would be great if The Goldbergs were the wittiest show of the three. . . .

Things get complicated when two or more comparative or superlative forms are arranged in a row. Take care to position adjectives ending in er or est before adjectival phrases that begin with more, most, less, or least.

After all, paying someone ten million dollars isn't going to make that person more creative or smarter. (New Yorker)

A reader can’t help mentally pushing the adverb more forward in the sentence so that it lands in front of smarter.  The unhappy and discomforting result? The overpaid person is more smarter.

. . . paying someone ten million dollars isn't going to make that person smarter or more creative.
[from an article about wine] By contrast, the Laphroaig 18-Year-Old, our No. 5 bottle, was less bracing and mellower. (New York Times)
. . . was mellower and less bracing.
Only Annaleigh Ashford as Maureen Johnson the performance artist (first played by Idina Menzel, if you please) adds a revitalizing grit to her role. She is more precise and funnier than was Ms. Menzel (whose strengths were of a different stripe) in evoking the particular world of downtown performance that’s being satirized here. (New York Times)
She is funnier and more precise than was Ms. Menzel. . . .
Hotel 718 is part of a more upscale wave of independent hotels opening in Brooklyn, with a carefully fashioned restaurant or bar that aims to attract locals as well as hotel guests. And those guests tend to be more stylish and wealthier travelers, not just budget-conscious visitors who cannot afford to stay near Times Square. (New York Times)
And those guests tend to be wealthier and more stylish travelers. . . .
She said she wanted to try to create a more interactive and broader publication that did not replicate the magazine, but extended it—“a new Vogue under the auspices of Vogue.”  (New York Times)
She said she wanted to try to create a broader, more interactive publication. . . .
I was talking about this recently with a close friend who’s only a bit younger than I am, and she said that with each year, she finds her friendships less volatile and easier, because she increasingly succeeds at looking past their flaws and disappointments and homing in on their pleasures and on what set them in motion to begin with. (New York Times)
. . . she finds her friendships easier and less volatile. . . .
On a recent test run of all three services, TextFree was the fastest, most reliable and easiest to use. (New York Times)
. . . TextFree was the easiest to use, the fastest, and the most reliable. OR: . . . Textfree was the fastest, easiest to use, and most reliable.
These symptoms of arrested development will also be signs that we are freer, more honest and happier than the uptight fools who let go of such pastimes. (New York Times)
. . . we are freer, happier, and more honest. . . .
There, they knew, labor is even more plentiful, cheaper, and less demanding. (Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail [Portfolio], by Caitlin Kelly)
There, they knew, labor is cheaper, less demanding, and even more plentiful. OR [to replace cheaper, with its negative connotation]: There, they knew, labor is less expensive, less demanding, and even more plentiful.
Stem's camera, the iZon, is much smaller, prettier and less intrusive than its rivals. (New York Times)
. . . is prettier, much smaller, and less intrusive than its rivals. OR [perhaps this is what the writer meant]: . . . is much smaller, much prettier, and less intrusive than its rivals.
Is he imagining how Jude Quinn must feel—a freak suffering a surplus of intelligence and feeling, the loneliness of forever talking above people's heads, the pressure of being the smartest, the most popular, the coolest, funniest, most talented person in the room? (Village Voice) [The sentence also suffers from unhinged appositives; see Chapter 27.]
. . . the pressure of being the smartest, coolest, funniest, most popular, and most talented person in the room? OR: . . . the pressure of being the smartest, the coolest, the funniest, the most popular, and the most talented person in the room?
According to a variety of sociologists (San Diego State’s Jean Twenge, Notre Dame’s Christian Smith, and others), younger Americans are more self-absorbed, less empathetic and hungrier for approbation than earlier generations—and these trends seem to have accelerated as Internet culture has ripened. (New York Times)
. . . younger Americans are more self-absorbed, less empathetic, and more hungry for approbation than earlier generations. . . . OR [to pair together the phrasings beginning with more]: . . . younger Americans are more self-absorbed, more hungry for approbation, and less empathetic than earlier generations. . . . OR: . . . younger Americans are hungrier for approbation, more self-absorbed, and less empathetic than earlier generations. . . .
After a brief exposure to the outdoors, people are more creative, happier and better able to focus. (Wall Street Journal)
. . . people are happier, better able to focus, and more creative.
The activity also makes clear a fact that most scientists keep trying to underscore, that the best, most exciting and cheapest science involves unmanned spacecraft. (New York Times)  
. . . the best, most exciting, and least expensive science involves unmanned spacecraft.
If Celeste were complicated beyond her fixation, the novel would be more erotic, more transgressive, and sharper in its commentary. (New Republic)
. . . the novel would be more erotic, more transgressive, and more incisive in its commentary. OR: . . . the novel would be sharper in its commentary, more erotic, and more transgressive. OR: . . . the novel would be not only more erotic and more transgressive but also sharper in its commentary.
Music has always slipped across genres. Now the tools for creating and performing, producing and distributing it are even more efficient, widespread and cheaper. (Wall Street Journal)
Now the tools for creating and performing, producing and distributing it are less expensive, more efficient, and more widespread. OR: Now the tools for creating and performing, producing and distributing it are even less expensive and more efficient and widespread.
And while the use of interspecies melding seen in “Butcher Boys” continues, the overall tone is less brutish, more tender and harder to pin down. (New York Times)
And while the use of interspecies melding seen in Butcher Boys continues, the overall tone is not only less brutish and more tender but also harder to pin down.
Ingenious, then, to place Mary Hartman within a soap-opera ambience; in the absence of studio audience and laugh track, the relationship between the actors and the camera can be more intimate, quieter. (Critical Mass: Four Decades of Essays, Reviews, Hand Grenades, and Hurrahs [Doubleday], by James Wolcott)
. . . the relationship between the actors and the camera can be quieter, more intimate.
Males are far more aggressive, bigger, heavier and more muscular than females and have bigger canines—the better to slash an opponent with. (Wall Street Journal)
Males are bigger, heavier, more muscular, and far more aggressive than females. . . .
Also, people mock what they most fear, and even A-list stars can feel like outsiders—there’s always someone more famous, more talented, wealthier, better connected or just younger. (New York Times)
. . . there’s always someone wealthier, better connected, more famous, more talented—or someone just younger.

Now have a look again at the title of this chapter. Why doesn’t it say "superlatives are best"? The adjective best, after all, is the superlative form of the adjective good. (The comparative form is better.) In the title, though, only two things are being compared—the comparative form and the superlative form. When you’re comparing just two things, you need a comparative adjective, not a superlative. You would never want to say of one half of a pair of twins that Anna is the brightest; you would say Anna is the brighter.   

[headline] What’s Best, LED or Incandescent Lights? (New York Times)
What’s Better, LED or Incandescent Lights?

  ^^   39 

This sentence is not as good or better than a correct sentence.
 

There’s a gaping hole in the title of this chapter.
 Hint: a word is missing.
 Haven’t found it yet?
 No? Well, how often, after paying a wallet-thinning visit to the local Cineplex to see, say, Hipster Manqué II, have you found yourself claiming (as a writer, reviewing a movie for the Long Beach, California, Press-Telegram, claimed), “The sequel is rarely ever as good or better than the original”?
 Never, let’s hope. But let’s break that quotation down into two fun-size chunkettes and see what it’s really saying:

  •  The sequel is rarely ever as good the original.
  •  The sequel is rarely ever better than the original.

 The second statement obviously makes sense. But the first? The error laying waste to it is called an incomplete comparison.
 All too often, an editorial search party needs to be organized to bring the second as in an as+adjective+as phrasing back to civilization.

This FX series, which starts on Wednesday, should be as good or better than the original. (New York Times)
This FX series, which starts on Wednesday, should be as good as or better than the original.
Store-brand products can be as much as 50 percent cheaper, and in CR's tests over the years, they often turned out to be just as good or better than brand-name products. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
Store-brand products can cost as much as fifty percent less, and in CR's tests over the years, they often turned out to be just as good as or better than brand-name products.  

A second as needs to be deposited in each of the following two excerpts as well.

They [frozen vegetables] are often as good or even better than fresh ones, he said. (Wall Street Journal)
As similar as the two restaurants are, though, they exist in very different places. And the ceaseless sniping between the cities has been fired up recently by a Huffington Post essay arguing that Los Angeles has become a better restaurant town than New York, and a New York Times review positing that New York tacos are as good or better than those here. (New York Times)

As good as isn’t the only phrasing from which the completing as is often erroneously dropped.

Over all the quality of this year’s Rendez-Vous is about the same or maybe a little better than last year’s. (New York Times)
Over all the quality of this year’s Rendez-Vous is about the same as or maybe a little better than last year’s.
"Broadband now is as important, if not more important, than video," says Eric Bruno, vice president of strategy and planning at Verizon's telecom group. (Wall Street Journal) [Note, too, that the quotation is mispunctuated.]
"Broadband now is as important as, if not more important than, video," says Eric Bruno, vice president of strategy and planning at Verizon's telecom group.

Such revisions, however, can sound fussy. Sometimes it’s better to refashion the sentence.

Broadband’s importance has now exceeded that of video. OR: Broadband is now more important than video.
The problem is that the Senate and the House Agriculture Committee would have just replaced the direct payment program with programs that would have been as costly, or even costlier, than the direct payment program. (heritage.org) [The sentence also needs two hyphens; see Chapter 86.]
The problem is that the Senate and the House Agriculture Committee would have just replaced the direct-payment program with programs as costly as, or even costlier than, the direct-payment program. OR: The problem is that the Senate and the House Agriculture Committee would have just replaced the direct-payment program with programs costing as much as the direct-payment program—or even more. OR: The problem is that the Senate and the House Agriculture Committee would have just replaced the direct-payment program with programs costing the same—or even more.
Psychological abuse has been found to be as harmful or more harmful than physical abuse (Follingstead et al., 1990; Tolman &c Bhosley, 1991) and psychological abuse in early stages of a relationship has been found to be predictive of physical aggression (Leonard & Senchak, 1996; Murphy & O’Leary, 1989; O’Leary, Malone, & Tyree, 1994). (Stalking: Perspectives on Victims and Perpetrators [Springer], edited by Keith E. Davis, Irene Hanson Frieze, and Roland D. Maiuro)
Psychological abuse has been found to be as harmful as, or more harmful than, physical abuse. . . . OR: Psychological abuse has been found to be as harmful as physical abuse or even more so. . . .

As isn’t the only word that can wander off from a comparison.

Yet New Orleans’s overall rate of violent crime is on par or lower than that of other cities its size. (Wall Street Journal)
Yet New Orleans’s overall rate of violent crime is on par with or lower than that of other cities its size.
As much as I hate to tell you this. . .
 The second as in the phrase as much as sometimes fails to find its way into a sentence when a writer wants to assert that someone (or something) not only has achieved a similar degree of success, or possesses a similar degree of a particular quality, as someone (or something) else, but perhaps also has achieved, or also possesses, an even greater degree of it. Such a sentence can often be repaired by doing nothing more than inserting the missing as.
An April report by the Center for American Progress looked at U.S. women who earn as much or more than their husbands and found that 34% of wives in families with incomes in the top 20% are the breadwinners, whereas 70% of those in the bottom 20% are. (Wall Street Journal)
An April report by the Center for American Progress looked at U.S. women who earn as much as or more than their husbands. . . .
This unprecedented move should frighten us as much or more than the attack itself. (reason.com)
This unprecedented move should frighten us as much as or more than the attack itself.
Mitt Romney has fielded an equally formidable high-dollar fund-raising machine this year and could raise as much or more than Mr. Obama during the election cycle. (New York Times)
Mitt Romney has fielded an equally formidable high-dollar fund-raising machine this year and could raise as much as or more than Mr. Obama during the election cycle.
Most readers have probably had much the same experience on buying a new printer for little or nothing, only to learn later that replacement cartridges cost as much or more than the printer. (Why Popcorn Costs So Much at the Movies, and Other Pricing Puzzles [Copernicus], by Richard B. McKenzie)
. . . replacement cartridges cost as much as or more than the printer.

  ^^   40 

Don’t leave out the other—or else.
 

Notice anything not quite right about the following two excerpts, each of which is gamely attempting to express a contrast?

Rachel Kushner’s second novel, “The Flamethrowers,” unfolds on a bigger, brighter screen than nearly any recent American novel I can remember. It plays out as if on Imax, or simply higher-grade film stock. (New York Times) [Note: the review in which these sentences appeared was published in the very same month that the novel under consideration was published.]
No television show is hotter than “Breaking Bad,” which set a ratings record for the premiere of its final season on Sunday—doubling its previous high—and is headed toward a finale, on Sept. 29, likely to rival any in recent television history in terms of national anticipation. (New York Times)

Give up? Then consider this: you would never declare that Burger King is better than any fast-food restaurant. And why not? Because by doing so, you would unintentionally be ousting Burger King from the very category of things to which it belongs—namely, fast-food restaurants. But the dazzling writer of the first excerpt above, Dwight Garner, is doing much the same thing: he is saying, in effect, that The Flamethrowers is not “any recent American novel [he] can remember.” What’s missing from his sentence, as well as from the sentence about Burger King, is, of course, the adjective other: Burger King is better than any other fast food-restaurant. (Burger King has now been restored to the category to which it belongs.)

Rachel Kushner’s second novel, The Flamethrowers, unfolds on a bigger, brighter screen than nearly any other recent American novel I can remember.

As for the second except above, it’s misleadingly asserting that Breaking Bad is not in fact a television show.

No other television show is hotter than Breaking Bad, which set a ratings record for the premiere of its final season on Sunday. . . .

The adjective other goes missing from a lot of sentences—always to the detriment of the meaning and the logic.

Hearst found that the Spanish were more easily parted from their art treasures, or pieces thereof, than most Europeans. (Louise Brooks [Knopf], by Barry Paris)

The sentence erroneously professes that the Spanish in fact are not Europeans.

Hearst found that the Spanish were more easily parted from their art treasures, or pieces thereof, than most other Europeans.
No populist politician in recent memory has risen further faster than Elizabeth Warren [a Democrat senator from Massachusetts]. (Rolling Stone)
No other populist politician in recent memory has risen further faster than Elizabeth Warren.
Bocuse's achievements are legendary. L'Auberge du Pont de Collouges, his flagship restaurant in Lyon, has maintained its three-Michelin-starred ranking for more than four decades, longer than any restaurant on the planet. (Wall Street Journal)
L'Auberge du Pont de Collouges, his flagship restaurant, in Lyon, has maintained its three-Michelin-starred ranking for more than four decades, longer than any other restaurant on the planet.
Francis, who shared his superior Edwardian mien, loved Wheeler’s more than any eating place in London—even more than the beautiful dining room in the Ritz. (The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon [Pantheon], by Daniel Farson) [As the book from which the sentence is excerpted makes clear, Wheeler’s was a seafood restaurant in London.]
Francis, who shared his superior Edwardian mien, loved Wheeler’s more than any other eating place in London—even more than the beautiful dining room in the Ritz.
First, this movie should be enjoyed. Later, marveled at. And then, once the excitement has faded, "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" really should be studied, because director Cristian Mungiu creates scenes unlike any ever filmed. (San Francisco Chronicle)
. . . director Cristian Mungiu creates scenes unlike any others ever filmed.

Without others, the sentence is excluding the director’s own scenes from the grand total of all the scenes ever recorded on film. The writer is inadvertently and nonsensically proclaiming that the director’s scenes were not in fact even filmed.
 Using the word other illogically, though, is another way for a writer to becloud the meaning of a sentence.

Remember “Queen for a Day,” the TV show in which a jewelled crown and prizes, such as a washer-dryer, were awarded to the woeful housewife contestant who could convince the studio audience that she was the most woeful of all the other housewife contestants? (New Yorker)

How can one woeful housewife contestant be the most woeful of the other housewife contestants? The contestants, after all, consist of her and the others; she is apart from the others, not a part of them.

Remember “Queen for a Day,” the TV show in which a jewelled crown and prizes, such as a washer-dryer, were awarded to the woeful housewife contestant who could convince the studio audience that she was more woeful than all of the other housewife contestants? OR [deleting the adjective other]: Remember “Queen for a Day,” the TV show in which a jewelled crown and prizes, such as a washer-dryer, were awarded to the woeful housewife contestant who could convince the studio audience that she was the most woeful of all the housewife contestants?

Now have a look at another set of excerpts, and see if you can find anything amiss.

From her first televised “y’all” in 1999, Paula Deen has worked harder to promote Southern food than anyone in the modern media era, wielding frosted hair and frosted doughnuts as her weapons. (New York Times)
Vivienne Westwood, the British fashion designer who, with her partner the impresario Malcolm McLaren (1946-2010), did more than anyone to create the obstreperous punk look, said, “The best way to confront British society was to be as obscene as possible.” (New York Times)
The sound that comes out of his [Neil Young’s] guitar is unlike anything ever on the musical landscape. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

The excerpt about Paula Deen would have us believe that Deen is not “anyone in the modern media era.” The purpose of the sentence, though, was to contrast Deen with others in that very same era.

From her first televised “y’all,” in 1999, Paula Deen has worked harder to promote Southern food than anyone else in the modern media era. . . .

 In the excerpt about Vivienne Westwood, what can the writer mean by saying she “did more than anyone” other than that Ms. Westwood is in fact not someone? The sentence banishes Ms. Westwood from the human race.

Vivienne Westwood, the British fashion designer who, with her partner the impresario Malcolm McLaren (1946-2010), did more than anyone else to create the obstreperous punk look. . . .

And what of the sentence about Neil Young? It is asserting, nonsensically, that the sound produced by Young’s guitar is something that has never been heard on the musical landscape.

The sound that comes out of his guitar is unlike anything else ever on the musical landscape.

Much like other, the adjective else is often absent when its presence is vital to the meaning and logic of a sentence.

Max Hart still spread the word that his older son knew more about theater than anyone, that he wrote marvelous stories and poems.  (A Ship Without a Sail: The Life of Lorenz Hart [Simon & Schuster], by Gary Marmorstein)
Max Hart still spread the word that his older son knew more about theater than anyone else. . . .
And so Springsteen worked harder than anyone to make it as a guitar player, songwriter, bandleader, and performer. (Runaway Dream: Born to Run and Bruce Springsteen’s American Vision [Bloomsbury],by Louis P. Masur)
And so Springsteen worked harder than anyone else. . . .
Enter Fuchsia Dunlop, a British journalist who has done more to explain real Chinese cooking to non-Chinese cooks than anyone. (New York Times)  
Enter Fuchsia Dunlop, a British journalist who has done more to explain real Chinese cooking to non-Chinese cooks than anyone else.

And without else following anything in the next sentence, the novel A Second-Hand Life can easily be mistaken as the work of a writer other than its author, Charles Jackson.

More than anything Jackson published, A Second-Hand Life seems the work of a man under the influence of drugs—a man who could not soberly bear the fact that his best work was behind him: who could not, in short, imagine any life but that of a writer ("I was alive again"). (Farther and Wilder: The Lost Weekends and Literary Dreams of Charles Jackson [Knopf],by Blake Bailey)

Grammarians use the term incomplete comparison to label the category of errors discussed in this chapter. Sometimes a single sentence suffers from two varieties of the incomplete comparison (see Chapter 39 for an explanation of why a second as must be added to the following sentence).

He’s playing with undiminished verve as the leader of a medium-sized big band, and he’s singing Porter and Razaf as well or better than anyone. (Village Voice)
He’s playing with undiminished verve as the leader of a medium-sized big band, and he’s singing Porter and Razaf as well as or better than anyone else.

  ^^   41 

One of these things is not like the others.
 

The business of writing sentences often calls for you to present three or more items in a series (a, b, and c). The ideal series—the sort that will please prickly readers and exacting grammarians alike—is one in which all of the items belong to a single grammatical family. They could all be nouns, for instance, or they could all be prepositional phrases, or they could all be adverbial dependent clauses. Think of the items in the series as grammatical siblings: they need to share a single, immediately identifiable, and vivid grammatical feature. They must be identical in their genes.
 When the family resemblance is recognizable, the series is said to be parallel. Parallelism is nothing more than the comforting similarity in grammatical form of the items arranged in a list. If the first item in the list is an adjective, then the other items must also be adjectival in behavior. They could be single-word adjectives, or adjectival phrases (such as prepositional phrases serving as adjectives), or any other sorts of word-groups that are adjectival in their conduct. As long as each of the items in the mix is an adjective or a phrasal or clausal equivalent of an adjective, the series will be parallel.
 The parallelism in sentences easily goes kablooey, though, and it does so in predictable ways. Have a look at a three-sentence paragraph.

It didn't hurt that [Stefan] Zweig had been born very wealthy, knew everyone and did whatever he pleased, lived however and wherever he wished. He was exceptionally well read, fluent in many languages and had the rare gift of endearing himself to individuals of all walks, from world-famous figures like Freud, Joyce, Einstein, Toscanini and Rodin down to the regulars of cafés in Vienna, Berlin and Paris. He recognized his luck, knew he had been spared the debilitating hardships of hackdom, and throughout his life he remained unstintingly generous to writers and artists in need of help. (Wall Street Journal)

The parallelism in the first sentence is impeccable. The series in the sentence consists of three verb phrases, which can be arrayed vertically as follows:
(A) had been born very wealthy
(B) knew everyone and did whatever he pleased
and
(C) lived however and wherever he wished
 You can easily double-check the status of the parallelism by asking yourself whether the insertion of the noun Zweig or the pronoun He at the start of each phrase would generate a grammatically complete sentence. The answer in each instance would be yes.
 Things start to fall apart, however, in the second sentence, which includes three series. Below are the elements in the first of the three series:
(A) was exceptionally well read
(B) fluent in many languages
and
(C) had the rare gift of endearing himself to individuals of all walks
 A and C are parallel verb phrases; you could insert Zweig or He at the start of each to form a complete sentence. B, however, is an adjectival phrase and could not be expanded into a complete sentence if you added Zweig or He at the outset. You would need to add the verb was before fluent. The easiest way to achieve parallelism in the series, then, is to expand the B element into a verb phrase:
(A) was exceptionally well-read
(B) was fluent in many languages
and
(C) had the rare gift of endearing himself to individuals of all walks
 (The second series in the sentence [Freud, Joyce, Einstein, Toscanini, and Rodin] and the third series [Vienna, Berlin, and Paris] are perfectly parallel: the elements in each of those two series are nouns.)
 The third and final sentence in the paragraph also includes a nonparallel series, although there are two ways of looking at the problem. A first array of the elements in the series looks like this:
(A) recognized his luck
(B) knew he had been spared the debilitating hardships of hackdom
and
(C) throughout his life he remained unstintingly generous to writers and artists in need of help
 A and B are parallel verb phrases (they could be expanded into complete sentences by positioning Zweig or He at the beginning), but C is an independent clause (it’s already the equivalent of a complete sentence). Deleting he from the final element will result in a list of grammatically parallel verb phrases:
(A) recognized his luck
(B) knew he had been spared the debilitating hardships of hackdom
and
(C) throughout his life remained unstintingly generous to writers and artists in need of help
 There’s a second way, though, of looking at the series in the final sentence:
(A) He recognized his luck
(B) knew he had been spared the debilitating hardships of hackdom
and
(C) throughout his life he remained unstintingly generous to writers and artists in need of help
 When you look at the series this way, you recognize that A and C are parallel independent clauses and that B, as a verb phrase, is the nonparallel element. The faulty parallelism, then, can be corrected by inserting the pronoun he at the start of B. The series will now consist of three parallel independent clauses: 
(A) He recognized his luck
(B) he knew he had been spared the debilitating hardships of hackdom
and
(C) throughout his life he remained unstintingly generous to writers and artists in need of help
     The most common variety of faulty parallelism, in sum, is the sort in which one item in a list fails to match the other items in grammatical form. Flubbed parallelism can usually be resolved in more than one way.

A couple of hours later, his American Express card was used at a liquor store, a drugstore, and at a Chinese restaurant in a strip mall about thirty miles away. (New Yorker)
. . . his American Express card was used at a liquor store, at a drugstore, and at a Chinese restaurant. . . . [three parallel prepositional phrases] OR: . . . his American Express card was used at a liquor store, a drugstore, and a Chinese restaurant. . . . [three parallel nounal elements functioning as the objects of the preposition at]
Marrow is cheap, nourishing and tastes fantastic. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

(A) cheap [adjective]
(B) nourishing [adjective]
and
(C) tastes fantastic [verb phrase]

(C) delicious [adjective] OR: fantastically tasty [adjectival phrase]

Or a writer could arrange the elements in the faulty series this way:
(A) is cheap [verb phrase]
(B) nourishing [adjective]
and
(C) tastes fantastic [verb phrase]

(B) is nourishing [verb phrase]
Mr. Howard is himself a brand name. He has a popular daily syndicated talk radio show, a weekly program on the HLN cable channel and is the author of several previous books. (New York Times)

(A) a popular daily syndicated talk-radio show [noun phrase]
(B) a weekly program on the HLN cable channel [noun phrase]
and
(C) is the author of several previous books [verb phrase]

(C) several previous books to his credit [noun phrase]

 Or a writer could array the elements in the series like this:
(A) has a popular daily syndicated talk-radio show [verb phrase]
(B) a weekly program on the HLN cable channel [noun phrase]
and
(C) is the author of several previous books [verb phrase]

(B) hosts a weekly program on the HLN cable channel [verb phrase]
Slavery Footprint defines a slave as “anyone who is forced to work without pay, being economically exploited and is unable to walk away.” (New York Times)

(A) forced to work without pay [adjectival phrase: past-participial phrase]
(B) being economically exploited [adjectival phrase: present-participial phrase]
and
(C) is unable to walk away [verb phrase]

(C) unable to walk away [adjectival phrase]

Note that B can be reduced to economically exploited.
  An alternative way to look at the faulty series is this:
(A) is forced to work without pay [verb phrase]
(B) being economically exploited [adjectival phrase]
and
(C) is unable to walk away [verb phrase]

(B) is being economically exploited [verb phrase]
Malin+Goetz, a starkly packaged brand created in 2004 by Matthew Malin and Andrew Goetz, partners in business and in life, is sold at hip hotels, independent beauty stores and in a free-standing apothecary-like boutique in Chelsea. (New York Times)

(A) at hip hotels [prepositional phrase]
(B) independent beauty stores [noun phrase]
and
(C) in a free-standing apothecary-like boutique in Chelsea [two consecutive prepositional phrases]

(B) at independent beauty stores [prepositional phrase]
With all the juicy bacon of his being he [Dick Morris] assured us that Hillary Clinton would never run for Senate; once she decided to run, contended that she would pull out of the race; then, when she stayed in the race, that she was doomed to defeat. (Attack Poodles and Other Media Mutants: The Looting of the News in a Time of Terror [Miramax Books], by James Wolcott)

(A) that Hillary Clinton would never run for Senate [nounal dependent clause]
(B) once she decided to run, contended that she would pull out of the race [adverbial dependent clause followed by a verb phrase in which the object of the transitive verb is a nounal dependent clause]
(C) then, when she stayed in the race, that she was doomed to defeat [adverbial dependent clause followed by a nounal dependent clause]

(B) once she decided to run, that she would pull out of the race [adverbial dependent clause followed by a nounal dependent clause] [The core element in each item in the series is a nounal dependent clause serving as the direct object of assured.]

An alternative way of looking at the faulty series is this:
(A) assured us that Hillary Clinton would never run for Senate [verb phrase, with a nounal dependent clause as the direct object of the transitive verb]
(B) once she decided to run, contended that she would pull out of the race [adverbial dependent clause followed by a verb phrase in which the object of the transitive verb is a nounal dependent clause]
(C) then, when she stayed in the race, that she was doomed to defeat [adverbial dependent clause followed by a nounal dependent clause]

(B) contended, once she decided to run, that she would pull out of the race [merely a rearrangement of the original phrasing, with the verb positioned now at the start] and (C) then, when she stayed in the race, declared that she was doomed to defeat [adverbial dependent clause followed by a transitive verb whose direct object is a nounal dependent clause]

In this alternative revision, the sentence presents a series of parallel verb phrases: With all the juicy bacon of his being, he assured us that Hillary Clinton would never run for Senate; contended, once she decided to run, that she would pull out of the race; and then, when she stayed in the race, declared that she was doomed to defeat.

So for the couple looking to tie the knot—whether they be gay, straight, on a budget, environment-friendly, or simply want an offbeat, cool wedding—this expo is sure to cure all worries. (Village Voice)

(A) gay [adjective]
(B) straight [adjective]
(C) on a budget [prepositional phrase functioning adjectivally]
(D) environment-friendly [adjectival compound]
or
(E) simply want an offbeat, cool wedding [verb phrase]

(E) simply wanting an offbeat, cool wedding [adjectival phrase: present-participial phrase]

Below are more examples of sentences afflicted with faulty parallelism, followed by revisions.

The walls are lovingly covered with images of the outgoing President: he’s smiling on a clock next to a watermark of Martin Luther King, Jr.; speaking at a lectern with a “Change We Can Believe In” sign above him; and, slightly less convincing, alongside Michelle, in an advertisement for a “first couple farewell sculpture,” a hand-painted porcelain number standing eleven inches tall. (New Yorker)
The walls are lovingly covered with images of the outgoing President: he’s smiling on a clock next to a watermark of Martin Luther King, Jr.; speaking at a lectern with a “Change We Can Believe In” sign above him; and, slightly less convincing, standing alongside Michelle, in an advertisement for a “first couple farewell sculpture,” a hand-painted porcelain number that’s eleven inches tall.
The instructor, Leonard, is charismatic, demanding, and not only seduces one of the women but incessantly talks to all of them, men and women, about sex. (New Yorker’s Page-Turner blog)
The instructor, Leonard, is charismatic and demanding, and not only seduces one of the women but incessantly talks to all of them, men and women, about sex.
Google wants to be everywhere: in your home, your car and even on your wrist. (New York Times)
Google wants to be everywhere: in your home, in your car, and even on your wrist.
It [the downloadable game Papa Pear Saga] is brightly colored, filled with peppy congratulations and syncs between mobile and Facebook versions. (Time)

This sentence is especially confounding, because not only will some readers need a few seconds to decide whether syncs is to be understood as a verb or as a noun, but also the readers need to resolve the faulty parallelism.

It is brightly colored and filled with peppy congratulations, and syncs between mobile and Facebook versions. OR: It is brightly colored, is filled with peppy congratulations, and syncs between mobile and Facebook versions. OR: Brightly colored and filled with peppy congratulations, it syncs between mobile and Facebook versions. OR: It syncs between mobile and Facebook versions and is brightly colored and filled with peppy congratulations.
As indoor mapping trickles down to smaller buildings, we’ll start getting maps of the aisles of every Home Depot and Starbucks, of classrooms in college buildings, and maps of the labyrinths of hospitals that tend to act like Roach Motels for visitors. (Newsweek) [A reader may also be puzzled by the assertions that Starbucks outlets have aisles and that hospital floor plans “act like Roach Motels.”]
As indoor mapping trickles down to smaller buildings, we’ll start getting maps of the aisles of every Home Depot, of the classrooms in college buildings, and of the labyrinths of hospitals.
[about magnetic cooling] It's efficient, green and could be just a few years away from showing up at Target. (Newsweek)
It's efficient and green and could be just a few years away from showing up at Target. OR: Efficient and green, it could be just a few years away from showing up at Target.
The album had taken five months to record, used multiple drummers, the sessions were often fractured and the styles of the songs varied enormously. (Seeing the Light: Inside the Velvet Underground [St. Martin’s],by Rob Jovanovic)
The album had taken five months to record, multiple drummers had to be recruited, the sessions were often fractured, and the styles of the songs varied enormously.
She [Rosie Huntington-Whitely] could be on the hood of a car, the head of a ship, or the super-hot female lead in a blockbuster movie about robots. (Harper’s Bazaar)
She could be on the hood of a car, on the head of a ship, or in the super-hot female-lead role in a blockbuster movie about robots.
Her exemplar is Oprah Winfrey, who never looked back after watching an episode of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” wanted to live where Mary lived, work for a boss like Mr. Grant, and went so far as to re-create the show’s opening sequence with herself in the title role. (Wall Street Journal)
Her exemplar is Oprah Winfrey, who never looked back after watching an episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, wanted to live where Mary lived and to work for a boss like Mr. Grant, and went so far as to re-create the show’s opening sequence with herself in the title role.
She suffered several broken bones, severe facial scarring and has been having to eat using a feeding tube. (Clarion-Ledger [Jackson, Mississippi])
She suffered several broken bones and severe facial scarring and has had to eat by using a feeding tube.
Women around the country have begun to speak out publicly, in blogs, public writing projects and on the websites of anti-harassment groups like Stop Street Harassment and Hollaback!, which document and research the problem. (New York Times)
Women around the country have begun to speak out publicly, in blogs, in public writing projects, and on the websites of anti-harassment groups. . . .
We present evidence that medicine is at an inflection point, at which a coherent international consensus is emerging: the unreasonable failure to treat pain is poor medicine, unethical practice, and is an abrogation of a fundamental human right. (Anesthesia & Analgesia, quoted in New Yorker)
. . . the unreasonable failure to treat pain is poor medicine, unethical practice, and an abrogation of a fundamental human right.
Voters receive an advocacy sheet for each nominee, are supplied a link that allows them to listen to tracks that are meant to exemplify the candidate’s work, and then they cast their ballots, with the top five or six vote getters emerging as honorees. (New York Times)
Voters receive an advocacy sheet for each nominee, are provided with a link that allows them to listen to tracks that are meant to exemplify the candidate’s work, and then cast their ballots. . . .
He performed with contemporaries like Edgar Oliver, Lypsinka (John Epperson), Tabboo! (Stephen Tashjian), Samoa Moriki, and with his classmate Kembra Pfahler. (New York Times)
He performed with contemporaries like Edgar Oliver, Lypsinka (John Epperson), Tabboo! (Stephen Tashjian), and Samoa Moriki, and with his classmate Kembra Pfahler. OR: He performed not only with contemporaries like Edgar Oliver, Lypsinka (John Epperson), Tabboo! (Stephen Tashjian), and Samoa Moriki but also with his classmate Kembra Pfahler.
He is obsessed with the federal deficit and issues constant pleas to think of “our children,” but he supports massive tax cuts, greater military spending, and remains dumb to non-debt-related measures of the intergenerational balance sheet. (Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance [Wiley], by Alexander Zaitchik)
. . . but he supports massive tax cuts and greater military spending, and remains ignorant of non-debt-related measures of the intergenerational balance sheet. OR: . . . but he supports massive tax cuts and greater military spending, and he remains ignorant of non-debt-related measures of the intergenerational balance sheet.
It’s hard to blame Mr. [John] Waters for not finding trouble, for not meeting any floozies with Uzis (to paraphrase a song title from Thomas Pynchon’s “Vineland”) or alighting upon Kerouacian ecstasy. Hitchhiking isn’t what it used to be. (New York Times)
It’s hard to blame Mr. Waters for not finding trouble, for not meeting any floozies with Uzis (to paraphrase a song title from Thomas Pynchon’s Vineland), or for not alighting upon Kerouacian ecstasy. OR: It’s hard to blame Mr. Waters for not finding trouble, not meeting any floozies with Uzis (to paraphrase a song title from Thomas Pynchon’s Vineland), or not alighting upon Kerouacian ecstasy.
Put another way: Sex is sexy when it’s suggested, furtive, and not when all the moving parts are acrobatically swung before us. (New Republic)
Put another way: Sex is sexy when it’s suggested and furtive, and not when all the moving parts are acrobatically swung before us.
Theranos's technology is automated, standardized, and attempts to subtract human error from the process. (Wall Street Journal)
Theranos's technology is automated and standardized, and attempts to subtract human error from the process. OR: Theranos's technology is automated and standardized, and it attempts to subtract human error from the process. OR: Automated and standardized, Theranos's technology attempts to subtract human error from the process.
[from the dedication page] This book is dedicated to Sally Singer, who commissioned the first of its essays; and her husband, Joe O'Neill, who has been an indefatigable reader, good friend, and introduced me to its publisher. (Hatchet Jobs: Writings on Contemporary Fiction [The New Press], by Dale Peck)
. . . and her husband, Joe O'Neill, who not only has been an indefatigable reader and a good friend but also introduced me to its publisher.
[from “A NOTE ABOUT THE AUTHOR”] Blake Bailey is the author of A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates, finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Cheever: A Life, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Francis Parkman Prize, and finalist for the Pulitzer and the James Tait Black Memorial Prizes. (Farther and Wilder: The Lost Weekends and Literary Dreams of Charles Jackson [Knopf],by Blake Bailey)
Blake Bailey is the author of A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Cheever: A Life, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Francis Parkman Prize and which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. OR:  Blake Bailey is the author of A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates, finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Cheever: A Life, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Francis Parkman Prize, and finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.
While many of the other notable women profiled in the postwar magazine existed on a more mundane plane than Mrs. Roosevelt or Dorothy Day, they too were often widows, divorced, or spinsters. (The World Through a Monocle: The New Yorker at Midcentury [Harvard University Press],by Mary F. Corey)
. . . they too were often widows, divorcées, or spinsters. . . . OR . . . they too were often widowed, divorced, or unmarried. . . .
At 19 years old, he is six-foot-one, thin as the stroke of a paintbrush, and wears a women’s size 11 shoe, which he says is hard to find in couture but is sometimes carried at DSW. (New York)  [The hyphens aren’t required, because the phrase six foot one is functioning as a complement.]
At nineteen years old, he is six foot one, is as thin as the stroke of a paintbrush, and wears a women’s shoe in size eleven, which he says is hard to find in couture but is sometimes carried at DSW.
These pieces tended to sidestep the enormity [sic] of the power differential between men and women, blaming the problem on class, economic institutions, or on the women themselves. (The World Through a Monocle: The New Yorker at Midcentury [Harvard University Press],by Mary F. Corey)
These pieces tended to sidestep the immensity [OR: enormousness] of the power differential between men and women, blaming the problem on class, on economic institutions, or on the women themselves. OR: These pieces tended to sidestep the immensity [OR: enormousness] of the power differential between men and women, blaming the problem on class, economic institutions, or the women themselves.
He has a violent confrontation with Luce and Stubblefield, breaks into the hotel in search of money he’s convinced that Lily kept from him, and he kills Luce and Lily’s father (who has the improbably alliterative name of “Lit”). (New York Times)
He has a violent confrontation with Luce and Stubblefield, breaks into the hotel in search of money he’s convinced that Lily kept from him, and kills Luce and Lily’s father (who has the improbably alliterative name of “Lit”).
[about Robert Christgau] He became a rock critic for Esquire, a film critic for Ramparts and wrote for magazines like Cheetah before signing on with The [Village] Voice. (New York Times)
He became a rock critic for Esquire, reviewed films for Ramparts, and wrote for magazines like Cheetah before signing on with The Voice. OR: He became a rock critic for Esquire and a film critic for Ramparts and wrote for magazines like Cheetah before signing on with The Voice.
Their favorites for 2010 include The Department Store, in Auckland, New Zealand, which sells clothing, interior design products, and contains a café and a hair salon within a repurposed post office. (Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail [Portfolio], by Caitlin Kelly) [A hyphen is needed between interior and design; see Chapter 86.]
[the comma before the second and is discretionary] . . . which sells clothing and interior-design products, and features a café and a hair salon within a repurposed post office.
In total so far, Mr. Browne has written 27 reviews. He critiqued a strain [of marijuana] called Jack Flash (“it practically jumped through my monitor and into my pipe”); 303 Kush (“almost overwhelming”); and wrote about a Willie Nelson-themed varietal called Red Headed Stranger No. 14 (“a little less mentally racy” but with a “strong overall high”). (New York Times) [Commas can be substituted for the semicolons; see Chapter 81.]
He critiqued a strain called Jack Flash (“it practically jumped through my monitor and into my pipe”), evaluated one called 303 Kush (“almost overwhelming”), and wrote about a Willie Nelson-themed varietal called Red Headed Stranger No. 14 (“a little less mentally racy” but with a “strong overall high”). OR [a comma is discretionary before the third and]: He critiqued a strain called Jack Flash (“it practically jumped through my monitor and into my pipe”) and one called 303 Kush (“almost overwhelming”) and wrote about a Willie Nelson-themed varietal called Red Headed Stranger No. 14 (“a little less mentally racy” but with a “strong overall high”). OR: He critiqued a strain called Jack Flash (“it practically jumped through my monitor and into my pipe”) and one called 303 Kush (“almost overwhelming”), and he wrote about a Willie Nelson-themed varietal called Red Headed Stranger No. 14 (“a little less mentally racy” but with a “strong overall high”).

A second kind of faulty parallelism results from the writer’s inconsistent use of what grammarians call determiners—the articles a, an, and the, as well as possessive pronouns (such as her, its, his, and their) and nouns in possessive form (such as Hannah’s and Mother’s). If a single determiner fits with each item in the list, you can either include it before each item or insert it only once—in front of the very first item.

On this occasion Mr. Kimmel will not lack for targets. He has jokes planned about the president, vice president, the first lady and the Republican candidates this primary season, especially Mitt Romney. (New York Times) [The sentence is also weakened by a laggard modifier; see Chapter 23.]

(A) the president [determiner followed by a noun]
(B) vice president [compound noun]
(C) the first lady [determiner followed by a compound noun]
and
(D) the Republican candidates this primary season, especially Mitt Romney [determiner followed by a noun phrase]

(B) the vice president [determiner followed by a compound noun]

You could also allow the article the preceding president toserve for all four items in the series; that is, delete the second and third thes.
 Often, a single determiner will not fit with each item in a list, so a suitable determiner must be inserted before each item.

Brian Wallace is spine-chillingly creepy as Ken. Of course his shaved head, fluorescent paleness and a perpetual 5 o’clock shadow don’t hurt the cause. (New York Times)

(A) his shaved head [determiner followed by a noun phrase]
(B) fluorescent paleness [noun phrase]
and
(C) a perpetual 5-o’clock shadow [determiner followed by a noun phrase]

(B) his fluorescent paleness [determiner followed by a noun phrase]

In some lists, one item might be incompatible with an indefinite article (that is, neither a nor an will fit)and thus needs to appear without an article preceding it.

A typical off-duty outfit involves a black blazer, white T-shirt, jeans, and a scarf. (Harper’s Bazaar)

(A) a black blazer [determiner followed by a noun]
(B) white T-shirt [noun phrase]
(C) jeans [a noun incompatible with the article a]
and
(D) a scarf [determiner followed by a noun]

(B) a white T-shirt [determiner followed by noun]

  Alternative revisions include A typical off-duty outfit involves a black blazer, a white T-shirt, a pair of jeans, and a scarf and A typical off-duty outfit involves a black blazer, white T-shirt, pair of jeans, and scarf.
 As we know, the article an precedes words beginning with a vowel sound, and a precedes words beginning with a consonant sound.

In the last few months, I’ve outfitted or accessorized a kitchen, bathroom, office, dining room and several other rooms in my new apartment with all manner of $1 purchases. (New York Times)

(A) a kitchen [determiner followed by a noun]
(B) bathroom [noun]
(C) office [noun]
(D) dining room [compound noun]
and
(E) several other rooms [noun phrase]

(B) a bathroom
(C) an office
(D) a dining room
Joe Simon, a writer, editor and illustrator of comic books who was a co-creator of the superhero Captain America, conceived out of a patriotic impulse as war was roiling Europe, died on Wednesday at his home in Manhattan. (New York Times)

(A) a writer [determiner followed by a noun]
(B) editor [noun]
and
(C) illustrator of comic books [noun followed by a prepositional phrase]

(B) an editor
(C) an illustrator

The New Yorker magazine is vividly inconsistent in its use of the determiners a and an in pairs and in series.

The boy is forced to share his hideout with his older half-sister, an artist and a heroin addict. (New Yorker)
One of Synergia’s founders was John Allen, an ecologist and playwright. (New Yorker)
But the more characteristic story of Lish as an editor and teacher is not a battle of wills, as was his work with Carver. (New Yorker’s Page-Turner blog)
Starting around 2008, viewers could stream video services through the television only by attaching another device, such as a DVD player, an Xbox, a Nintendo Wii, or an Apple TV. (New Yorker)
[from the contributors’ page (the boldfacing and uppercasing are retained from the source)] THOMAS MALLON (BOOKS, P. 71) is a novelist, an essayist, and a critic. (New Yorker)
[from the contributors’ page (the boldfacing and uppercasing are retained from the source)] JORGE COLOMBO (COVER) is an illustrator, photographer, and graphic designer, and the author of “New York: Finger Paintings by Jorge Columbo.” (New Yorker)
JORGE COLOMBO (COVER) is an illustrator, a photographer, and a graphic designer. . . .
[from the contributors’ page] Adrian Tomine (Cover) is a cartoonist and illustrator whose latest book, “New York Drawings,” comprises ten years of his work for The New Yorker. (New Yorker)
Adrian Tomine (Cover) is a cartoonist and an illustrator. . . .

The next two examples appeared on the contributors’ page of a single issue.

[the boldfacing and uppercasing are retained from the source] FRANK VIVA (COVER), an illustrator and a graphic designer, runs a branding and design agency in Toronto. (New Yorker)
[the boldfacing and uppercasing are retained from the source] NICK FLYNN (POEM, P. 102) is a poet, essayist, and playwright. (New Yorker)
. . . is a poet, an essayist, and a playwright.
A friend of Shelley’s and a foil for Byron, Leigh Hunt was a poet, editor, and essayist whose most notable achievement was to foster talents greater than his own. (New Yorker)
. . . Leigh Hunt was a poet, an editor, and an essayist. . . .
Boswell's beloved hero was so poor that he had to leave Oxford without taking a degree, and yet he became one of the most learned men of his time; he overcame his various ailments and idiosyncrasies to win admiration as a poet, essayist, and critic and as the creator of the first good English dictionary. (New Yorker)
. . . he overcame his various ailments and idiosyncrasies to win admiration as a poet, an essayist, and a critic. . . .

There are ways to get around shoving additional indefinite articles into such sentences. In the next example, the substitution of the for the first a would resolve the problem.

Now in his mid-eighties, [Brian] O’Doherty—a critic, editor, Booker-short-listed novelist, medical doctor, and artist, who frequently showed under the pseudonym Patrick Ireland—is a Conceptualist with a mischievous streak. (New Yorker)

Similarly, in the example that follows, the insertion of an adjective such as multifaceted between Lesser’s and perspective, along with the deletion of the article a after as, would eliminate the need for any articles.

This elegant manifesto distills more than five decades of thinking about books, from [Wendy] Lesser’s perspective as a critic, novelist, memoirist, biographer, and editor. (New Yorker)

Below are more excerpts in which writers have been negligent with determiners.

By the time you have slogged through an appetizer, soup, entrée and salad, you may dread the arrival of dessert. (Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise [Penguin], by Ruth Reichl)
By the time you have slogged through an appetizer, soup, an entrée, and a salad. . . .   OR: By the time you have slogged through your appetizer, soup, entrée, and salad. . . .
Newsom noted that half of Latino and African-American families in California don’t have access to a checking account or ATM. (Time)
. . . don’t have access to a checking account or an ATM. OR: . . . don’t have access to checking accounts or ATMs.
You can use outdoor GPS to find the nearest coffee shop in just about any village in the world. But you can’t rely on your phone to guide you to coffee inside an airport terminal or Las Vegas casino. (Newsweek)
But you can’t rely on your phone to guide you to coffee inside an airport terminal or a Las Vegas casino.
 (In a literary hostage exchange, I would trade a thousand [F. Scott] Fitzgeralds for one Edward St. Aubyn, 10,000 for an Austen or Dickens.) (New York)
. . . I would trade a thousand Fitzgeralds for one Edward St. Aubyn, ten thousand for an Austen or a Dickens.
I have a personal iPhone and a BlackBerry for work, along with a desktop computer at the office and a laptop and iPad at home. (Time)
I have a BlackBerry for work and an iPhone for personal use, along with a desktop computer at the office and a laptop and an iPad at home.
[George] Zimmer, the founder, chairman and the public face of the discount apparel chain [Men’s Wearhouse], has been terminated by the company, according to a brief statement from the company. (USA Today)
Zimmer, the founder, the chairman, and the public face of the discount-apparel chain, has been terminated. . . . OR: Zimmer, the founder, chairman, and public face of the discount-apparel chain, has been terminated. . . .
If you are an author, editor or critic, chances are you are lining up for “Boyhood.” (New York Times)
If you are an author, an editor, or a critic. . . .
Ms. [Laurie] Colwin was an author, self-described “refined slob” and passionate, idiosyncratic home cook who died in 1992, when the members of this salon were still in grade school. (New York Times)
Ms. Colwin was an author, a self-described “refined slob,” and a passionate, idiosyncratic home cook. . . .
Last spring, college president Jim Yong Kim, an anthropologist, medical doctor and the co-founder of the international NGO Partners in Health, established an intercollegiate collaborative known as the National College Health Improvement Project to study high-risk drinking in the same way that Kim approached communicable diseases in Rwanda and Peru. (Rolling Stone)
Last spring, college president Jim Yong Kim, an anthropologist, a medical doctor, and the co-founder of the international NGO Partners in Health. . . .
With a new videogame, T-shirt and other deals in the mix, by the end of the next year the [Michael Jackson] estate had gross revenue of $313 million. (Wall Street Journal)
With a new video game, a T-shirt, and other deals in the mix. . . . OR: With a new video game, T-shirts, and other deals in the mix. . . .
He doesn’t stay there and is soon strolling into the story a free man, dandified in a double-breasted blue suit, violet shirt and the short, pointy boots of mods if not rockers. (New York Times)
. . . dandified in a double-breasted blue suit, a violet shirt, and the short, pointy boots of mods. . . .
Wearing a horned helmet, lilac blouse and flowing purple trousers, Margaret Leng Tan offered surely the shortest tribute to Wagner (a composer not known for brevity) of the bicentennial celebrations this year. (New York Times)
Wearing a horned helmet, a lilac blouse, and flowing purple trousers. . . .
It is the job of Mr. Ottenberg, who styles her [Rihanna] for her videos, tours, many of her innumerable magazine shoots and most of her appearances, to keep her in clothes. (New York Times)
It is the job of Mr. Ottenberg, who styles her for her videos, her tours, many of her innumerable magazine shoots, and most of her appearances, to keep her in clothes. OR: It is the job of Mr. Ottenberg, who styles her for her videos and tours, many of her innumerable magazine shoots, and most of her appearances, to keep her in clothes.
Chinese media have been openly skeptical about the project, questioning its safety, construction speed and the wisdom of relying on prefabricated modules. (New York Times)
Chinese media have been openly skeptical about the project, questioning its safety, the speed of construction, and the wisdom of relying on prefabricated modules.

A third category of faulty parallelism afflicts sentences in which a helping verb (also known as an auxiliary verb) has not been included when it is necessary in front of each main verb. If a single helping verb jibes with all of the main verbs in a series, the helping verb can be inserted before each main verb, or it can be inserted only once—in front of the very first main verb in the series. Often, however, a single helping verb will not fit with one or more of the main verbs in a sentence. Each main verb will therefore need its own helping verb.

George Lewis, Jr., who records and performs under this name [Twin Shadow], was born in the Dominican Republic, raised in Florida, and is now based in L.A., after spending time in Brooklyn. (New Yorker)

(A) was born in the Dominican Republic [helping verb followed by a main verb at the start of a verb phrase]
(B) raised in Florida [main verb, without a helping verb, at the start of a verb phrase]
and
(C) is now based in L.A. [helping verb followed by an adverb and a main verb at the start of a verb phrase]

(B) was raised in Florida [helping verb followed by a main verb at the start of a verb phrase] OR [eliminating the need for a helping verb]: grew up in Florida  
In business for less than two years, Rent the Runway has raised $31 million in venture capital, attracted one million customers and is turning a profit. (Wall Street Journal)

(A) has raised $31 million in venture capital [helping verb followed by a main verb at the start of a verb phrase]
(B) attracted one million customers [main verb, without a helping verb, at the start of a verb phrase]
and
(C) is turning a profit [helping verb followed by a main verb at the start of a verb phrase]

(B) has attracted one million customers [helping verb followed by a main verb at the start of a verb phrase]

Below are more sentences in which faulty parallelism results from carelessness with helping verbs.

Mr. Aw was born in Taipei, raised in Malaysia and went to college in England. (New York Times)
Mr. Aw was born in Taipei, was raised in Malaysia, and went to college in England.
Jamestown [Properties] has brought in 10 new retailers, begun $4.7 million in renovations and plans to invest another $5 million in building upgrades in the next five years. (New York Times)
Jamestown has brought in ten new retailers, has begun $4.7 million in renovations, and plans to invest another $5 million in building upgrades in the next five years.  
So you have retired, adjusted to getting a monthly pension and think you have your finances in order. (Wall Street Journal)
So you have retired, have adjusted to getting a monthly pension, and think you have your finances in order. OR: So you’ve retired, adjusted to getting a monthly pension, and thought you had your finances in order.
For instance, Mr. [Shane] Dawson, known for comedic oversharing that leans toward vulgarity, has successfully released music on iTunes, sold a comedy pilot to NBC and is working on a movie. (New York Times)
For instance, Mr. Dawson, known for comedic oversharing that leans toward vulgarity, has successfully released music on iTunes, has sold a comedy pilot to NBC, and is working on a movie.
Before long, Steve [Jobs] has embraced his destiny, hooked up with Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad, delivering a sympathetic, sensitive performance) and is staring into a different immensity: the Apple computer and the technological revolution that it helped bring about. (New York Times)
Before long, Steve has embraced his destiny, has hooked up with Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad, delivering a sympathetic, sensitive performance), and is staring into a different immensity: the Apple computer and the technological revolution that it helped bring about.
Now 36, [Sofia] Boutella has hung up her dance shoes, relocated to L.A., and is pursuing her acting ambitions full-throttle. (Vogue)
Now 36, Boutella has hung up her dance shoes, has relocated to L.A., and is pursuing her acting ambitions full-throttle. OR: Now 36, Boutella has hung up her dance shoes, relocated to L.A., and begun pursuing her acting ambitions full-throttle.  

Faulty parallelism is not limited to sentences that present lists; see Chapters 42 and 43.

Faulty parallelism can also occur in a pair, rather than in a series, of elements.
Costco is able to pay its workers so well because they cut corners elsewhere, operating no-frills stores with cement floors and by not advertising. (Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail [Portfolio], by Caitlin Kelly) [There is also an error in pronoun-antecedent agreement; see Chapter 29.]
Costco is able to pay its workers so well because it cuts corners elsewhere, by operating no-frills stores with cement floors and by not advertising. [two parallel prepositional phrases]

  ^^   42 

Reconcilable Differences
 

Never upset the domestic harmony in a sentence in which you’re using a correlative conjunction. Each of the correlative conjunctions consists of words partnered into a permanent couple. The most frequently used correlative conjunctions are either . . . or; neither . . . nor; not only . . . but also (a variation is not just . . . but also); and both . . . and. (The also in not only . . . but also and in not just . . . but also is sometimes omitted, with no harm done.)
 The grammatical system of a sentence that includes a correlative conjunction achieves equilibrium when the phrasing that follows the first half of the correlative-conjunction pair (such as either, neither, not only, or both) perfectly balances the phrasing that follows the second half of the correlative-conjunction pair (such as or, nor, but also, or and).
 What comes after the first half, in other words, must be the grammatical soul mate of what comes after the second half—or else there will be no peace in your sentence.   
 Can you find the source of the discord in each of the following excerpts?

At this point, Droste’s songwriting style tended more toward creating colorful atmospheres than toward producing fully formed songs, and his engineering skills weren’t equal to either the quality of his own instrument or to Bear’s precise, fluid drumming. (New Yorker)
 He is a terminator, expert in the ending of advanced pregnancies, and you should be warned that “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” flinches neither from the procedures nor the outcome of his trade. (New Yorker)
But this biography’s most confounding revelation is that Harold Ross, a famously nitpicking literalist and stickler for accuracy—an early advocate of magazine fact-checking—was apparently not only aware of Mitchell’s composites but encouraged him. (New Yorker) [The sentence is also weakened by a multitasking dash; see Chapter 84.]
Today the pent-up have streaming pornography, and one of Ms. [Patricia] Lockwood’s great gifts as a poet is her ability both to subvert and revel in porn’s stock language and images. (New York Times)

If the errors weren’t instantly apparent to you, take another look—this time at excerpts from the sentences, now that each correlative conjunction has been boldfaced and the phrasing following each half of the correlative-conjunction couple has been underlined.

. . . his engineering skills weren’t equal to either the quality of his own instrument or to Bear’s precise, fluid drumming.
. . . “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” flinches neither from the procedures nor the outcome of his trade.
 . . . Harold Ross . . . was apparently not only aware of Mitchell’s composites but encouraged him.
 . . . one of Ms. Lockwood’s great gifts as a poet is her ability both to subvert and revel in porn’s stock language and images.

Are you starting to see the grammatical imbalances? In the first sentence, a noun phrase follows either, but a prepositional phrase follows or. In the second sentence, a prepositional phrase follows neither, but a noun phrase follows nor. In sentence three, an adjectival phrase follows not only, but a verb phrase follows but. In sentence four, an infinitive follows both, but a verb phrase follows and. Don’t worry if you don’t yet grasp all of the grammatical terminology that has been used to classify the categories of phrasing. All you need to understand is that in a grammatically balanced sentence, the form of the phrasing following the first half of the correlative-conjunction pair needs to be an exact grammatical match for the form of the phrasing following the second half of the pair.
 Achieving the balance isn’t difficult. All it takes is two little steps.
 First, have a close look at the phrasing that follows the second half of the correlative-conjunction pair. What form does the phrasing take? If it’s a single word, to which part of speech does it belong? Is it a noun, for instance, or an adjective? If the phrasing is a word-group, is it a prepositional phrase, for instance, or a dependent clause? The more confident you are about classifying the phrasing or at least having a feel for the contours of the phrasing, the more success you’ll have in resolving the imbalance in the sentence. (Intuition is often enough to guide you.)
  The first step in repairing the four erroneous sentences earlier in this chapter was already taken for you, three paragraphs above, when the phrasing following each half of the correlative-conjunction pairs was classified.
 For the second step, you have two options. The first is to slide the first half of the correlative-conjunction pair backward or forward in the sentence until it comes to a rest right before the word that begins a construction that perfectly matches the grammatical form of the construction that follows the second half of the correlative-conjunction pair. And then you’re done—at least in most cases. (A sentence occasionally requires some further reconstruction.) The other option is to leave the phrasing that follows the first half of the correlative-conjunction pair exactly as you found it and then rewrite the phrasing that follows the second half of the pair so that it’s grammatically equivalent to the phrasing you’ve left untouched.
  Below are repaired versions of the excerpts you looked at earlier, with the balanced phrasing underlined.

  . . . his engineering skills weren’t equal either to the quality of his own instrument or to Bear’s precise, fluid drumming. [balanced prepositional phrases] OR: . . . his engineering skills weren’t equal to either the quality of his own instrument or Bear’s precise, fluid drumming. [balanced noun phrases]
 . . . 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days flinches from neither the procedures nor the outcome of his trade. [balanced noun phrases]
 . . . apparently Harold Ross . . . not only was aware of Mitchell’s composites but encouraged him. [balanced verb phrases]
 . . . one of Ms. Lockwood’s great gifts as a poet is her ability both to subvert and to revel in porn’s stock language and images. [balanced infinitival constructions]

Following are more examples of faulty parallelism in sentences with correlative conjunctions.
Either . . . or

The location tracking, McKinsey says, will work either from drivers’ mobile phones or GPS systems in cars.
The location tracking, McKinsey says, will work from either drivers’ mobile phones or GPS systems in cars. [balanced noun phrases] OR: The location tracking, McKinsey says, will work either from drivers’ mobile phones or from GPS systems in cars. [balanced prepositional phrases]  
The answers tend either to be utilitarian—we read in order to find out about our fellow citizens, and this has a Darwinian utility—or circular: we read because fiction pushes certain pleasure buttons. (How Fiction Works [Farrar, Straus and Giroux], by James Wood)
The answers tend to be either utilitarian—we read in order to find out about our fellow citizens, and this has a Darwinian utility—or circular. . . . [balanced adjectives]
In New York, the Polly with a Past project quickly dissolved, either because of Larry’s lack of enthusiasm or a return to his old dissolute ways, thus making progress impossible. (A Ship Without a Sail: The Life of Lorenz Hart [Simon & Schuster], by Gary Marmorstein)
 In New York, the Polly with a Past project quickly dissolved, because of either Larry’s lack of enthusiasm or a return to his old dissolute ways, thus making progress impossible. [balanced noun phrases] OR: In New York, the Polly with a Past project quickly dissolved, either because of Larry’s lack of enthusiasm or because of a return to his old dissolute ways, thus making progress impossible. [balanced adverbial phrases] OR: In New York, the Polly with a Past project quickly dissolved, because Larry either lacked enthusiasm or returned to his old dissolute ways, thus making progress impossible. [balanced verb phrases]
Thursday: Was shown co-op apartment of recently deceased actor. By now so seasoned that I didn’t bat an eye at the sink in the master bedroom. Assumed that either he was a dentist on the side or that it didn’t fit in the bathroom. (Social Studies [Random House],byFran Lebowitz)
Assumed either that he was a dentist on the side or that it didn’t fit in the bathroom. [balanced nounal dependent clauses] OR: Assumed that either he was a dentist on the side or it didn’t fit in the bathroom. [balanced subject+predicate structures, both of which are parts of a single nounal dependent clause]
They [gays in Hollywood] accommodated either by marrying or finding opposite-sex dates. (Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood, 1910-1969 [Viking],by William J. Mann)
They accommodated either by marrying or by finding opposite-sex dates. [balanced prepositional phrases]
 Your boyfriend may get an amazing career opportunity that requires moving 3,000 miles away, thus forcing you to either break up or to quit your fab job and move. (The Fabulous Girl's Guide to Decorum [Broadway Books], by Kim Izzo and Ceri Marsh)
. . . thus forcing you to either break up or quit your fab job and move. [balanced verb phrases] OR: . . . thus forcing you either to break up or to quit your fab job and move. [balanced infinitive phrases]
Opting for arrangements that either explicitly nod to religious music, or that take in other devotional pop forms, this album shows how a mature Ms. [Mariah] Carey, now 44, may move into the next phase of her career, while also showing how her old strategies are encumbrances. (New York Times)
Opting for arrangements that either explicitly nod to religious music or take in other devotional pop forms. . . . [balanced verb phrases]
Companies that have passed through RocketSpace, either as local start-ups or initial satellite offices, include such tech darlings as Zappos, Uber, Spotify and Kabam, an online gaming company. (New York Times)
Companies that have passed through RocketSpace, either as local start-ups or as initial satellite offices, include such tech darlings as Zappos, Uber, Spotify, and Kabam, an online gaming company. [balanced prepositional phrases]
But first, the student has to qualify to be at RocketU, as the school is called, either by showing the right degree or passing an online course. (New York Times)
But first, the student has to qualify to be at RocketU, as the school is called, either by showing the right degree or by passing an online course. [balanced prepositional phrases] OR: But first, the student has to qualify to be at RocketU, as the school is called, by either showing the right degree or passing an online course. [balanced gerund phrases]
Any position where you might so much as meet a writer now is either an internship or demands internship experience, and internships are usually unpaid (and even when they’re paid, it’s usually a pittance). (New Republic) [The sentence is also weakened by an ambiguous modifier; see Chapter 24.]
These days, any position where you might so much as meet a writer either is an internship or demands internship experience. . . . [balanced verb phrases]
In this imaginary locale men could lust after women without having to marry them or buy them mink coats; women could imagine men draping them in mink and pearls without having to repay them either with sex or the unpaid servitude of housewifery. (The World Through a Monocle: The New Yorker at Midcentury [Harvard University Press],by Mary F. Corey)
. . . women could imagine men draping them in mink and pearls without having to repay them either with sex or through the unpaid servitude of housewifery. [balanced prepositional phrases]  
This was not a role that it [the magazine] assumed consciously, nor was it some kind of plot either to silence the radical impulses of its readers or coerce them into the upscale market. (The World Through a Monocle: The New Yorker at Midcentury [Harvard University Press],by Mary F. Corey)
. . . nor was it some kind of plot either to silence the radical impulses of its readers or to coerce them into the upscale market. [balanced infinitive phrases]
There were a couple of dozen of these young people, mostly graduates of Ivy League universities, working either as fact-checkers or personal assistants to editorial executives (boys being at least as common as girls in those secretarial positions). (Some Times in America and a Life in a Year at the New Yorker [Carroll & Graf], by Alexander Chancellor)
. . . working either as fact-checkers or as personal assistants to editorial executives. . . . [balanced prepositional phrases]  OR: . . . working as either fact-checkers or personal assistants to editorial executives. . . . [balanced noun phrases]
Nothing says Thanksgiving like a beat-’em-up written by Sylvester Stallone in which Jason Statham gets to knock the stuffing out of James Franco. If you think that’s a spoiler, you’ve either never seen an audience-pandering movie or the poster for “Homefront,” which shows a snake-eyed Mr. Franco glowering, in what appears to be hell, under an image of the stern-looking Mr. Statham overlaid with an American flag and embracing a child. (New York Times)
If you think that’s a spoiler, you’ve never seen either an audience-pandering movie or the poster for Homefront, which shows a snake-eyed Mr. Franco glowering. . . . [balanced noun phrases] OR: If you think that’s a spoiler, you’ve obviously never seen an audience-pandering movie or the poster for Homefront, which shows a snake-eyed Mr. Franco glowering. . . . [balanced noun phrases, with an adverb substituted for either]

Neither . . . nor

Yet those failings are neither unique to American culture nor to the 19th century. (New York Times)
Yet those failings are unique neither to American culture nor to the nineteenth century.  [balanced prepositional phrases]
Ms. Weller is neither Jewish nor a New Yorker, but has made it her mission to create the perfect 21st-century bagel: slow-risen, water-boiled and slow-baked. (New York Times)
Ms. Weller is neither a Jew nor a New Yorker. . . . [balanced nouns]
[Peter] Arno’s girls were neither victims nor were they the evil exploiters so popularized by the femmes fatales of postwar film noir. (The World Through a Monocle: The New Yorker at Midcentury [Harvard University Press],by Mary F. Corey)
Arno’s girls were neither victims nor the evil exploiters so popularized by the femmes fatales of postwar film noir. [a noun balanced with a noun phrase]
But [the chapter] “An Approach to Style” is neither simplistic nor a rigid prescription for how to write. (Stylized: A Slightly Obsessive History of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style [Touchstone], by Mark Garvey)
But “An Approach to Style” is neither simplistic nor rigidly prescriptive about how to write. [an adjective balanced with an adjectival phrase]

Not only . . . but also and not only . . . but

It may be helpful to talk not only with your partner or spouse and a trusted adviser but also to do a more comprehensive breakdown of social, personal and wealth goals in retirement. (New York Times)
It may be helpful not only to talk with your partner or spouse and a trusted adviserbut also to do a more comprehensive breakdown of social, personal, and wealth goals in retirement. [balanced infinitive phrases]
[back-cover blurb, by Gore Vidal] Tim Page's biography of Dawn Powell is not only a distinguished work in itself but illuminates one of our most brilliant—certainly most witty—novelists, whose literary reputation continues to grow long after her death: we are catching up to her. (Dawn Powell: A Biography [Henry Holt], by Tim Page)
Tim Page's biography of Dawn Powell not only is a distinguished work in itself but illuminates one of our most brilliant—certainly most witty—novelists. . . . [balanced verb phrases]
[Gore Vidal on John O’Hara] The prose is plain and rather garrulous; the dialogue tends to run on, and he writes most of his stories and novels in dialogue because not only is that the easiest kind of writing to read but the easiest to do. (New York Review of Books)
. . . he writes most of his stories and novels in dialogue because that is not only the easiest kind of writing to read but also the easiest to do. [balanced noun phrases]
The Rodgerses saw Kron as saving not only Larry’s money but saving Hart from himself. (A Ship Without a Sail: The Life of Lorenz Hart [Simon & Schuster], by Gary Marmorstein)
The Rodgerses saw Kron as not only saving Larry’s money but also saving Hart from himself. [balanced gerund phrases]
Such ads offered not only an assurance that a certain liquor had remained unchanged, but also that by purchasing it one could actually participate in preserving the past. (The World Through a Monocle: The New Yorker at Midcentury [Harvard University Press],by Mary F. Corey)
Such ads offered an assurance not only that a certain liquor had remained unchanged but also that by purchasing it one could actually participate in preserving the past. [balanced nounal dependent clauses]
Released about a month ago, it included an uncharacteristically brash verse by Mr. Lamar, who not only named himself “king of New York”—Mr. Lamar is actually from Compton, Calif.—but also featured him rumbling about wanting to best a whole host of peers, whom he mentioned by name. (New York Times)
Released about a month ago, it not only included an uncharacteristically brash verse by Mr. Lamar, who named himself “king of New York”—Mr. Lamar is actually from Compton, California—but also featured him rumbling about wanting to best a whole host of peers, whom he mentioned by name. [balanced verb phrases]
Beck claims that he not only met Bob Hope but that he won the old comedian’s admiration.  (Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance [Wiley], by Alexander Zaitchik)
Beck claims not only that he met Bob Hope but that he won the old comedian’s admiration. [balanced nounal dependent clauses]  OR: Beck claims that he not only met Bob Hope but also won the old comedian’s admiration. [balanced verb phrases]
But instead of calling on the Silicon Valley sisterhood to gather together its considerable resources on behalf of women around the world who not only suffer from real discrimination but whose lives are at risk because of it, Sandberg urges American women, in effect, not to be distracted by the plight of the women of Afghanistan and Sudan: “Knowing that things could be worse should not stop us from trying to make them better.” (New York Review of Books)
But instead of calling on the Silicon Valley sisterhood to gather together its considerable resources on behalf of women around the world who not only suffer from real discrimination but find their lives at risk because of it. . . . [balanced verb phrases]
Men, no less than women, cannot only advocate pro-woman policies in the ballot box or on their Twitter feeds, but also in their professional, day-to-day, and intimate interactions. (New Republic)
Men, no less than women, can advocate pro-woman policies not only in the ballot box or on their Twitter feeds, but also in their professional, day-to-day, and intimate interactions. [balanced prepositional phrases]
The hawk’s wonderfully drawn wildness—its profound otherness—slices like a razor through the world of indolent expatriate luxury in which the book is set, some years before the Second World War, which will not only send Alwyn Tower and Alexandra Henry fleeing back to American but will extinguish a certain lazy, genteel optimism; a belief in the relative sanctity of hedges and lawns as well as a more general belief in our collective ability to select and enforce happy endings. (Introduction, by Michael Cunningham, to The Pilgrim Hawk: A Love Story [New York Review Books Classics], by Glenway Wescott)
. . . the Second World War, which will not only send Alwyn Tower and Alexandra Henry fleeing back to American but extinguish a certain lazy, genteel optimism. . . . [balanced verb phrases] OR: . . . the Second World War, which not only will send Alwyn Tower and Alexandra Henry fleeing back to American but will extinguish a certain lazy, genteel optimism. . . . [balanced verb phrases, each beginning with a helping verb]
It [the biography] is a case study of dislocation, of people who had not only lost a home but who were no longer able to define the meaning of home. (Wall Street Journal)
It is a case study of dislocation, of people who had not only lost a home but were no longer able to define the meaning of home. [balanced verb phrases]
Publishers have since learned to cover the cost of returns by inflating the retail price of books, so that book buyers pay not only for the copies they buy but a proportionate share of copies returned to publishers’ warehouses to be destroyed and recycled. (Book Business: Publishing Past, Present, and Future [W. W. Norton], by Jason Epstein)
. . . book buyers pay not only for the copies they buy but also for a proportionate share of copies returned to publishers’ warehouses to be destroyed and recycled. [balanced prepositional phrases, the first of which is followed by an adjectival dependent clause and the second of which is followed by a participial phrase]

Writers sometimes neglect to include but also (or even simply but) in constructions that begin with not only. The result is often confusion.

Cursive or not, the benefits of writing by hand extend beyond childhood. For adults, typing may be a fast and efficient alternative to longhand, but that very efficiency may diminish our ability to process new information. Not only do we learn letters better when we commit them to memory through writing, memory and learning ability in general may benefit. (New York Times)

  A reader can easily trip up in that final sentence by initially misreading writing, memory and learning ability in general as a series.

Not only do we learn letters better when we commit them to memory through writing, but memory and learning ability in general may also benefit. [balanced independent clauses]

Not just . . . but and not just . . . but also

"The Impossible Exile" examines the experience of displacement not just as it was lived by the restless Zweig but by all those Europeans who fled Hitler's reach and landed on the shores of England and the United States. (Wall Street Journal)
The Impossible Exile examines the experience of displacement as it was lived not just by the restless Zweig but by all those Europeans who fled Hitler's reach and landed on the shores of England and the United States. [balanced prepositional phrases, the second of which is followed by an adjectival dependent clause]
Two billion bucks is nearly what Guggenheim Partners paid for the Dodgers two years ago, and the Dodgers came not just with a venerated baseball club, but Dodger Stadium and related real estate, plus a chance immediately to negotiate a lucrative new TV contract. (Wall Street Journal)  [Note how immediately would sound more natural at the very end of the sentence; see Chapter 52.]
. . . the Dodgers came not just with a venerated baseball club but with Dodger Stadium and related real estate. . . . [balanced prepositional phrases] OR: . . . the Dodgers came with not just a venerated baseball club but also Dodger Stadium and related real estate. . . . [balanced noun phrases]
Later he pointed out that the song is not just about reflecting back what you want to see, but what you should see. (Seeing the Light: Inside the Velvet Underground [St. Martin’s],by Rob Jovanovic)
. . . the song is not just about reflecting back what you want to see but also about what you should see. [balanced prepositional phrases, in each of which the object of the preposition is a nounal dependent clause] OR: . . . the song is reflecting back about not just what you want to see but what you should see. [balanced nounal dependent clauses]
Zweig was a profoundly ambivalent, divided and ultimately dislodged human being—dislodged not just from the belle-époque Europe that had produced him and nurtured his talents or even from the postwar Europe he had had to flee with the rise of Nazism—but dislodged from more than comfortable life in Vienna long before he had any reason to flee. (Wall Street Journal)
Zweig was a profoundly ambivalent, divided, and ultimately dislodged human being—not just dislodged from the belle-époque Europe that had produced him and nurtured his talents or even from the postwar Europe he had had to flee with the rise of Nazism, but dislodged from a more than comfortable life in Vienna long before he had any reason to flee. [balanced participial phrases to which dependent clauses are attached] OR: Zweig was a profoundly ambivalent, divided, and ultimately dislodged human being—dislodged not just from the belle-époque Europe that had produced him and nurtured his talents or even from the postwar Europe he had had to flee with the rise of Nazism, but from a more than comfortable life in Vienna long before he had any reason to flee. [balanced prepositional phrases to which dependent clauses have been attached]
That Establishment doesn’t just ignore the work of the unknown artist but also, for the most part, that of the world-famous—especially Koons, Hirst, and Murakami, who have become so big and so rich it no longer seems important to have opinions of them. (New York)
That Establishment ignores not just the work of the unknown artist but also, for the most part, that of the world-famous. . . . [balanced noun phrases]
It’s [the movie’s conversation is] about guilt and also fidelity and Celine’s resentment of the inequity between them in the arena of childcare, not just of their twins, but also Henry, who is more likely to confide in Celine than his own father. (Time)
. . . Celine’s resentment of the inequity between them in the arena of childcare, not just of their twins, but also of Henry, who is more likely to confide in Celine than in his own father. [balanced prepositional phrases]
The history of repression, protest and reform did not just happen on the abstract plane of activism and politics, but also in the lives of ordinary families, who were always doing more than just suffering and struggling. (New York Times)
The history of repression, protest, and reform happened not just on the abstract plane of activism and politics but also in the lives of ordinary families, who were always doing more than just suffering and struggling. [balanced prepositional phrases]
But many industry observers believe the promotion of Ms. Chen—who is social-media savvy and casually tweets about everything from Jane Austen to the thief who stole her credit card (she tracked him down and was considering calling his mother)—may represent a turning point not just in the history of Lucky, but fashion magazines in general. (New York Times)
. . . may represent a turning point in the history not just of Lucky but of fashion magazines in general. [balanced prepositional phrases] OR: . . . may represent a turning point in the history of not just Lucky but fashion magazines in general. [a noun balanced with a noun phrase]
He also said the lawsuits were filed in part due to an uptick in imports over the last several years, which have seen U.K. Cadbury increasingly available not just at Myers of Keswick and Tea & Sympathy but also quality-minded supermarket chains such as Fairway in New York (where you can find U.K. Dairy Milk and Crunchies) and Bristol Farms in Los Angeles (where I recently spotted Wispas and Curly Wurlys). (Vanity Fair)
. . . which have seen U.K. Cadbury increasingly available not just at Myers of Keswick and Tea & Sympathy but also at quality-minded supermarket chains. . . . [balanced prepositional phrases]

Both . . . and

The artist “Simon Evans” actually consists both of Mr. Evans and his wife Sarah Lannan. (Wall Street Journal) [There’s also a punctuational mishap in this sentence; see Chapter 66.]
The artist “Simon Evans” actually consists of both Mr. Evans and his wife, Sarah Lannan. [balanced noun phrases]
Celeste comes across as an unrepentant sociopath, both in terms of her sexual exploitativeness and her total lack of compassion. (New Republic)
Celeste comes across as an unrepentant sociopath, in terms of both her sexual exploitativeness and her total lack of compassion. [balanced noun phrases] OR [to dispose of the undesirable phrase in terms of]: With her sexual exploitativeness and her total lack of compassion, Celeste comes across as an unrepentant sociopath. [balanced noun phrases functioning as objects of a preposition]
“To treat him as some super cultural sage rather than a gifted, sick, unhappy young man is both to cheapen his tragedy and undervalue his music.” (quoted from Stuart Maconie in Q magazine, in Nick Drake [Bloomsbury], by Patrick Humphies)
“To treat him as some super cultural sage rather than as a gifted, sick, unhappy young man is both to cheapen his tragedy and to undervalue his music.” [balanced infinitive phrases] OR: “To treat him as some super cultural sage rather than as a gifted, sick, unhappy young man both cheapens his tragedy and undervalues his music.” [balanced verb phrases]
Morgan returned to England, convinced both of the emptiness of the exercise and the necessity of performing it. (A Great Unrecorded History: A New Life of E. M. Forster [Farrar, Straus and Giroux], by Wendy Moffat)
Morgan returned to England, convinced both of the emptiness of the exercise and of the necessity of performing it. [balanced prepositional phrases] OR: Morgan returned to England, convinced of both the emptiness of the exercise and the necessity of performing it. [balanced noun phrases]
Carl Schlesinger, 81, started at the Times in 1953 and worked as both a proofreader and Linotype operator until his retirement in 1990. (Regret the Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech [Union Square Press], by Craig Silverman) [The sentence is also in need of a comma; see Chapter 70.]
. . . and worked as both a proofreader and a Linotype operator until his retirement, in 1990. [balanced noun phrases, each beginning with an indefinite article] OR: . . . and worked both as a proofreader and as a Linotype operator until his retirement, in 1990. [balanced prepositional phrases]
The hypothetical film career of Louse Brooks is a fabulous one, and goes something like this: After learning the trade at Paramount and making three gorgeous films in Europe, she returns triumphant to Hollywood, where the studios recognize her perfect voice and snap her up as both a sophisticated light comedienne and as a steamy, uninhibited, more believable new kind of lover who combines many qualities of Bow, Garbo, Crawford, and Dietrich. (Louise Brooks [Knopf], by Barry Paris)
. . . the studios recognize her perfect voice and snap her up as both a sophisticated light comedienne and a steamy, uninhibited, more believable new kind of lover who combines many qualities of Bow, Garbo, Crawford, and Dietrich. [balanced noun phrases, the second of which is followed by an adjectival dependent clause]
[Gore Vidal on John O’Hara] Perhaps the most remarkable thing about O’Hara is that for one who is in many ways a typical American writer, both in his virtues and faults, he has practically no sense of humor, the one gift our culture most liberally bestows on its sons. (New York Review of Books)
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about O’Hara is that for one who is in many ways a typical American writer, both in his virtues and in his faults, he has practically no sense of humor. . . . [balanced prepositional phrases] OR: Perhaps the most remarkable thing about O’Hara is that for one who is in many ways a typical American writer, in both his virtues and his faults, he has practically no sense of humor. . . . [balanced noun phrases]
He [the musician Andrew W. K.] has become a kind of motivational speaker in recent years, both through his Village Voice advice column and his Twitter account, on which he frequently shares “party tips” for fellow-revellers. (New Yorker)
He has become a kind of motivational speaker in recent years, through both his Village Voice advice column and his Twitter account. . . . [balanced noun phrases] OR: He has become a kind of motivational speaker in recent years, both through his Village Voice advice column and on Twitter, where he frequently shares “party tips” for fellow-revellers. [balanced prepositional phrases]  
As Louis, Ms. Killen had been among the most influential voices of England’s postwar folk music scene, as both a collector and performer of 19th-century ballads and folk songs chronicling the working lives of seamen, coal miners, mill workers and laborers. (New York Times)
As Louis, Ms. Killen had been among the most influential voices of England’s postwar folk-music scene, as both a collector and a performer. . . .  [balanced noun phrases, each beginning with the article a]
I traveled through North Carolina and Virginia, both in areas of deep blue and crimson red, and it was clear neither side trusted the other very much. (Time)
I traveled through North Carolina and Virginia, both in areas of deep blue and in areas of crimson red. . . . [balanced prepositional phrases]
And yet, both in How We Decide and Imagine, fMRI [functional magnetic-resonance imaging] is Lehrer’s deus ex machina. (New York)
And yet, in both How We Decide and Imagine, fMRI is Lehrer’s deus ex machina. [balanced nounal elements in the form of book titles]  
The future of the humanities has been a hot topic this year, both in academia and the high-culture media. (New York Times)
The future of the humanities has been a hot topic this year, both in academia and in the high-culture media. [balanced prepositional phrases] OR: The future of the humanities has been a hot topic this year, in both academia and the high-culture media. [a noun balanced with a noun phrase] 
Sex, for him, is part of something vastly larger, both as fact and theme: nature, that overwhelming nature that he found in Plowville. (New Republic)
Sex, for him, is part of something vastly larger, both as fact and as theme. . . .  [balanced prepositional phrases] OR: Sex, for him, is part of something vastly larger, as both fact and theme. . . .  [balanced nouns]
The early dispute concerning the “modern liberal of the English Department” proved a harbinger. This despite the fact that, on publication in the spring of 1959, The Elements of Style was almost instantly successful in both the general trade and college markets, to the extent that Macmillan struggled to keep up with reprints and reorders. (Stylized: A Slightly Obsessive History of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style [Touchstone], by Mark Garvey)
. . . The Elements of Style was almost instantly successful in both the general trade and the college markets. . . . [balanced noun phrases beginning with the definite article the]
The nature of the intimate relationship between employer and servant allows us to see deeply into what was perhaps the most profound peculiarity of the postwar liberal elite—its attempt both to claim privilege and disclaim its undemocratic nature. (The World Through a Monocle: The New Yorker at Midcentury [Harvard University Press],by Mary F. Corey)
. . . its attempt both to claim privilege and to disclaim its undemocratic nature.  [balanced infinitive phrases]
Empowered by the very privilege they disparaged, and roused by the imprecations of the civil rights movement, the children of the New Yorker village went to Berkeley and Columbia and the University of Wisconsin, where they condemned their parents and the United States both for their avid materialism and their betrayal of the ideal of participatory democracy. (The World Through a Monocle: The New Yorker at Midcentury [Harvard University Press],by Mary F. Corey) [The sentence also needs a hyphen between civil and rights; see Chapter 86.]
. . . they condemned their parents and the United States both for their avid materialism and for their betrayal of the ideal of participatory democracy. [balanced prepositional phrases] OR: . . . they condemned their parents and the United States for both their avid materialism and their betrayal of the ideal of participatory democracy. [balanced noun phrases]
While many middle-class Americans took unreserved delight in the postwar boom, hailing the democracy of goods as the centerpiece of the free world, followers of The New Yorker, despite their enormous buying power and penchant for elite goods, maintained a Thoreauvian distaste both for advertising and mass consumption. (The World Through a Monocle: The New Yorker at Midcentury [Harvard University Press],by Mary F. Corey)
. . . a Thoreauvian distaste both for advertising and for mass consumption. [balanced prepositional phrases] OR: . . . a Thoreauvian distaste for both advertising and mass consumption. [a noun balanced with a noun phrase] 
Nathaniel Benchley was the son of the humorist Robert Benchley, a man noted both for his wit and his alcoholism, who had been Dorothy Parker’s dearest friend. (The World Through a Monocle: The New Yorker at Midcentury [Harvard University Press],by Mary F. Corey)
. . . a man noted both for his wit and for his alcoholism. . . . [balanced prepositional phrases] OR: . . . a man noted for both his wit and his alcoholism. . . . [balanced noun phrases]
The password for the 50 Best Wi-Fi network [sic] was Mexico2015, which had the advantage of being both dryly factual and sounding like a tourist-board come-on. (New Yorker)
[revised without the both . . . and pattern] The password for the 50 Best Wi-Fi network [sic] was Mexico2015, which had the advantage of being dryly factual while sounding like a tourist-board come-on. [balanced gerund phrases functioning as objects of the preposition of]

Writers occasionally confuse the both X and Y pattern with the from X to Y pattern, as in the following sentence, which is enfeebled by the ungrammatical both X to Y structure.

This is a generous book, giving abundant credit to both the older generation of cartoonists whom the young Mr. Mankoff hero-worshiped to the new blood he has brought to the magazine during his tenure. (New York Times)
This is a generous book, giving abundant credit to both the older generation of cartoonists whom the young Mr. Mankoff hero-worshiped and the new blood he has brought to the magazine during his tenure. [balanced noun phrases followed by dependent clauses (the coordinating conjunction and has been substituted for the preposition to)]

Similarly, writers sometimes confuse the both X and Y pattern with the X as well as Y pattern.

Coles’s office is notable both for the treadmill desk (which she’s turned largely into a standing desk after realizing that her preferred 4-mph-plus pace didn’t square with either her typing obligations or her leather pants) as well as what she cheerfully calls her “ego wall.” (New York)
Coles’s office is notable both for the treadmill desk (which she has turned largely into a standing desk after realizing that her preferred 4-mph-plus pace didn’t square with either her typing obligations or her leather pants) and for what she cheerfully calls her “ego wall.” [balanced prepositional phrases]

Along with the correlative conjunctions, there are other mated expressions whose halves need to be followed by grammatically congruent phrasing. They include not X but Y; less X than Y; more X than Y; as much X as Y; X as much as Y; not so much X as Y; and X rather than Y.
Not X but Y and Not X but rather Y

What moved us about [Nancy] Kwan, in those pre-gender-and-race-studies days, was her insistence on projecting her ethnicity as part of her style; she wasn’t performing for the white male director, but for people who looked or felt something like herself. (New Yorker)
. . . she was performing not for the white male director, but for people who looked or felt something like herself.
By the end of the first half of the novel I found myself confused and slightly uneasy, not by the events of the story, but how to feel about them. (Hatchet Jobs: Writings on Contemporary Fiction [The New Press], by Dale Peck)
By the end of the first half of the novel, I found myself confused and slightly uneasy, not by the events of the story, but by how to feel about them.
Covers are not devoted to whichever film star has a blockbuster to promote, but primarily to models—when Roitfeld and Bruce Weber happened upon (former “Look Book” subject) André J., a black transvestite with an Afro, incredible legs, and an Amish-style chinstrap beard, they put him in a minidress and on the cover. (New York)
Covers are devoted not to whichever film star has a blockbuster to promote, but primarily to models. . . .
Mr. Hurst, who is chairman of the Ala Moana/Kakaako neighborhood board but was not speaking for the board, said he was concerned that the master plan did not include housing for poor people, but for people making an average income or above. (New York Times)
. . . he was concerned that the master plan included housing not for poor people but for people making an average income or above.
But on closer inspection, he wasn’t puffing a Marlboro but a Bedford Slim, a brand of electronic cigarette marketed to the skinny-jean set. (New York Times)
But on closer inspection, he was puffing not a Marlboro but a Bedford Slim. . . .
In slashing the price of its own one-stop service, Delta wouldn't be competing with American but with US Airways. (Wall Street Journal)
. . . Delta would be competing not with American but with US Airways.
The real story is not of a secret marriage but a distressing divorce—hers from Seidler. (New York’s vulture.com)
The real story is not of a secret marriage but of a distressing divorce—hers from Seidler.
The French writer Sophie Fontanel’s new memoir, “The Art of Sleeping Alone,” is about not merely employing your Sex Now button selectively, but about throwing it away altogether. (New York Times)
The French writer Sophie Fontanel’s new memoir, The Art of Sleeping Alone, is about not merely employing your Sex Now button selectively, but throwing it away altogether.
We will be told, as we were this week, that he wasn’t be judged on the content of his candidacy, but on the color of his skin. (New York Post) [The surplus be was a typographical error in the newspaper.]
We will be told, as we were this week, that he was judged not on the content of his candidacy but on the color of his skin.
No, what I mean is that people who read poetry have a tendency not simply to say that they “like” it or “enjoy” the art form, but rather that they “love” it. (Beautiful & Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry [Harper], by David Orr)
. . . people who read poetry have a tendency to say not simply that they “like” it or “enjoy” the art form, but rather that they “love” it.
Frustratingly, there is a stillness to his stage presence, not born of confidence but rather innocent unease. (New York Times)
Frustratingly, there is a stillness to his stage presence, born not of confidence but rather of innocent unease.
As I mentioned earlier, the information we view as personal in poems doesn’t usually come from the raw data of our lives—bar tabs and tax filings and such—but rather from the murky and constantly shifting intersections among private identities and public observance.  (Beautiful & Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry [Harper], by David Orr) [As for whether between should be substituted for among, see Chapter 93.]
As I mentioned earlier, the information we view as personal in poems usually comes not from the raw data of our lives—bar tabs and tax filings and such—but rather from the murky and constantly shifting intersections between private identities and public observance.
This time Mr. Ottesen and Mr. Zahl are maintaining complete control. They have their work cut out for them: the three “Violeta, Violeta” albums do not present a linear narrative but rather random snapshots of a drama in which a couple splits and the father takes their daughter, Violeta, around the world while the mother tries to reconnect with her (and a dead twin daughter, also named Violeta)—with assistance from the Devil, who is trying to return to (and take over) heaven.  (New York Times)  [Note that the verb following couple should be split; see Chapter 19.]
. . . the three Violeta, Violeta albums present not a linear narrative but rather random snapshots of a drama. . . .
The words didn't belong to Lincoln, but rather to the 18th-century English poet Thomas Gray, and they came from "Elegy Written in a Country Church-Yard." (Wall Street Journal)
The words belonged not to Lincoln but rather to the eighteenth-century English poet Thomas Gray, and they came from "Elegy Written in a Country Church-Yard."

Less X than Y

A fifty-per-cent approval rating may sound disappointing, but Bender and Bakkila are less interested in winning approval than in eliciting a strong reaction, and by that measure their achievement has grown exponentially. (New Yorker)
. . . but Bender and Bakkila are interested less in winning approval than in eliciting a strong reaction. . . .
Michelle Williams and Neil Patrick Harris, who are starring in “Cabaret” (a Roundabout Theatre Company production, at Studio 54) and “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” (at the Belasco), respectively, draw on everything they’ve got to portray characters who are performers themselves—outsider artists who are less interested in developing the technique that would ground their passionate display than in climbing the highs of their ever-escalating fantasies and “inspirations.” (New Yorker)
. . . outsider artists who are interested less in developing the technique that would ground their passionate display than in climbing the highs of their ever-escalating fantasies and “inspirations.”
The answer, I think, has to do with the fact that readers are often less interested in a poem’s destination than in the clarity of its road signs. (Beautiful & Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry [Harper], by David Orr)
. . . readers are often interested less in a poem’s destination than in the clarity of its road signs.
Weiner has been less interested in specific reforms than in firing up the electorate; on one occasion he evoked Nazi Germany in his denunciations of stop-and-frisk. (New York Times)
Weiner has been interested less in specific reforms than in firing up the electorate. . . .
[David] Lehman is less interested in excellent poems, which can only be consumed one at a time, than an idea, “poetry,” which he sets in opposition to the brutal zeitgeist. (New Republic) [Bothered by the positioning of only? See Chapter 22.]
Lehman is interested less in excellent poems, which can be consumed only one at a time, than in an idea, “poetry,” which he sets in opposition to the brutal zeitgeist.
The gesture, however, seemed less about sex than the desire for human comfort. (New Yorker’s Page-Turner blog)
The gesture, however, seemed less about sex than about the desire for human comfort.
That the book was so enthusiastically embraced represents less a return to the right path that so many wishful readers—including, at one point, Virginia Woolf—hoped it would be, but rather a willful assumption of blinkers to the ways in which a blending of the storied and historical notions of progress had led the world so recently astray. (Hatchet Jobs: Writings on Contemporary Fiction [The New Press], by Dale Peck)
That the book was so enthusiastically embraced represents less a return to the right path that so many wishful readers—including, at one point, Virginia Woolf—hoped it would be, than a willful assumption of blinkers. . . .
He [William Shawn] was less concerned with the influence words could have than with their inner music and structural integrity. (Critical Mass: Four Decades of Essays, Reviews, Hand Grenades, and Hurrahs [Doubleday], by James Wolcott)
He was concerned less with the influence words could have than with their inner music and structural integrity.
Mr. Hughes added that he is less concerned about finding stars with social media skills than about finding and keeping talent with strong reporting and storytelling skills. (New York Times)
Mr. Hughes added that he is concerned less about finding stars with social-media skills than about finding and keeping talent with strong reporting and storytelling skills.
Grace Medford, who published a critique of “Shake It Off” on her pop-music blog, One of Those Faces, and on Vice’s Noisey Vertical, insists the particular breed of cultural appropriation Ms. Swift engages in is less concerned with the objectification of black bodies (à la Lily and Miley) than the disparity of privilege afforded the respective pop cultures of white and black America. (New York Times)
Grace Medford . . . insists that the particular breed of cultural appropriation Ms. Swift engages in is concerned less with the objectification of black bodies (à la Lily and Miley) than with the disparity of privilege afforded the respective pop cultures of white and black America.
For many students, college is less about providing an education than a credential—a certificate testifying that they are smart enough to get into college, conformist enough to go, and compliant enough to stay there for four years. (Newsweek)
For many students, college is less about getting an education than about obtaining a credential. . . .
“Cutie and the Boxer” is a movie that makes you feel less like a spectator than a guest, a friend welcomed into the home of an odd and fascinating couple. (New York Times)
Cutie and the Boxer is a movie that makes you feel less like a spectator than like a guest. . . .
The psychic maculation varies in each tale. It can take the form of illicit passion, compulsive jealousy, shameless obsession, even a form of pity so corrosive that it ends up looking less like debilitated love than muffled loathing. (Wall Street Journal)
. . . it ends up looking less like debilitated love than like muffled loathing.

More X than Y

Like many American moralists, Fitzgerald was more offended by pleasure than by vice, and he had a tendency to confound them. (New York)
Like many other American moralists, Fitzgerald was offended more by pleasure than by vice. . . .
But this show is more interested in honoring the past than refreshing it. (New York Times)
But this show is interested more in honoring the past than in refreshing it.
But the event was designed more as an experience than a fashion statement. (New York Times)
But the event was designed more as an experience than as a fashion statement.
The T-shirts and sweatshirts Oliver made borrowed a lot from skate culture: They were big, and they bore big HBA logos; they were more about signifying membership in a tribe than they were about advancing any design agenda. (New York)
. . . they were more about signifying membership in a tribe than about advancing any design agenda.
Mr. Geller is a bit to food trucks as Cesar Chavez was to farm workers, though he has been criticized as being more concerned about the purveyors of bacon-topped cupcakes than about the immigrant small-business owners selling traditional tacos and pupusas. (New York Times)
. . . he has been criticized as being concerned more about the purveyors of bacon-topped cupcakes than about the immigrant small-business owners selling traditional tacos and pupusas.
In crafting bits all but guaranteed to go viral, Kimmel has found a way to keep his show relevant among viewers more accustomed to watching comedy on browsers than televisions, and his YouTube channel boasts 780 million views (Fallon's, by comparison, has 57 million). (Rolling Stone)
. . . Kimmel has found a way to keep his show relevant among viewers accustomed to watching comedy more often on browsers than on televisions. . . .
Yet [Wolcott] Gibbs surely grasped the understated power of his friend's technique, since the New Yorker published more fiction by [John] O'Hara than any other writer in its history. (Wall Street Journal)
. . . since The New Yorker published more fiction by O'Hara than by any other writer in its history.

As much X as Y

At nearly sixty, [Dean] Young is one of the most distinguished mid-career poets in America, known as much for his irreverence as his comedy. (New Republic)
. . . known as much for his irreverence as for his comedy.
Often, the fashion statements made by coaches reveal as much about their superstitions as their preference for Armani.  (New York Times)
Often, the fashion statements made by coaches reveal as much about their superstitions as about their preference for Armani.  

X as much as Y

Like Oscar Wilde, he poured his genius into his life as much as his art. (The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon [Pantheon], by Daniel Farson)
Like Oscar Wilde, he poured his genius into his life as much as into his art.

Not so much X as Y

What I wanted to suggest is not so much the negative aspect of these essays, which will be pretty obvious to anyone who can read, but rather my own metaphor for the process which came to dominate my thinking as I shaped this book. (Hatchet Jobs: Writings on Contemporary Fiction [The New Press],by Dale Peck)
What I wanted to suggest is not so much the negative aspect of these essays, which will be pretty obvious to anyone who can read, as my own metaphor for the process which came to dominate my thinking as I shaped this book.
His [James Wolcott’s] piece was directed not so much at Springsteen as the rock critics who all fell in line and “shuffled behind the Boss bearing gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” (Runaway Dream: Born to Run and Bruce Springsteen’s American Vision [Bloomsbury],by Louis P. Masur)
His piece was directed not so much at Springsteen as at the rock critics who all fell in line. . . .
I love exploring the area—not so much looking at the houses, but the big, gorgeous trees shading all the streets. (Wall Street Journal)
I love exploring the area—looking not so much at the houses as at the big, gorgeous trees shading all the streets.
The enduring appeal of the Warlock Demo is not so much due to the handful of Nick Drake cover versions, but rather the identity of the singer who, though relatively unknown at the time of the recording during 1970, later became Elton John. (Nick Drake [Bloomsbury], by Patrick Humphries)
The enduring appeal of the Warlock Demo is due not so much to the handful of Nick Drake cover versions as to the identity of the singer who, though relatively unknown at the time of the recording during 1970, later became Elton John.
If he seems to be a paragon of the overpaid superstar conductor, it [is] not so much the amounts involved (Toscanini, at the height of the Great Depression, was also more than generously compensated) but frustration at a musician who too often seemed to think that allowing us into his presence was an achievement in itself. (New York Observer)
. . . it not so much the amounts involved (Toscanini, at the height of the Great Depression, was also more than generously compensated) as frustration with a musician who too often seemed to think that allowing us into his presence was an achievement in itself.

X rather than Y

Salinger is known to have made only one public statement on this issue and even that statement is diluted by the fact that it was in anticipation of events rather than a reaction to them. (J. D. Salinger: A Life [Random House],by Kenneth Slawenski)
Salinger is known to have made only one public statement on this issue, and even that statement is diluted by the fact that it was in anticipation of events rather than in reaction to them.
But [Frank] Ocean, who downplays the bisexual tag, keeps the emphasis on society rather than himself. (Rolling Stone)
But Ocean, who downplays the bisexual tag, keeps the emphasis on society rather than on himself.
And in his book The Signal and the Noise, he expanded his methodology into a larger critique of the punditocracy’s tendency to base predictions on hunches rather than hard evidence. (Rolling Stone)
And in his book The Signal and the Noise, he expanded his methodology into a larger critique of the punditocracy’s tendency to base predictions on hunches rather than on hard evidence.
Cracker Barrel typically is sold in the dairy section of supermarkets alongside everyday cheeses, rather than the deli section, which features gourmet cheeses, and Ms. Gray said that humbler placement suits the brand. (New York Times)
Cracker Barrel is typically sold in the dairy section of supermarkets alongside everyday cheeses, rather than in the deli section. . . .
The text remains fairly intact, with some droll additions: Laertes returns to Yale rather than France; Hamlet is banished to New Jersey, not England; a version of beer pong replaces the sword fight. (New York Times)
The text remains fairly intact, with some droll additions: Laertes returns to Yale, rather than to France; Hamlet is banished to New Jersey, not to England. . . .

A writer sometimes tries to blend a less X than Y construction with a not so much X as Y construction, but they are unmixable.

This, however, looked less like a retrospective so much as a company seeking ways to survive. (New York Times)
This, however, looked less like a retrospective than like proof of a company’s determination to survive. OR: This, however, looked not so much like a retrospective than like proof of a company’s determination to survive.

  ^^   43 

Welded Helping Verbs
 

 Contractions can get us into trouble. Some fussbudgets are opposed to all of them on principle (no good writer ever is, though), and some contractions (among them are the grotesqueries she’d and there’ve) belong in only the most casual prose. But one sort of contraction must be avoided at all costs.

He’s done away with the scenario—sacrificial virgins aren’t his thing—and instead features pure, full-bodied movement with hints of bacchanalian revelry. (New Yorker)

What, you may ask, is amiss with the contraction He’s? If you object to it because it could mean either He is or the intended He has, you would have supporters aplenty. Even if you are perfectly fine with the undesirable confusion, though, the contraction would be grammatically correct only if the sentence ended with thing. But the sentence-spanning independent clause clause—into which another, dashed-off independent clause has been sandwiched—has a two-part compound predicate, the second half of which begins with features. The trouble is that features has no freestanding subject with which it might attach itself. The auxiliary verb has is welded to the pronoun He in the contraction at the start of the sentence. No matter how hard you might try, you won’t succeed in prying that apostrophe and s loose from He. The contracted verb has the subject all to itself and is not about to give it up.The sentence, as phrased, is thus asking us, improbably, to accept as grammatically sound the construction He’s instead features pure, full-bodied movement with hints of bacchanalian revelry. The solution is to decontract the contraction and begin the sentence with He has done away with the scenario. . . .
 The second independent clause in the next example includes an it’s that means not it is but it has, and the pronoun it is the exclusive property of that contraction; the pronoun isn’t free to be shared by the freestanding verb of the second half of the compound predicate.

The bar today is a different Kettle of Fish: it’s relocated twice since the fifties, and is now known for its association with another movement with a cult following—the Green Bay Packers. (New Yorker)
The bar today is a different Kettle of Fish: it has relocated twice since the fifties, and is now known for its association with another movement with a cult following—the Green Bay Packers.
In those later years, he’d left his hideously long-suffering wife and children and was palling around with a fairly trashy downtown and/or homosexual crowd: “Arthur C. Clarke . . . remembered how [Peter Arthurs]”—the author of what Kirkus called a “lurid, pathetic, dankly repetitious account” of his relationship with Brendan Behan—“had introduced him to Jackson, Arthur Miller, and Norman Mailer.” (Bookforum)
In those later years, he had left his hideously long-suffering wife and children and was palling around with a fairly trashy downtown and/or homosexual crowd. . . .
That afternoon, Lehrer announced through his publisher that he’d resigned from The New Yorker and would do everything he could to help correct the record. (New York)
That afternoon, Lehrer announced through his publisher that he had resigned from The New Yorker and would do everything he could to help correct the record.
He'd also put in four years as Yahoo's treasurer and was one of its top dealmakers. (Wired)
He had also put in four years as Yahoo's treasurer and was one of its top dealmakers.
He [David Hockney] has, however, moved back to his homeland in recent years, trading his Los Angeles residence for the seaside resort of Bridlington in Yorkshire, where he's lived since 2005 and works on his films as well as the large multipanel paintings that he creates en plein air. (Harper’s Bazaar)
. . . where he has lived since 2005 and works on his films as well as on the large multipanel paintings that he creates en plein air.
Snoop Dogg and will.i.am have more in common than is immediately apparent. They’re from the same generation—Snoop is 41, will.i.am 38—are both from the Los Angeles area and have connections to N.W.A.; Snoop was a protégé of Dr. Dre, and will.i.am’s pre-Black Eyed Peas group the Atban Klann was signed to Eazy-E’s Ruthless Records.  (New York Times) [The sentence is also weakened by a multitasking dash; see Chapter 84.]
They both are from the same generation (Snoop is forty-one, will.i.am thirty-eight), are from the Los Angeles area, and have connections to N.W.A. . . .  

A writer sometimes succumbs to redundancy by not recognizing that the verb welded to the subject can serve as the verb for the second part of a compound predicate. In the next example, the welded and contracted verb is, which is followed by the complement original, does its job for the complement (début) in the second half of the predicate, too, but the writer has inserted a surplus is.

It's a paperback original from Vintage Books and is his major-label debut after years of publishing online and with small presses. (The Oregonian)
It's a paperback original from Vintage Books and his major-label début after years of publishing online and with small presses.

In the next example, the auxiliary verb welded to the subject can stay put, but the auxiliary verbs positioned at the start of the second and third items in the series are both redundant and ungrammatical and must disappear.

He grew up on Long Island, and the past several years had been overwhelming: He'd been diagnosed with cancer, had gone through chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and had written a memoir titled Pull Me Up. (Hard News: The Scandals at The New York Times and Their Meaning for American Media [Random House], by Seth Mnookin)
He'd been diagnosed with cancer, gone through chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and written a memoir titled Pull Me Up. 

Worst of all, a writer sometimes tries to get away with forcing a welded auxiliary verb to serve as the contracted form of two entirely different verbs.

Despite its whimsical design, it’s very useful and taught me a trick or two. (New York Times)

The reader is expected to round out it’s to it is for the first half of the compound predicate and to it has for the second half.

Despite its whimsical design, it is very useful and has taught me a trick or two.

  ^^   44 

We don’t want him driving. We can’t tolerate his driving.
 

Give the once-over to that title again. Notice something? One of the two words ending in ing is preceded by him, the other by his. Why the two different forms of the pronoun?
 The answer has everything to do with the difference between present participles and gerunds. A present participle and a gerund are both formed from a verb, and they both look exactly alike: they both have ing for a tail. But they don't carry themselves the same way in the rush and stir of a sentence. Try as it might, a present participle can never stop acting a little like a verb, but a gerund has had quite enough of being a verb. It wants to see what life will be like if it tries to pass itself off as a noun. And it turns out that living as a noun suits the gerund just fine.
     Compare Sheila can't stand Jody cooking with Sheila can't stand Jody’s cooking.
     Drop the last word from the first sentence, and you'll still get the picture: Sheila is none too crazy about the guy. She has some reservations about him as a person. Add the final word again, and you get the big idea: of all the people who could be presiding over the stove, why does it have to be Jody? (Another way to look at the sentence Sheila can’t stand Jody cooking is to recognize that the infinitive to be is implied between Jody and cooking.)
 But you can't lop off the last word from the second sentence without ending up with nonsense. In that sentence, Sheila doesn't have a beef with the guy himself; her beef is with his beef—and with anything else that emerges from his pots and pans. But it's only his culinary incompetence that she can't stand about him. In the second sentence, cooking is a gerund—a verbal noun. You could trade in the gerund for a regular old noun (like lasagna) or even a compound noun (like stir-fry), and the sentence would still be tickety-boo. Try pulling something like that on the first sentence, though, and you end up with craziness like She can't stand Jody cassoulet. The word that comes after Jody in the first sentence above still has something of the verb about it, and it's never going to change. It's a participle.
 The rule, then? In formal English, any pronoun or noun preceding a gerund must be in possessive form. (And here’s a tip that will work much of the time: When you’re uncertain about whether a word ending in ing and following a pronoun or a noun is a participle or a gerund, ask yourself whether you could insert the infinitive to be after the pronoun or the noun and still have a sentence that sounds fine and makes sense. If the answer is yes, you have a participle, as in We don’t want Jason [to be] working in the evenings. If the answer is no, you have a gerund, as in We’re tired of Jason’s making excuses [the insertion of to be between Jason and making excuses would result in a clumsy-sounding sentence].)
 The rule, however, is widely violated.

The curator, Chris Sharp, privileges analog, often futile gestures, including Josh Smith painting his own name over and over (at Gitlen) and Roman Opalka’s decades-long effort to paint every number from one to infinity (at Cooley). (New Yorker)

Josh Smith, a human being, is not a gesture; his painting his own name over and over is a gesture. Thus the noun Smith needs to be in possessive form.

The curator, Chris Sharp, privileges analog, often futile gestures, including Josh Smith’s painting his own name over and over (at Gitlen). . . .
Mr. Pincus, 45 years old, also came under scrutiny for his role in asking some early employees to renegotiate their stock compensation packages. Some saw the move as undermining Silicon Valley's long-held tradition of young entrepreneurs signing up at start-ups for low salaries but with the hope of an eventual payoff from big equity packages. (Wall Street Journal) [The first sentence needs a hyphen between stock and compensation; see Chapter 86.]

Young entrepreneurs aren’t a “long-held tradition”; what the young entrepreneurs did—namely, their “signing up at start-ups for low salaries but with the hope of an eventual payoff from big equity packages”—is the tradition.

. . . Silicon Valley's long-held tradition of young entrepreneurs’ signing up at start-ups for low salaries. . . .
The conditions determining much of Leonard Cohen’s remarkable productivity over the past decade—namely, his former manager pilfering some $5 million from the 77-year-old’s retirement account—have implied that Cohen’s recent activity stems from necessity. (The Onion’s A.V. Club)

 A former manager obviously isn’t a “condition”; pilfering was the condition, and Cohen’s former manager was responsible for it.

. . . namely, his former manager’s having pilfered some five million dollars from the seventy-seven-year-old’s retirement account. . . .
The elevator was still on the ground floor for the longest time without us noticing. (Rolling Stone)
. . . without our noticing.
The stories and essays I wrote in college were terrible, and the idea of them being published makes me physically ill. (New Republic)
. . . and the idea of their being published makes me physically ill.
Pages that dissatisfied the author, he burned rather than risk them being retrieved from the trash.  (salon.com)
. . . rather than risk their being retrieved from the trash.
Anything one said to them [gossip columnists] was fair game, however innocently it had been shared, since the rules of column-planting were simple: In return for you supplying gossip about other people, the columnist would run your own plug. (Another Life: A Memoir of Other People [Random House], by Michael Korda)
In return for your supplying gossip about other people, the columnist would run your own plug.
In our defense, I doubt God minds us not bothering about Him. (Wall Street Journal)
In our defense, I doubt that God minds our not bothering about Him. [Why has that been added to the sentence? See Chapter 54.]
And while there are nice touches along the way—notably a crosscut sequence in which David tries to get a glimpse of some of his kids without them noticing—the film’s second half crescendos into full-on schmaltz. (Village Voice)
. . . David tries to get a glimpse of some of his kids without their noticing. . . .
Nonetheless, Mrs. White was right about everyone being civil. (Genius in Disguise: Harold Ross of The New Yorker [Carroll & Graf], by Thomas Kunkel)
Nonetheless, Mrs. White was right about everyone’s being civil.
At a time when we're being told that our needs are being met and that sociability is easy to achieve, we need to recognize a more complex truth. This truth involves us being more alone, confiding less, and getting caught up in the wheel of active socializing. (Lonely: A Memoir [Harper], by Emily White)
This truth involves our being more alone. . . .
Aside from the part about him being Robert Kennedy’s assistant in the 1960’s, virtually everything else about the [Wikipedia] entry was false and slanderous. (The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More [Hyperion],by Chris Anderson)
Aside from the part about his being Robert Kennedy’s assistant in the 1960’s. . . .
Following his breakdown early in 1972, family and friends speak frequently of Nick’s withdrawal during his final two years, of him being in a place where they could no longer reach him, of his isolation and inability to communicate. (Nick Drake [Bloomsbury], by Patrick Humphries)
. . . of his being in a place where they could no longer reach him, of his isolation and inability to communicate.
If McGurl is correct that a creative writing program’s vitality depends on it being both of and not of the university system, then an art that seems wholly absorbed by that system is in danger of losing its appeal. (Beautiful & Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry [Harper], by David Orr) [Note that the sentence needs a hyphen between creative and writing; see Chapter 86.]
If McGurl is correct that a creative-writing program’s vitality depends on its being both of and not of the university system, then an art that seems wholly absorbed by that system is in danger of losing its appeal.
Although there’s always the danger of it turning cloying, “With a Song in My Heart” remains a marvelous piece of work. (A Ship Without a Sail: The Life of Lorenz Hart [Simon & Schuster], by Gary Marmorstein)
Although there’s always the danger of its turning cloying. . . .
The upshot was that she agreed to produce a novel in time to head Viking’s spring 1930 list, an astonishing promise for someone who spent three or four months on a short story, but she was counting on it being possible if she went abroad again. (Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This? [Penguin], by Marion Meade)
. . . but she was counting on its being possible if she went abroad again.
The case for [Henry] James having been homosexual is built around two items. (Wall Street Journal)
The case for James’s having been homosexual is built around two items.
Maps in the Newberry exhibition demonstrate that Ptolemy's geography arguably may have been responsible for Native Americans being known as Indians. (Wall Street Journal)
. . . may have been responsible for Native Americans’ being known as Indians.
Everybody around us seemed to be thinking if it weren’t for John being with me, the Beatles would get back together again. (Rolling Stone)
. . . if it weren’t for John’s being with me. . . .
They [the authors] talk of the possibility of a video game player becoming “desensitized to reality and real-life interactions with others,” but the authors don’t provide evidence of this happening—aside from extreme anecdotes like that of a video-game-playing mass murderer. (salon.com)
They talk of the possibility of a video-game player’s becoming “desensitized to reality and real-life interactions with others,” but the authors don’t provide evidence. . . .
Much of the pain at TSA checkpoints these days can be attributed to passengers overstuffing their carry-on luggage to avoid baggage fees. (Wall Street Journal)
Much of the pain at TSA checkpoints these days can be attributed to passengers’ overstuffing their carry-on luggage to avoid baggage fees.
Tiny Furniture’s success led to Dunham getting her own HBO series, Girls, in 2012. (New Republic)
Tiny Furniture’s success led to Dunham’s getting her own HBO series, Girls, in 2012.
I was totally converted to the principle of women joining gentlemen’s clubs when I paid my first visit to the Century’s tiny members-only bar. (Some Times in America and a Life in a Year at the New Yorker, [Carroll & Graf], by Alexander Chancellor)
I was totally converted to the principle of women’s joining gentlemen’s clubs. . . .
Target dropping the Kindle, of course, won’t stop Amazon shoppers from checking out other products at Target, but analysts said it would send a message to Amazon about Target’s alliances. (New York Times)
Target’s dropping the Kindle. . . .
The scientists convincingly argued that the advantages of Mr. Pistorius using his Cheetah blades were offset by the disadvantages of being a double amputee. (Wall Street Journal)
The scientists convincingly argued that the advantages of Mr. Pistorius’s using his Cheetah blades were offset. . . .
“Groupon forces you upfront to purchase the deal,” Mr. Culbert said, adding that many customers who use such sites have no intention of becoming repeat customers. The combination of fervent deal-seeking and a lack of loyalty has contributed to many small businesses getting bad reviews on Web sites like Yelp when customers have a mediocre experience after a daily deal event, he said. (New York Times)
The combination of fervent deal-seeking and a lack of loyalty has contributed to many small businesses’ getting bad reviews. . . .
The parallel dramas underline the universal theme of primal jealousy, as fathers confront the prospect of their sons superseding them. (New York Times)
. . . as fathers confront the prospect of their sons’ superseding them.

The following excerpts were published without the possessive-forming apostrophe and s, which have been bracketed and boldfaced.

One of the results of everyone[’s] sharing the same literary-intellectual-commercial space was that serious negative criticism—there had always been the brisk negative newspaper review—could, for the first time, have real-life consequences. (New Yorker’s Page-Turner blog)
You can probably picture it in your head: [Tom] Cruise, dressed in head-to-toe black, looming over a cowering Oprah as he jumps like a toddler throwing a tantrum. Cruise[’s] bouncing on that couch is one of the touchstones of the last decade, the punch line every time someone writes about his career. (Village Voice)
If Morgan resisted Bob[’s] becoming “engulfed in domesticity” with May, it was because he himself desired to set up housekeeping with his beloved. (A Great Unrecorded History: A New Life of E. M. Forster [Farrar, Straus and Giroux],by Wendy Moffat)
Beck did not have to wait long to find things to hate about the new Democratic administration. Within moments of President Obama[’s] taking the oath of office on January 20, Beck already had a list. (Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance [Wiley], by Alexander Zaitchik)
Bobby Womack is the veteran soul singer who wrote, and with his group The Valentinos recorded, the original version of It’s All Over Now, which gave the Stones their first number one hit in Britain in 1964. Womack once recalled his chagrin at his mentor Sam Cooke[’s] giving the Stones his song, and depriving him of having the hit himself. (telegraph.co.uk)
Mrs. Grenen contends that, since boys' opportunities have not been limited and field hockey is a sport in which contact happens quite often, boys[’] playing girls’ field hockey is a violation of Title IX. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
The F.A.A. said it had no record of a pilot[’s] being locked out of the flight deck by a first officer. (New York Times)
A price war between Amazon and Overstock.com, another online retailer, that flared up last month resulted in print books[’] being discounted even more steeply than usual—sometimes close to 60 percent—a price cut that a small bookstore cannot match. (New York Times)
A sentence with an error of the sort discussed in this chapter can usually be rephrased to avoid the need for a possessive form.
There is no record of Going Up ever having been produced. (A Ship Without a Sail: The Life of Lorenz Hart [Simon & Schuster], by Gary Marmorstein)
There is no record that Going Up has ever been produced.
Despite the album being regarded as a document of the band’s raw power, Lou Reed said it didn’t capture just how powerful the band really was. (Seeing the Light: Inside the Velvet Underground [St. Martin’s],by Rob Jovanovic)
Even though the album was being regarded as a document of the band’s raw power, Lou Reed said it didn’t capture just how powerful the band really was.
Failing to convert a noun preceding a gerund to possessive form occasionally results in a sentence that appears to suffer from an error in subject-verb agreement. In the following sentence, firms, rather than charging, might at first seem to be the subject of is. (In its present, ungrammatical form, the sentence, with its assertion that firms . . . is not always a good idea, suffers from faulty predication as well [see Chapter 45], not to mention a misplaced modifier [see Chapter 22].)
The point of this section is that firms charging for everything they sell, at least directly, is not always a good idea. (Why Popcorn Costs So Much at the Movies, and Other Pricing Puzzles [Copernicus], by Richard B. McKenzie)   
The point of this section is that firms’ charging for everything they sell, at least directly, is not always a good idea. OR: The point of this section is that it is not always a good idea for firms to charge for everything they sell.
When taking pains to ensure that a possessive pronoun precedes a gerund, you’ll never have to worry about the feminine pronoun her—because its possessive-pronoun form is identical to its objective-pronoun form (It’s her problem; I gave it to her). As we have seen, though, problems often arise with us vs. our, him vs. his, them vs. their, and it vs. its.
An adverb, rather than an adjective, sometimes appears ungrammatically before a gerund that a writer has mistaken for a participle, as in the second instance of a noun (Capote) that requires conversion to the possessive form before the gerund (dismissing) in the following sentence.  
The literary history of the typewriter has its well-established milestones, from Mark Twain producing the first typewritten manuscript with “Life on the Mississippi” to Truman Capote famously dismissing Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” pounded out on a 120-foot scroll, with the quip “That’s not writing, that’s typing.” (New York Times)

Mark Twain and Truman Capote obviously weren’t milestones; they were people—writers. The milestones were actions that two writers are remembered for, and the details about those actions have been provided in gerund phrases.

. . . from Mark Twain’s producing the first typewritten manuscript, with Life on the Mississippi, to Truman Capote’s famous dismissing of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, pounded out on a 120-foot scroll. . . . OR [substituting nouns for the gerunds]: . . . from Mark Twain’s production of the first typewritten manuscript, with Life on the Mississippi, to Truman Capote’s famous dismissal of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, pounded out on a 120-foot scroll. . . .
Gold’s relative uselessness has helped spur talk of a bubble. The problem for regulators is whether this speculation is natural, prudent hedging or people irrationally piling ever more into a bubbly asset. (New York Times)
. . . or the result of people’s irrational piling of ever more cash into a bubbly asset.

  ^^   45 

Fault Lines
 

A clause is a stretch of words divided into two zones: the subject and the predicate. The subject zone has a noun or a pronoun as its most prominent feature, and that noun or pronoun can’t wait to become the talk of the entire clause. Across the border in the predicate zone is a verb itching to reveal something important about the subject. In a structurally sound clause, there’s a smooth verbal surface ranging all the way from the start of the subject zone to the far end of the predicate zone, and it’s only by the joltless traversing of that surface that a clear statement gets itself made. But sometimes an earthquake of sorts strikes a clause, fracturing it right down the middle. The upheaval leaves the subject and the predicate on opposite sides of a fault line—and so out of alignment with each other that the two no longer make any sense together at all. The site of this rupture is the site of what grammarians call faulty predication. It will take some major reconstruction to ensure that the subject and the predicate interconnect seamlessly.

[about Tysons (formerly Tysons Corner), Virginia] If the timetable holds, as early as this summer the nighttime population of just 17,000, with 105,000 daytime workers, may begin to transform into a livable, walkable city, predicted to have 100,000 residents and 200,000 workers by 2050. (New York Times)

The subject-predicate misalignment is the nighttime population . . . may begin to transform into a livable, walkable city.

If the timetable holds, as early as this summer the suburb, with 105,000 daytime workers but a nighttime population of just 17,000, may begin to transform into a livable, walkable city, predicted to have 100,000 residents and 200,000 workers by 2050.

In the example above, the faulty predication weakened an independent clause, but faulty predication can also incapacitate a dependent clause.

A nearby display demonstrates that the old idea of the apatosaurus having a long neck in order to reach up to eat from the tops of trees, giraffe style, wasn’t physically possible. (New Yorker)

The subject-predicate misalignment in the nounal dependent clause is the old idea . . . wasn’t physically possible.

A nearby display refutes the old notion that it was physically possible for the apatosaurus, even with its long neck, to reach up to eat from the tops of trees, giraffe-style.
But where Mr. [Nicolson] Baker has made his reputation is in the field of fiction, where his joy of writing explicit sex scenes that could pass for pornography have been published by his mainstream publishers. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

The subject-predicate misalignment is his joy . . . have been published. (There’s an error in subject-verb agreement as well.)

But Mr. Baker has made his reputation in the field of fiction, where his joyfully written explicit sex scenes that could pass for pornography have been published by his mainstream publishers.
In the San Francisco Bay area, the daily number of cars driving across the Golden Gate Bridge has dropped while passengers on the buses and ferries have risen. (New York Times)

In the sentence-ending adverbial dependent clause, the subject-predicate misalignment is passengers . . . have risen.

. . . while the number of passengers on the buses and ferries has risen. OR: . . . while that of passengers on the buses and ferries has risen.
Much prose writing exerts itself trying to be dutifully good—offering the reader plot-points, sentence-thrills, insights and ideas. Tao Lin doesn't bother too much with that sort of malarkey, having presumably realised from all his hours spent on Tumblr, Twitter, Gmail and Gawker that merely recording his own impulses and inclinations might themselves become the matter of art. (guardian.co.uk)

The subject-predicate misalignment in the nounal dependent clause is recording . . . might themselves become the matter of art.

. . . that his own impulses and inclinations, once merely recorded, might themselves become the matter of art.
[Michael] Jackson's peak earning years were $125 million in 1988 and $118 million in 1995, but he was too crazed and mercurial to sustain that level. (Wall Street Journal)

The subject-predicate misalignment is peak earning years were $125 million . . . and $118 million. . . .

Jackson's peak earning years were 1988 ($125 million) and 1995 ($118 million). . . .
Since Lennon experimented obsessively with vocal sounds throughout his career, guessing why he chose a particular technique in a given song is bound to be speculative. (Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties [Henry Holt], by Ian MacDonald)

 The subject-predicate misalignment is the redundant phrasing guessing . . . is bound to be speculative.

Since Lennon experimented obsessively with vocal sounds throughout his career, a listener can only speculate about why he chose a particular technique in a given song.
We also asked Yoko to tell us about the final hours of John’s life. Her reminiscence, “John’s Last Days,” is the first time she has written about that period, discussing everything from the making of Double Fantasy to their final intimate moments together. (Rolling Stone)

The subject-predicate misalignment is reminiscence [i.e., the piece she has written] . . . is the first time.

Her reminiscence, “John’s Last Days,” is the first account she has written of that period. . . . OR: “John’s Last Days” is her first reminiscence in print about that period. . . .
Whitney said the combination of declining enrollment, a shrinking pool of traditional high school-age students in the region and an 18 percent decline in state subsidies since 2010 combined to make an $8 million budget deficit that would increase to $12 million by 2015, absent major changes. (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

The subject-predicate misalignment is the combination . . . combined.

Whitney said that declining enrollment, a shrinking pool of traditional high-school-age students in the region, and an eighteen-percent decline in state subsidies since 2010 combined to make an eight-million-dollar budget deficit that would increase to twelve million by 2015, absent major changes.
It is ironic that one of the best examples of a well-funded and well-executed public bathroom program, one that would make British Toilet Association members sigh with envy, has happened in a country better known for toilet standards that are more execrable than exemplary. (The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters [Picador], by Rose George)

Programs don’t just happen.

It is ironic that one of the best examples of a well-funded and well-executed public-bathroom program, one that would make British Toilet Association members sigh with envy, was developed in a country better known for toilet standards that are more execrable than exemplary.
A male teacher working with a young female student is the most familiar, most common, and not the least compelling situation. (New Yorker’s Page-Turner blog)

The subject-predicate misalignment is teacher . . . is the most familiar . . . situation.

The most familiar, the most common, and not the least compelling situation is that in which a male teacher is working with a young female student. OR: The situation in which a male teacher is working with a young female student is the most familiar, the most common, and not the least compelling.  
Then there's Edmund White's idiosyncratic and autobiographical trilogy whose first volume, A Boy's Own Story, was set in the fifties, continued through the sixties in The Beautiful Room Is Empty, and is set to deal with post-Stonewall and post-AIDS gay life in The Farewell Symphony, due out sometime in 1996. (Hatchet Jobs: Writings on Contemporary Fiction [The New Press], by Dale Peck)

The sentence begins to fall apart with the misalignment whose first volume . . . continued through the sixties in The Beautiful Room Is Empty.

Then there's Edmund White's idiosyncratic and autobiographical trilogy, whose first volume, A Boy's Own Story, was set in the fifties; whose second volume, The Beautiful Room Is Empty, continued through the sixties; and whose final volume, The Farewell Symphony, due out sometime in 1996, is set to deal with post-Stonewall and post-AIDS gay life. OR: Then there's Edmund White's idiosyncratic and autobiographical trilogy: A Boy's Own Story, set in the fifties; The Beautiful Room Is Empty, continuing through the sixties;and The Farewell Symphony, due out sometime in 1996 and set to deal with post-Stonewall and post-AIDS gay life.  
Nokia said 3,700 of the planned 10,000 job [sic] to be cut would take place in Finland. (New York Times)
Nokia said 3,700 of the planned 10,000 job cuts would be in Finland.
Battery life has been a common complaint of iPhone 5 owners. (New York Times)
Short battery life has been a common complaint of iPhone 5 owners.
Service remains one of the most common complaints about Pittsburgh restaurants. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
Poor service remains one of the most common complaints about Pittsburgh restaurants.
Ms. Barnhouse is the stickler for excellent service, as Lola [Bistro] is among the more polished experiences I've had in a Pittsburgh casual restaurant.  (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
. . . dining at Lola was among the most polished experiences. . . .
Over the years, their long, idle chats ranged from lampshades to mutual friends Cécile and Cecil to spiritualism. (Garbo: A Biography [Knopf], by Barry Paris)
Over the years, the topics of their long, idle chats ranged from lampshades to mutual friends Cécile and Cecil and to spiritualism.
The twenty-seven feature films Garbo is always said to have made should really be twenty-eight: Anna Christie was such a hit that MGM decided to remake it in German. (Garbo: A Biography [Knopf], by Barry Paris)
Garbo is always said to have made twenty-seven feature films, but a more accurate tallying would bring the total to twenty-eight: Anna Christie was such a hit that MGM decided to remake it in German.
Being a pilot is a unique working environment. You’re stuck with someone one on one, mostly in a tiny room, for days on end. (New York Times)
Being a pilot puts you in a unique working environment. [Or substitute places or situates for puts.]

Faulty predication is especially likely to imperil a sentence with a compound predicate. By the time the writer begins to compose the second verb phrase of the predicate, she may have forgotten the subject of the first verb phrase.

Even better for VH1: the primetime audience has ballooned by more than 50 percent over the past four years to about 621,000 viewers last year, and is now ranked as the 27th most-watched cable network. (New York Post)

The subject-predicate misalignment is the primetime audience . . . is now ranked as the 27th most-watched cable network.  

Even better for VH1: the prime-time audience has ballooned by more than fifty percent over the past four years, to about 621,000 viewers last year, and VH1 is now ranked as the twenty-seventh most-watched cable network.
Their initial rent for 2,000 square feet was $2,600 a month and is now $4,000, plus town property taxes of $9,000 to $10,000 a year, he said. (New York Times)

The subject-predicate misalignment is Their initial rent . . . is now $4,000.

Their rent for 2,000 square feet was initially $2,600 a month and is now $4,000, plus town property taxes of $9,000 to $10,000 a year, he said.
[from an article about Hillary Clinton’s lucrative career of making speeches after resigning from her position as Secretary of State] But joining what is known in Washington as the buckraking circuit carries risks for Mrs. Clinton, who prides herself on a long career in public office and could be diminished by the free-flowing money as she considers a run for president in 2016. (New York Times) [The sentence also suffers from asymmetrical punctuation: a comma must follow office (see Chapter 80).]

The subject-predicate misalignment is But joining what is known in Washington as the buckraking circuit . . . could be diminished by the free-flowing money as she considers a run for president in 2016.
 The question is what, in fact, could be diminished by the free-flowing money?

But joining what is known in Washington as the buckraking circuit carries risks for Mrs. Clinton, who prides herself on a long career in public office. The free-flowing money could diminish her prospects for a presidential run in 2016, which she is considering. 
On the contrary, she adored, admired, and envied Helen, whose undisputed good looks and popularity seemed to embody ideal womanhood, a model that Dorothy aspired to copy but secretly feared a useless endeavor. (Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This? [Penguin], by Marion Meade)

The troublesome compound predicate here is aspired to copy but secretly feared a useless endeavor.

On the contrary, she adored, admired, and envied Helen, whose undisputed good looks and popularity seemed to embody ideal womanhood, a model that Dorothy aspired to copy, though she secretly feared that the endeavor would be useless.

Faulty predication also wrecks sentences in which a writer resorts to the construction X is when or X is where. A sentence beginning with, say, Anxiety is when . . . or Anxiety is where . . . is getting off to an illogical as well as an ungrammatical start, because anxiety isn’t an event or a place. As subordinating conjunctions, when and where signal the beginning of adverbial dependent clauses. An adverbial dependent clause can never serve as the complement of a linking verb (also known as an equational verb), such as is. The complement needs to function either as a noun or as an adjective.

What makes the digital street [i.e, the online world] safe is when teens and adults collectively agree to open their eyes and pay attention, communicate and collaboratively negotiate difficult situations. (Time)
What makes the digital street safe is the collective agreement of teens and adults to open their eyes and pay attention, communicate, and collaboratively negotiate difficult situations. OR: Teens and adults can make the digital street safe by collectively agreeing to open their eyes and pay attention, communicate, and collaboratively negotiate difficult situations. OR: To make the digital street safe, teens and adults can together agree to open their eyes and pay attention, communicate, and collaboratively negotiate difficult situations.   
An [e-mail] in-box is often more than just a place to look at messages. It can be a to-do list too. The most basic version of this is when people e-mail themselves with a reminder or task. (New York Times)

The misalignment is in the third sentence: version . . . is when.

You can simply e-mail yourself a reminder to complete a task.
The only radio he listens to is when his parents turn on NPR in the car. (The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More [Hyperion], by Chris Anderson)
The only radio network he listens to is NPR, when his parents turn it on in the car.
A gaffe, said Michael Kinsley, is when a politician blurts out an impermissible truth, then hastily recants lest he cripple his career. (Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025? [Thomas Dunne Books], by Patrick J. Buchanan)
A politician commits a gaffe, said Michael Kinsley, when he blurts out an impermissible truth, then hastily recants lest he cripple his career. OR: A gaffe, said Michael Kinsley, is the blunder by which a politician blurts out an impermissible truth, then hastily recants lest he cripple his career.

Similarly, the common phrasing the reason . . . is because is faulty—for two reasons. First, the subordinating conjunction because marks the beginning of an adverbial dependent clause, and, again, such a clause cannot serve as the complement of a linking verb. Second, the phrasing the reason . . . is because is redundant: the noun reason clearly announces that the cause of something will be specified.

The reason that we don’t, at first, notice how carefully Flaubert is selecting his details is because Flaubert is working very hard to obscure this labor from us, and is keen to hide the question of who is doing all this noticing: Flaubert or Frédéric? (How Fiction Works [Farrar, Straus and Giroux], by James Wood)
The reason we don’t, at first, notice how carefully Flaubert is selecting his details is that Flaubert is working very hard. . . . [A nounal dependent clause (that Flaubert is working very hard to obscure this labor from us. . .), which functions as a noun and can therefore serve as a complement, has been substituted for the adverbial dependent clause.] OR: We don’t, at first, notice how carefully Flaubert is selecting his details, because Flaubert is working very hard to obscure this labor from us. . . .
The article neglects to note that perhaps the reason Salinger didn’t match Dunham’s precocious output was because his early twenties were interrupted by something known as World War II (it was in all the papers), during which the future novelist was drafted, landed ashore at Utah Beach on D-Day, took part in the Battle of the Bulge and the Battle of Hurtgen Forest, interrogated prisoners of war as a member of the counter-intelligence division, and bore witness to one of the newly liberated concentration camps, a sub-camp of Dachau; after the war, Salinger entered a mental hospital, suffering from what today would be designated post-traumatic stress disorder. So the guy was busy.  (New Republic)
The article neglects to note that perhaps the reason Salinger didn’t match Dunham’s precocious output was that his early twenties were interrupted by something known as World War II. . . .
Because he more or less makes stuff up, Mr. Bowien is free to hallucinate dishes like kung pao pastrami, with a riotously smoky housemade pastrami. It’s laughably inauthentic, but the only reason you laugh while eating is because you can’t believe how well it plays out. (New York Times)
It’s laughably inauthentic, but the only reason you laugh while eating is that you can’t believe how well it plays out. OR: It’s laughably inauthentic, but you laugh while eating only because you can’t believe how well it plays out.
Still, he said, the main reason Mr. [James Earl] Jones was cast is because he’s “a great American actor.” (New York Times)
Still, he said, the main reason Mr. Jones was cast is that he’s “a great American actor.” OR: Still, he said, Mr. Jones was cast mainly because he’s “a great American actor.”
The late New Yorker journalist Joseph Mitchell (Joe Gould’s Secret, Up in the Old Hotel) once explained that the reason he gave up doing human-interest stories was because over time his interviewees stopped talking like individuals with their own unique vernacular and started imitating the characters they heard on TV. (Attack Poodles and Other Media Mutants: The Looting of the News in a Time of Terror [Miramax Books],by James Wolcott)
. . . explained that the reason he gave up doing human-interest stories was that over time his interviewees stopped talking like individuals . . . . OR: . . . explained that he gave up doing human-interest stories because over time his interviewees stopped talking like individuals . . . .
I imagine that the reason powerful women have fewer [extramarital] affairs is because they don't dare to, not yet. (Wall Street Journal)
I imagine that the reason powerful women have fewer affairs is that they don't dare to—yet.
Part of the reason brunch is often such a mediocre meal is because the people cooking it are miserable about being there (as vividly articulated by Anthony Bourdain in “Kitchen Confidential”). (New York Times)
Part of the reason brunch is often such a mediocre meal is that the people cooking it are miserable. . . . OR: Brunch is often such a mediocre meal partly because the people cooking it are miserable. . . .

  ^^   46 

Elliptical Workouts
 

There’s a shortcut we’re free to take in some of our sentences. We can get away with not repeating a word or a phrase if we’re entirely confident that attentive readers can easily restore the omitted verbal matter by mentally dragging it forward from its position earlier in the sentence (or from the final stretch of the preceding sentence).
 In the sentence The portions are generous, the prices reasonable, and the servers cheerful, there’s no need for the writer to repeat the verb are after prices and after servers. The reader can fill in the blanks, so to speak, with no trouble.
 Elliptical construction is the grammatical term for phrasing in which one or more words have intentionally been left out. An elliptical construction succeeds only if whatever has been omitted from a later segment of a sentence is present earlier (and within a reasonable distance) in exactly the same form in which it’s needed later on. If the earlier word or words won’t fit snugly into any of the slots they need to occupy farther along in the sentence, the elliptical construction has failed.

The colors are effulgent, the textures fleshy, the touch urgent. (New Yorker)

In the sentence above, from the review of an art-gallery show, the writer expects the reader to do the grunt work of singularizing the explicit, plural verb are so that there’s no discord in subject-verb agreement following touch. But why not spare the reader the labor and pluralize the third noun in the series?

The colors are effulgent, the textures fleshy, the brushstrokes urgent.

Slipshod elliptical constructions are jarring instead of soothing. They force a reader to make mental readjustments in one or more segments of a sentence. A reader should not have to pluck words out of thin air to round out a writer’s phrasing.
 Contrast the following two sentences from one page of an article in The New Yorker.

[about a restaurant] My beets were crisp and fresh, the hummus creamy, the salmon like butter in my mouth.
[about a hospital] Our costs are soaring, the service is typically mediocre, and the quality is unreliable.  

Both sentences have a trio of subjects—the first is plural; the second and third are singular—but in the first sentence, the writer is content to let the reader mentally singularize the verb for the second and third subjects; and in the second sentence, the writer goes ahead and singularizes the verbs himself. The result is that the second sentence goes down easier than the first. Not even for a nanosecond does a reader register any dissonance.
 In the next excerpt, a book reviewer is taking inventory of an author’s tritenesses.

Throughout “The Frackers,” feet are dragged, new leaves turned over, jaws dropped, wounds licked, torches passed, fences swung for, wrenches thrown, noses paid through, hardball played, helms taken, cats let out of bags, sunsets ridden into. (New York Times)

 The plural verb are, spelled out in the first item in the list, works perfectly for every subsequent item in the twelve-item series except the ninth: hardball played. The reviewer could either delete hardball played (the only item calling for a singular verb) or expand the phrasing into games of hardball played.
 Many flubbed elliptical constructions, as you’ve noticed, require a reader to convert into plural form a singular verb that appears earlier in the sentence—or vice versa.

The lighting in “Mommie Dearest” is overbright, the sets astonishingly ugly. (New Yorker)
The lighting in Mommie Dearest is overbright, every set astonishingly ugly.
But Lai’s beefy face is hard, his eyes fiercely alert. (Wired)
But Lai’s beefy face is hard, his stare fiercely alert.
The school was closed, its parking lot largely empty and its doors locked. (New York Times)
The school was closed, its parking lot largely empty, and every door locked.
[from a restaurant review] The servers are quirky but friendly, the look rustic. (New York Times)
The service is quirky but friendly, the look rustic.
The assumption was that servants could not appreciate comfort and that too much liberty would spoil them, so their quarters were sparsely furnished and often unheated, their clothing utilitarian, their time off severely restricted. (Wall Street Journal)
The assumption was that servants could not appreciate comfort and that too much liberty would spoil them, so their quarters were sparsely furnished and often unheated, their clothes utilitarian, their hours off severely restricted.
Yes, her hygiene is questionable and her manners less than polished, but she is otherwise a role model, her brash sexual and professional self-confidence a perpetual rebuke to the insecurity that lurks behind Ashburn’s buttoned-up competitiveness. (New York Times)
Yes, her hygiene is questionable and her manners are less than polished. . . . OR: Yes, her hygiene is questionable and her etiquette less than polished. . . .
Still—while the service was fast, the dining room clean and the paper towel napkins plentiful—Big Fat Greek Gyro's signature item could use a bit of work.  (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
. . . while the service was fast, the dining room clean, and the supply of paper-towel napkins generous. . . .
Sentence structure was his passion, commas and semicolons his obsessions, H. W. Fowler’s Modern English Usage his bible. (Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin [Harcourt],by Marion Meade)
Sentence structure was his passion, the precise use of commas and semicolons his obsession, H. W. Fowler’s Modern English Usage his bible. OR: Sentence structure was his passion, precision with commas and semicolons his obsession, H. W. Fowler’s Modern English Usage his bible.
Her face was an improbable dark tan, her lips a glossy bloodred, and her spiked eyelashes, striking on TV, were truly alarming close up. (Another Life: A Memoir of Other People [Random House], by Michael Korda)
Her face was an improbable dark tan, her lips were a glossy bloodred, and her spiked eyelashes, striking on TV, were truly alarming close-up.
Salaries were minimal, the newsprint was cheap, the offices at 57th and Broadway were cramped and the furniture secondhand. (Book Business: Publishing Past, Present, and Future [W. W. Norton], by Jason Epstein)
Salaries were minimal, the newsprint was cheap, the offices at 57th and Broadway were cramped, and the furniture was secondhand. OR: Salaries were minimal, the newsprint was cheap, and the offices at 57th and Broadway were cramped, with secondhand furniture. OR: Salaries were minimal, the newsprint was cheap, and the offices at 57th and Broadway, with their secondhand furniture, were cramped.

Following are more examples of dishevelled elliptical sentences presenting a pair or a series in which the singularity or plurality of one or more implied verbs clashes with the singularity or plurality of an earlier explicit verb. Each sentence causes a reader undue misery.

Louise was true to her vow and her desire for renewed cloistering; her forays outside were fewer, her solitude greater. (Louise Brooks [Knopf], by Barry Paris)
The sacred mixes with the profane, the new with the old, science with spirituality, sentiment with suspicion, birds with aquariums, bunnies with spaceships. (New Republic)
Plates are paper, flatware disposable (if provided at all), water served in plastic cups. (New York Times)
The lights are gentler, the room more handsome, the tables less cramped. (New York Times)
Duddell’s, which opened in May, is tucked inconspicuously onto the third and fourth floors of a commercial building. Its polished woods evoke a boardroom, its gorgeous ink paintings an art gallery, its outdoor terrace a small urban park. (New York Times)
Consider: Soba noodles are prized for their delicacy, ramen broth for its hearty, salty, head-filling intensity. (New York Times)
Testes are small, sperm count low, mating infrequent. (Wall Street Journal)

A second type of faulty elliptical construction demands more of a reader or an editor than resolving inconsistencies in singularity or plurality. Have a look at a headline from The New York Times.

A Fraud,
Though
Easy to Spot,
Was Not

What the writer means is that the fraud had in fact not been spotted. But the reader can’t carry forward spot to the empty slot after not without doing syntactic damage to the sentence.  The final line, though, could be rephrased as Was Not Caught or Went Uncaught, and the playful rhyme would be retained.
 Now consider this online headline, also from The New York Times:

Iowa, the Early Decider, Still Hasn’t

Clever, yes, but should the reader be expected to turn decider into decided?
 The third sentence of the following excerpt is sure to knock readers for a loop.

[second paragraph of article] But with revenue up 22 percent, Amazon showed that it could still deliver the sales growth demanded by investors, who have lifted the company’s stock 21 percent this year. So far, those demands do not include an insistence on big profits. [third paragraph] Until it does, Amazon seems content to pour money into initiatives aimed at gobbling up an increasing share of spending by consumers. (New York Times)

A reader can’t help wondering, Until it does what? Reaching back to the preceding sentence, the reader looks for phrasing that can interlock with does, but nothing quite fits. The phrasing include an insistence on big profits might at first seem to mesh. The trouble, though, is that its subject is demands, and the pronominal subject of the elliptical adverbial dependent clause, it, has Amazon as its antecedent. If the reader hasn’t already given up, she might reach back even farther, into the first sentence of the preceding paragraph, and conclude that the writer probably intended the reader to supply deliver the sales growth demanded by investors after does. Not only is the writer asking far too much of a reader to carry forward phrasing that is more than one sentence removed from the elliptical construction, though, but the final sentence still won’t make sense, because Amazon already is delivering the sales growth demanded by investors. The reader has thus been given another opportunity to bail out. But if she’s persistent, she might conclude that there’s absolutely no phrasing in the previous two sentences that will dovetail with does and that what the writer probably meant to say in the final sentence was Until it can show a sizable profit, Amazon seems content to pour money into initiatives aimed at gobbling up an increasing share of spending by consumers.
 Some faulty-elliptical constructions are brain-teasers. A reader is burdened with reworking a sentence until all of its parts interlock cleanly.

[about one of Nero’s attempts to murder his mother] But just about everything that should have gone wrong didn’t. (New Yorker
But just about everything that could have been predicted to go wrong didn’t. OR: But just about everything that one would expect to go wrong didn’t.
Prescription drug abusers can, and are, breaking into homes in search of them. (New York Times)
Prescription-drug abusers can, and do, break into homes in search of a fix.
Mr. Manilow was still recovering from the flu, which had caused him to cancel several preview performances, and the front of the stage was lined with boxes of tissue in case he needed them. (He didn’t.) (New York Times)
. . . the front of the stage was lined with boxes of tissues in case he might need them. (He didn’t.)
Doesn't science “bake bread” (not to mention make money) in a way that philosophy never has? (The Atlantic)
Replace has with does, can, or will. OR: Hasn’t science “baked bread” (not to mention made money) in a way that philosophy never has?
In fact, the photographer hasn't uttered a single word. She doesn't need to. (Wall Street Journal)
In fact, the photographer has yet to utter a single word. She doesn’t need to.
But no matter how good the dish, Sedgwick remains powerfully unknowable. This remains true even after reading the book 15 or more times, as I have. (Wall Street Journal)
This remains true even after one has read the book fifteen or more times, as I have.
It appears to be no part of GM's strategy to defend itself by saying, as this column has, that the Cobalt switch miscue was sui generis—a case of man-bites-dog in a company where on most days the dogs did the biting. (Wall Street Journal)
It appears to be no part of GM's strategy to defend itself by saying, as this column has said, that the Cobalt switch miscue was sui generis. . . .
We live in a polarized age. We have for a while. (Wall Street Journal)
We’re living in a polarized age. We have been for a while.
They [coupons] can, and have been used, for market research, to assess the price sensitivity of buyers in different parts of the country (by sending out coupons with different dollar values to different groups of buyers), to determine how “deal prone” different consumer groups are, to determine the appropriate prices firms should charge in the future and to induce trials and repeat customer business. (Why Popcorn Costs So Much at the Movies, and Other Pricing Puzzles [Copernicus], by Richard B. McKenzie) [The sentence is also weakened by a dangling modifier, faulty parallelism, the mispunctuation of an interruptive element, and the absence of a necessary hyphen; see Chapters 20, 41, 80, and 86.]
They can be, and have been, used for market research. . . . OR: They have been, and still are, used for market research. . . . OR: They continue to be used for market research. . . .
Fresh & Easy never has, and never will, use the ammonia-treated filler known as “pink slime” in its ground beef. (from a press release, quoted in Wall Street Journal)
Fresh & Easy has never used, and never will use, the ammonia-treated filler known as “pink slime” in its ground beef.
[Offensive tackle] Corey Hilliard never has and never will think of himself as a backup. (Detroit News)
Corey Hilliard never was and never will be a player who thinks of himself as a backup.
This scandal won’t go away as others have, because all America is united in this thought: We care about our military veterans. (Wall Street Journal)
This scandal won’t go away as others did. . . .
For now when you watch Mr. Beal, as you could have on Sunday night at Mercury Lounge, you are watching a back story as much as a performance, especially because the back story is so much louder. (New York Times)
For now when you watch Mr. Beal, as you had the chance to on Sunday night at Mercury Lounge, you are watching a backstory as much as a performance, especially because the backstory is so much louder.
He published the books that nobody else would, because they were too risqué or too avant-garde (often that meant the same thing) or too unprofitable, and his imprint, Grove Press, quickly became a badge of coolness and sophistication. (New York Times)
He published the books that nobody else would touch. . . .
When I read Diane Williams’s best stories I feel, as she must have when she completed them, exuberant. (New Yorker’s Page-Turner blog)
When I read Diane Williams’s best stories I feel, as she must have felt when completing them, exuberant.  OR: When I read Diane Williams’s best stories, I feel the same way she must have felt when completing them: exuberant. OR: When I read Diane Williams’s best stories, I feel as exuberant as she must have felt when completing them.
"To be an American," Moody writes in one of the few syntactically lucid sentences in the book (unfortunately, it's also the third to last), "to be a citizen of the West, is to be a murderer." (Hatchet Jobs: Writings on Contemporary Fiction [The New Press], by Dale Peck)
"To be an American," Moody writes in uncharacteristically lucid syntax (the sentence, unfortunately, is the third-to-last in the book), "to be a citizen of the West, is to be a murderer."  
What you get is nearly 300 pages of dry academic exegesis of old Monty Python gags larded with a few new gags from our authors. Amusing it isn't—which means that it's guaranteed not to help people hitherto unamused by the show to suddenly find themselves enthralled. [new paragraph] But how could it have? You can't, after all, be taught to appreciate a joke. (Wall Street Journal)
Amusing it isn't—which means that it’s not guaranteed to be of any help to people hitherto unamused by the show yet possibly susceptible to sudden enthrallment.  [new paragraph] But how could it be? You can't, after all, be taught to appreciate a joke.
Their different approaches to their craft are among the things that suggest that these two strangers will not be hopping into bed anytime soon. (Spoiler alert: They do, repeatedly.) (New York Times)
Their different approaches to their craft are among the things that suggest that these two strangers are not likely to hop into bed anytime soon. (Spoiler alert: They do, repeatedly.) (New York Times)
[end of one paragraph] There’s a touch of screwball to the setup, and at times, the movie seems on the verge of becoming a fresh contemporary gloss on what the philosopher Stanley Cavell calls the comedy of remarriage. [beginning of next paragraph] It doesn’t, partly because the direction, the situation, the characters and their problems are too conventional (the cheating husband, the angry wife) to reinvent anything. (New York Times
[end of one paragraph] . . . and, at times, the movie seems as if it’s about to turn into a fresh contemporary gloss on what the philosopher Stanley Cavell calls the comedy of remarriage. [beginning of next paragraph] It doesn’t, though, partly because the direction, the situation, the characters, and their problems are too conventional (the cheating husband, the angry wife) to reinvent anything. 
[one paragraph] Shyp follows in the path of Uber, Lyft, Postmates, Instacart and other local logistics services that use smartphones to connect workers and customers in a dense metropolis. Kevin Gibbon, the firm’s co-founder and chief executive, said he was considering expanding to places beyond San Francisco soon. [beginning of next paragraph] He might have to. (New York Times)
[end of one paragraph] Kevin Gibbon, the firm’s co-founder and chief executive, said he is considering a plan to expand soon to places beyond San Francisco. [beginning of next paragraph] He might have to.

  ^^   47
 

Here is one of the clumsiest, if not the clumsiest, sentence ever. No, wait: here is one of the clumsiest, if not the clumsiest, sentences ever.
 

Sentences of the kind exhibited in the title of this chapter are common—and uncommonly ugly and ungrammatical.

It is believed to be one of the largest—if not the largest—challenge grants ever offered by an individual in the region. (Philadelphia Inquirer)
Now that the returns are in from most of the local journalistic precincts and Orson Welles's "Citizen Kane" has been overwhelmingly selected as one of the great (if not the greatest) motion pictures of all time, this department rather finds itself with the uncomfortable feeling of a cat regarding a king. (New York Times)
The thresher was too large to get into the 23-foot boat, which Conley said was one of, if not the, smallest vessel entered into the competition, so it was pulled along side [sic] to the Bahia Marina scale on 22nd Street. (Ocean City Today [Maryland]) [Even the punctuation of this example is disorderly.]
Viera Connect is one of the better (if not the best) Internet portals we've used. (digitaltrends.com)
For eight seasons, recognized as one of the best if not the best athlete in the NBA, James had come up short winning a championship—even when he teamed up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and the Heat last season. (businessmirror.com.ph)
By this standard, Michael Bloomberg is easily one of the worst mayors in the country—if not the worst. (Daily Caller)

To return to the blunderful title of this chapter: the construction one of the clumsiest cannot share a noun in the same form as that required by the construction if not the clumsiest. The first construction can be capped only with a plural noun; the second needs a singular noun.
 So how to salvage such a sentence?
 You could write Here is one of the clumsiest, if not the clumsiest, of all sentences ever. The sentence is now grammatically sound (the prepositional phrase of all sentences ever correctly completes both the one of the clumsiest and the if not the clumsiest constructions), but it sounds fussy and clunky. It's wordy, too.
 You could also write Here is one of the clumsiest sentences, if not the clumsiest one, ever. That's shorter and not quite as bumbly.
 But why not trim the sentence even further? Here is possibly the clumsiest sentence ever.
 As for the Daily Caller specimen cited above, it can be whittled down to By this standard, Mayor Bloomberg might easily be the worst mayor in the country.

  ^^   48 

If you have questions about conditional sentences, this book has the answers.
 

Oh, and if you don’t have questions about conditional sentences, this book doesn’t have the answers? That, unfortunately, is what the sentence serving as the title of this chapter daftly declares.
 Business correspondence often includes similarly daffy statements, such as If you have any concerns, I’ll be available between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., and If you need to reach me, my office number is (555) 555-5555. The absurdity of those sentences should be readily evident. I’ll be around between eight and five even if you don’t have any concerns, and my office telephone number isn’t going to change if it turns out that you don’t need to reach me.
 Each of the silly assertions above is a derangement of a kind of statement that grammarians classify as a conditional sentence. A conditional sentence is a complex sentence in which a dependent clause specifies the condition that must be met for the declaration in the independent clause to ring true (that is, to deliver a factually accurate statement), as in If you meet the deadline, you’ll earn a bonus. The dependent clause in a conditional sentence typically begins with the subordinating conjunction if. (That sort of dependent clause is sometimes called a contingent clause.)
 Writers all too often resort to conditional constructions when the truthfulness of what’s stated in an independent clause does not in fact hinge on what’s stated in a dependent clause. The result is an error that we might call the cockamamie conditional.
 The following two sentences appeared in an article about smartphone apps that are helpful to the elderly.

If typing is the problem, the phones take dictation. (New York Times)

The phone takes dictation regardless of whether the user has trouble with typing.

If typing is the problem, use the dictation feature.
And if you are one of those people who hold up the checkout line writing checks at the last minute, or just find credit card swiping difficult to master, Square has an app that alleviates all that trouble with a growing number of businesses. (New York Times) [The sentence needs a hyphen between credit and card; see Chapter 86.]

Square has that very same app no matter what kind of person you are and no matter what kinds of limitations you might have.

And if you are one of those people who hold up the checkout line writing checks at the last minute, or just find credit-card swiping difficult to master, you’ll benefit from a Square app that alleviates all that trouble with a growing number of businesses.
If you are a woman, the main focus of this book is on men but you may find some of the information of interest. (Men on Strike: Why Men Are Boycotting Marriage, Fatherhood, and the American Dream—and Why It Matters [Encounter Books], by Helen Smith)

The contents of the book are the same no matter which sex you belong to.

The main focus of this book is on men, but even if you are a woman, you may find some of the information of interest.
Now, instead of putting all the towels in one area and the bedding in another, there are small shops featuring an entire line from one brand, just like the Liz Claiborne shop or the Levi jean shop elsewhere in the store. If a customer likes the colors featured in the Royal Velvet collection or those in the Studio line, all the matching towels and bedding products are found together. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) [The first sentence suffers from a dangling modifier; see Chapter 20.]
Customers who like the colors featured in the Royal Velvet collection or those in the Studio line will find all the matching towels and bedding products displayed together.
If none of the commercially available [weather-update] programs suit you, several individuals have written their own software that they are eager to share. (New York Times)
If none of the commercially available programs suit you, you can resort to software that several weather trackers have written themselves and are eager to share.
If $75 is beyond your means, an entry-level 10-piece omakase sushi meal costs just $45, although it probably won’t include many seasonal specialties like needlefish or rarities like live, still-wriggling octopus. (New York Times)
If $75 is beyond your means, opt for the entry-level ten-piece omakase sushi meal. It costs just $45. . . .
If you are thinking about getting a tattoo, or adding another one to the half-dozen or so you already have, the options of what are available may have multiplied since the last time you visited your tattoo parlor. (New York Times)
Thinking about getting a tattoo, or adding another one to the half-dozen or so you already have? The available options may have multiplied since the last time you visited your tattoo parlor.  

  ^^   49 

Oh, the lengths I would go to avoid this error . . .
 

Notice anything not quite up to snuff about the title of this chapter? If not, have a look at some more sentences.

Cheech & Chong have made a long career out of joking about pot, particularly the lengths they would go to obtain it. (The Coloradoan)
In Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island this week, Ms. Campbell demonstrated the lengths she will go to erase the memory of her predecessor. (New York Times)
It also showed the lengths the president would go to satisfy crass political debts, and how cavalierly he would play politics with national security. (www.kycbs.net)
“Three Worlds” is less about upward mobility than about accountability. It observes the lengths its characters go to do the right thing, and it registers the unexpected blowback when their good intentions are misconstrued or perceived as inadequate. (New York Times)
One aspect of Life that Ross especially hated was the great length the erstwhile family magazine would go to print cheesecake photos. (Genius in Disguise: Harold Ross of The New Yorker [Carroll & Graf], by Thomas Kunkel)

Now suppose that in the final example we inserted an innocent little adverbial prepositional phrase such as in those days between to and print: One aspect of Life that Ross especially hated was the great length the erstwhile family magazine would go to in those days print cheesecake photos.
 The sentence, of course, goes immediately to pieces—unless we insert a second to following days: One aspect of Life that Ross especially hated was the great length the erstwhile family magazine would go to in those days to print cheesecake photos.
Or suppose we left the prepositional phrase in those days out of the picture and simply restructured the original sentence: One aspect of Life that Ross especially hated was the great length to which the erstwhile family magazine would go to print cheesecake photos.
 Notice how both of those alternative sentences require a second to? As it turns out, the original sentence—as well the title of this chapter—requires a second to as well.
 Let’s analyze the sentence structurally: One aspect of Life that Ross especially hated was the great length [the erstwhile family magazine would go to] print cheesecake photos. The bracketed phrasing is an adjectival dependent clause (modifying the noun length), with the relative pronoun that implied at its start: One aspect of Life that Ross especially hated was the great length [that the erstwhile family magazine would go to] print cheesecake photos. The word to is functioning as a preposition within that clause. Its prepositional function becomes even more obvious if we recast the adjectival dependent clause in inverted form: One aspect of Life that Ross especially hated was the great length [to which the erstwhile family magazine would go] print cheesecake photos.
 The sentence, as we’ve seen, is in desperate need of another to, but a to functioning in an entirely different grammatical fashion—as the sign of an infinitive in the infinitive to print. The word to cannot function simultaneously as both a preposition and the sign of an infinitive. Thus, there’s no way around including to a second time.

One aspect of Life that Ross especially hated was the great length the erstwhile family magazine would go to to print cheesecake photos. OR [smoother]: One aspect of Life that Ross especially hated was the great length to which the erstwhile family magazine would go to print cheesecake photos.

As always, though, we reserve the right to refashion the sentence—and thereby lose a to.

One aspect of Life that Ross especially hated was the near-perverse determination of the erstwhile family magazine to print cheesecake photos.

  ^^   50 

Time-Shifting Participial Phrases
 

 A new form of slovenliness is showing up in sentences that begin or end with a present-participial phrase, and it’s resulting in statements that are chronologically askew. There’s no trouble with a sentence like Standing at the window, she watched two men fighting on the sidewalk, but what about a sentence like the following?

Rising to his feet, he hobbled a bit and fell again. (New York Times)

Two actions that occurred consecutively are being reported as if they occurred simultaneously. The writer needs to give the poor fellow a few moments to get back up on his feet before setting him hobbling off. Why not clarify the time sequence?

After rising to his feet, he hobbled a bit and fell again.

The misreporting of temporal relations—arising from the confusion of the sequential with the concurrent—reduces a sentence to incoherence.
 Merely inserting after at the start of each of the following eight sentences will also unkink the buckled time line.

Offering Graver coffee and a seat, Welles settled on the edge of a bed, and they chatted for a while before Orson said that he was working on a new movie called The Other Side of the Wind and wanted Gary to work with him. (Vanity Fair)
Picking up his schooling at the University of Detroit, he graduated in 1950 and became a copywriter for a Detroit advertising agency. (New York Times)
Returning to Harvard to study government, he graduated with high honors in 1947. (New York Times)
Struggling as an R&B musician in his hometown, Rebennack headed out west in the mid-sixties and found work as a member of Sonny & Cher’s touring band before coming up with a loony alter ego that, wittingly or not, dovetailed perfectly with the psychedelic craze: Dr. John the Night Tripper, a character named after a real nineteenth-century Haitian voodoo doctor and decked out in a feathered headdress, cape, and face paint. (The Rock Snob’s Dictionary [Broadway Books], by David Kamp and Steven Daly)
Darting inside, Mr. Cesaro returned with a napkin-covered tray. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
Smoothing the skirt, I reached up to clasp her [my late mother’s] pearls around my neck. (Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise [Penguin], by Ruth Reichl)
Meticulously entering the data into color-coded spreadsheets on his laptop, he then searched for the members’ current whereabouts on social media sites. (Wall Street Journal) [The sentence needs a hyphen between social and media; see Chapter 86.]
Moving to the United States in 1966, Mr. Killen met and became friends with fellow folk singer and archivist Pete Seeger, with whom he performed often over the years. (New York Times)

Below are further examples of sentences with disorienting time sequences.

Stella McCartney has always had a deep connection to hearth and home. Spending some of her childhood in the English countryside with her three siblings, she recalls the family kitchen as the place where her fabulously famous father, Paul McCartney, was just a dad and her beloved late mother and devoted chef, Linda, experimented with vegetarian shepherd's pies and cheese soufflés. (Wall Street Journal)

The second sentence in this excerpt leaves a reader queasy, because the past and the present appear to be unfolding at once: in the time warp of the sentence, Stella is both a child and an adult recollecting her childhood. There are any number of fixes. Among them are (1) Having spent some of her childhood in the English countryside with her three siblings, she recalls the family kitchen as the place where her fabulously famous father, Paul McCartney, was just a dad. . . and (2) McCartney, who spent some of her childhood in the English countryside with her three siblings, recalls the family kitchen as the place where her fabulously famous father, Paul McCartney, was just a dad. . . .

Her schedule was adjusted slightly: Now she came down to New York every other week, checked into the Royalton for four days, and saw two movies each night, returning to Great Barrington to write her column. (Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark [Viking], by Brian Kellow)
Replace returning with then returned.
After much discussion about religious thought and philosophy Mercedes [de Acosta] departed for Egypt, returning to Hollywood in the spring of 1939. (Loving Garbo: The Story of Greta Garbo, Cecil Beaton, and Mercedes de Acosta [Random House], by Hugo Vickers). [A comma would be helpful after philosophy; see Chapter 62.]
Replace returning with then returned. But there’s another option: you could get away with inserting the adverb later before returning, which would at least pay the reader the courtesy of clarifying that time has passed.

Erroneous sentences of the sort under the microscope in this chapter muddle a chronological sequence by leaving out an intermediary step. Mercedes de Acosta obviously had to arrive in Egypt before she could leave it.

The next round in the realist reputation match: "George Bellows," a major new retrospective, opens June 10 at Washington's National Gallery of Art, traveling to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art for a Nov. 15 opening before moving to London's Royal Academy of Arts next March.  (Wall Street Journal)

The quickest fix is to replace traveling with and later will travel. (A hyphen is needed between realist and reputation; see Chapter 86.)

On a drive from Boston to Canada in 1983, [Mitt] Romney put his dog Seamus into a carrier on his family car's roof rack, the drive interrupted when the roof-riding pooch had an attack of diarrhea. (Time)

One way to relieve the statement of its spurious simultaneity (as well as its clumsiness) is to split the sentence into two: On a drive from Boston to Canada in 1983, Romney put his dog Seamus into a carrier on his family car's roof rack. The drive was interrupted when the roof-riding pooch had an attack of diarrhea. Among other possible revisions (the writer would need to be queried about whether the dog had been put into the carrier before or at some point during the trip) are Before setting off on a drive from Boston to Canada in 1983, Romney put his dog Seamus into a carrier on his family car's roof rack, but the drive was interrupted when the roof-riding pooch had an attack of diarrhea and On a drive from Boston to Canada in 1983, Romney put his dog Seamus into a carrier on his family car's roof rack, but the drive was later interrupted when the roof-riding pooch had an attack of diarrhea. (The writer would also need to be queried about whether in fact Romney had more than one dog, as the sentence implies. See Chapter 66.)

 Then in 1962, when Walton was scraping together the capital to open his initial Wal-Mart in Rogers, Cunningham made Garden City, a Detroit suburb, the site of his first Kmart, opening seventeen more that same year. (The Retail Revolution: How Wal-Mart Created a Brave New World of Business [Picador], by Nelson Lichtenstein)
Then in 1962, when Walton was scraping together the capital to open his initial Wal-Mart in Rogers, Cunningham made Garden City, a Detroit suburb, the site of his first Kmart and opened seventeen more that same year.
Mr. Ellena was literally born into the business, growing up near the French perfume capital, Grasse. (Wall Street Journal)
Mr. Ellena was literally born into the business and grew up near the French perfume capital, Grasse.
She finished high school and enrolled in the American Intercontinental University in London, graduating in 2006 with a degree in fine art. (New York Times)
After finishing high school, she enrolled in the American Intercontinental University in London and graduated, in 2006, with a degree in fine art. [Why has the prepositional phrase in 2006 been set off with commas? See Chapter 70.]
Dr. Blatt entered Penn State University in 1946, graduating with a B.S. in psychology in 1950 and an M.S. in 1952. (New York Times)
Dr. Blatt entered Penn State University in 1946 and graduated with a B.S. in psychology, in 1950, and an M.S., in 1952. OR: After entering Penn State University, in 1946, Dr. Blatt graduated with a B.S. in psychology, in 1950, and an M.S., in 1952.
Despite the single’s massive success, [Scott] McKenzie never had another hit. He retired from music in the early 1970s, returning to the road in the late Eighties as part of Phillips’ reconstituted lineup of the Mamas and the Papas. (Rolling Stone)
He retired from music in the early nineteen-seventies but returned to the road in the late eighties. . . . OR: After retiring from music in the early nineteen-seventies, he returned to the road in the late eighties. . . .
Graham was only six years older but he was married, converting to Catholicism a year before his marriage to Kathleen Barry in 1927. (The Gilded Gutter Life of Frances Bacon [Pantheon], by Daniel Farson)
Graham was only six years older, but he had been married, to Kathleen Barry, since 1927, a year after he converted to Catholicism.  
Hating the "dull thought of home," the two prolong their adventure with drinks at a speakeasy and thus miss the last trolley back, spending the night at Bettina's brother's house in East Rochester. (Farther and Wilder: The Lost Weekends and Literary Dreams of Charles Jackson [Knopf],by Blake Bailey)
Hating the "dull thought of home," the two prolong their adventure with drinks at a speakeasy, miss the last trolley back, and spend the night at Bettina's brother's house in East Rochester.
Then [in late 1979] she disappeared, resurfacing in 1981 on the streets of Phoenix, Arizona. (Weekly Standard)
Then she disappeared, and it wasn’t until 1981 that she resurfaced, on the streets of Phoenix, Arizona. [Why is a comma needed after resurfaced? See Chapter 70.]

The next excerpt concerns the late-night talk-show host Conan O’Brien and the Reverend Paul O’Brien.

Another surprising detail about O'Brien: One of his closest friends happens to be a Catholic priest. . . . O’Brien and [the Reverend Paul] O’Brien (no relation) lived in the same house at Harvard (along with future NBC president Jeff Zucker, who presided over O’Brien’s ouster from The Tonight Show and was recently fired himself), reconnecting several years after graduation when they bumped into each other at midnight Mass one Christmas. (Rolling Stone)

The second sentence simultaneously situates both O’Briens at two entirely different points along a time line (their time at Harvard and their time after graduating from Harvard), and the result is screwy. An easy fix is to detach the participial phrase from its longish hosting sentence and expand it into a freestanding sentence: The two O’Briens reconnected several years after graduation, when they bumped into each other at midnight Mass one Christmas. Another option, of course, is to substitute then reconnected for reconnecting.

Entering Harvard, the young Mr. Bellah earned a bachelor’s degree summa cum laude in social anthropology in 1948, writing his senior thesis on Apache kinship systems. (New York Times)

Here, in a single sentence, a person is simultaneously occupying three different places along a time line: he is starting his college career, writing a thesis during his senior year, and graduating from college.

Mr. Bellah earned a bachelor’s degree summa cum laude in social anthropology from Harvard, in 1948, having written his senior thesis on Apache kinship systems. OR: Mr. Bellah graduated summa cum laude from Harvard, in 1948, with a bachelor’s degree in social anthropology. He had written his senior thesis on Apache kinship systems.

  ^^   51 

The past tense is a tense with a past.
 

The simple past tense (She hired her former best friend) isn’t always perfectly adequate for whatever we need to say about something that’s over and done with. A sentence that’s already set in the past tense sometimes needs to take us even further back into the past. The only way we can get there is by shifting down into a tense that expresses the past before the past.
 Grammarians call this specialized tense the past-perfect or the pluperfect. We form it by positioning the helping or auxiliary verb had in front of a main verb: She had forgotten to turn off her computer before she left the house. In that sentence, the action in the independent clause (She had forgotten to turn off her computer) took place before the action in the adverbial dependent clause (before she left the house), so the past-perfect is required in the independent clause.
 Whenever we’re relating even the simplest of stories, we owe it to our readers to arrange the events and actions in our narrative at clearly identifiable points along a time line so that the sequence is instantly understandable. Our failure to make the necessary downshifts from the simple past to the past-perfect will result in prose that is chronologically disorienting.
 Here’s the first paragraph of an article that ran in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

When the Reverend Tom Burke heard that the bingo table at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Braddock Hills had been robbed Tuesday night, his first instinct was to catch the thief.

So far, so good: the writer has managed the simple-past and the past-perfect tenses correctly. No attentive reader will be confused about the sequence of events that the paragraph recounts.
     Here’s the article’s next paragraph:

Clad in flowing clerical robes and dress shoes, Father Burke sprinted through the church parking lot and hopped into the idling car of parishioner Dahrin Cook, who was dropping off his wife to volunteer at the night's game.

No problem here, either. But have a look at the third paragraph.

They drove after the masked young man, who flashed a gun and stole approximately $300 from the bingo registration table, and chased him until he escaped into the woods behind a nearby housing development.

The paragraph would have us believe that the thief brandished the gun and robbed the registration table while he was being pursued by the reverend and a parishioner. But the theft, of course, had obviously been committed before the reverend and Mr. Cook took off after the perp. The chronology has been botched. The quickest fix is to downshift the verbs in the adjectival dependent clause who flashed a gun and stole approximately $300 from the bingo-registration table into the past-perfect tense.

They drove after the masked young man, who had flashed a gun and stolen approximately three hundred dollars from the bingo-registration table, and chased him until he escaped into the woods behind a nearby housing development.

Below is a paragraph, from an op-ed piece, in which the verb tenses have been handled appropriately.

I was one week out of my internship at the time, and my patient was admitted nearly comatose with what is called diabetic ketoacidosis, from a severe lack of insulin. After we’d brought him back from the brink and could finally turn off the intravenous short-acting insulin drip, I committed the cardinal error of neglecting to inject him with long-acting insulin. He promptly barreled downhill again. A senior resident rescued him before he had a cardiac arrest, then screamed her lungs out at me in front of the entire emergency room staff. (New York Times)

But look at how the very next paragraph begins.

I never mustered the courage to tell the patient what happened.

The writer has forgotten to downshift to the past-perfect tense in the nounal dependent clause that ends the sentence. All that’s needed is the insertion of had before happened.
 Following are more examples of sentences needing downshifts.

They all looked stone-faced, as if he didn’t say anything unusual. (Rolling Stone)
Replace didn’t say with hadn’t said.
The Bush administration’s decision to deny California the right to regulate greenhouse gases from vehicles exploded like a grenade here and in California. But it was hiding in plain sight for weeks. (New York Times)
In the second sentence, replace was with had been.
[from a review of a restaurant called Seymour Burton] I held out little hope: the recommendation, secondhand to begin with, had come from a vegetarian. It wasn’t any more reassuring to see that the place still bore signs calling it Le Tableau, the bistro that occupied its space on East Fifth Street for years. (New York Times)
In the second sentence, insert had before occupied.
He went house hunting in Greenwich, Connecticut. At the time, he was the creative director of Nine West, which he cofounded six years earlier. (Harper’s Bazaar)
In the second sentence, insert had before cofounded.
In the postwar years, "acoustic" country blues was considered nearly obsolete in the places where it was created, the poor black communities of the rural South. (Wall Street Journal)
In the postwar years, "acoustic" country blues was considered nearly obsolete in the places where it had been created. . . . OR: In the postwar years, "acoustic" country blues was considered nearly obsolete in the places where it had originated. . . .
Writers sometimes forget to make a necessary downshift from the present-progressive tense to the present-perfect tense.  
China is slowing down, but the buildings keep going up—until now. (New York Times)
China is slowing down, but the buildings have kept going up—until now. [The phrase is slowing down is in the present-progressive; have kept is in the present-perfect.]
Writers sometimes also neglect to make a downshift in a midsentence or sentence-ending participial phrase.
It is a milestone not just for Mr. Maxwell, but also for the Greenmarkets. He is one of their longest-standing participants, joining the markets in 1983 when the nonprofit organization was 6 years old and had 17 locations. (New York Times)
He is one of their longest-standing participants, having joined the markets in 1983, when the nonprofit organization was six years old and had seventeen locations.
Mr. Raynor, who grew up in New York and parlayed a talent for computer programming into a job on Wall Street while still in high school, has long had an interest in philosophy, majoring in the subject at Princeton. (New York Times)
Mr. Raynor . . . has long had an interest in philosophy, having majored in the subject at Princeton.
Across the street, Carl Osborne and his family have been tenants for two years, moving in after the previous owner lost the house in a foreclosure. (New York Times)
. . . Carl Osborne and his family have been tenants for two years, having moved in after the previous owner lost the house in a foreclosure.

  ^^   52 

The Clumsily Unsplit Infinitive
 

The notion that under no circumstances should an infinitive (the word to followed by the stem of a verb) be split persists despite the fact that no editor or grammarian in her right mind has ever issued any such prohibition. True, many a split infinitive leaves a sentence looking tousled and sounding clunky, and a sentence of that sort can be rephrased easily enough.

Google was the endpoint of this process: It may represent open systems and leveled architecture, but with superb irony and strategic brilliance it came to almost completely control that openness. (Wired)
 . . . but with superb irony and strategic brilliance, it came to control that openness almost completely. OR: . . . but with superb irony and strategic brilliance, it came to exert almost complete control over that openness.
The trustees also laid out what they said were three key reasons for firing Paterno: his failure to do more when told about the suspected sexual assault in 2002; what they regarded as his questioning of the board’s authority in the days after Sandusky’s arrest; and what they determined to be his inability to effectively continue coaching in the face of continuing questions surrounding the program. (New York Times)
. . . and what they determined to be his inability to continue coaching effectively in the face of continuing questions surrounding the program.
Sassy, which launched in 1988, was the first teen magazine to explicitly and consistently try to advocate for both cool teen-girl style and women's-studies-worthy substance, insisting that for a girl to wear "asking-for-it microminis," as one editor did, did not mean that she was a victim of the patriarchy—it just meant she wanted to look cute. (slate.com)
Sassy, which launched in 1988, was the first teen magazine to try to advocate explicitly and consistently for both cool teen-girl style and women's-studies-worthy substance. . . .
While the Hays Office in the mid-’30s was in its most censorial early days, its enforcers changing any plotline or dialogue from which they could squeeze sexual innuendo, they managed in their verbal vigilance to, myopically, overlook Fred Astaire’s duets with Ginger Rogers, in which he demonstrates clearly, concisely, even overtly, every move any aspiring lover might do well to adopt. (New York Times)
. . . they ended up, despite all their verbal vigilance, myopically overlooking Fred Astaire’s duets with Ginger Rogers. . . .
It seemed enough, at the time, for American critics to guiltlessly pat him on the head for a novel that named its protagonists after Haley Joel Osment and Dakota Fanning. (American Reader)
It seemed enough, at the time, for American critics to pat him guiltlessly on the head. . . . OR: It seemed enough, at the time, for American critics to give him a guiltless pat on the head. . . .

Even a split infinitive that sounds perfectly natural and colloquially authentic can be unsplit. The headline How to Really End Mass Incarceration (in The New York Times) can be rephrased as How We Can Really End Mass Incarceration.
 Sometimes, though, a writer has so strenuously avoided splitting an infinitive that the result is painfully ungraceful.

In fact, Neanderthals’ casual disposal of the dead suggests an absence of belief in a higher power or in an afterlife. They did attend to corpses, if minimally. This, the authors offer, suggests either a way to deal with grief or a need to separate physically the dead from the living, noting that humans routinely separate corpses from the living, out of fear of spirits or a wish to send the dead to an afterlife. (New York Times) [The second sentence is weakened by a pronoun-reference error; see Chapter 34.]

 The phrasing a need to separate physically the dead from the living is avoidably maladroit. The first alternative is to split the infinitive for phrasing that’s idiomatic and pleasing to the ear.

. . . a need to physically separate the dead from the living. . . .

 But the writer can also edit the infinitive out of the sentence.

This, the authors offer, suggests either a way to deal with grief or a need to ensure that the dead were physically separated from the living. . . .
Sometimes, they are unable to analyze properly the data they collect. (The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More [Hyperion], by Chris Anderson)
Sometimes, they are unable to properly analyze the data they collect. OR:  Sometimes, they cannot properly analyze the data they collect.
Its plan was to lower dramatically the costs of radio by implementing centralized programming and computer-driven local station programming.  (The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More [Hyperion],by Chris Anderson)
Its plan was to dramatically lower the costs of radio. . . . OR: It planned a dramatic reduction in the costs of radio. . . .
It takes a mixed process of reading and decoding to appreciate fully Mr. Winslow’s hard-boiled, blazing talents. (New York Times)
It takes a mixed process of reading and decoding to fully appreciate Mr. Winslow’s hard-boiled, blazing talents. OR: It takes a mixed process of reading and decoding to achieve a full appreciation of Mr. Winslow’s hard-boiled, blazing talents. OR: A full appreciation of Mr. Winslow’s hard-boiled, blazing talents requires a mixed process of reading and decoding.
But in April 1966, when MGM released its own big entry in the family-musical sweepstakes—The Singing Nun, starring Debbie Reynolds—Pauline took it as an opportunity to annihilate retrospectively The Sound of Music, which she predicted would prove to be “the single most repressive influence on artistic freedom in movies for the next few years.” (Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark [Viking], by Brian Kellow)
. . . Pauline took it as an opportunity to retrospectively annihilate The Sound of Music. . . . OR: . . . Pauline seized the opportunity to annihilate The Sound of Music retrospectively, because she predicted that it would prove to be “the single most repressive influence on artistic freedom in movies for the next few years.”

In sum, it’s unwise to find fault with a split infinitive if the alternative is awkward phrasing. But remember that you always have the option of recasting the entire shebang of a sentence to ditch the infinitive. 

  ^^   53 

That we can do without.
 

 A sentence in which a verb of saying (such as said or remarked) or a verb of thinking or speculating (such as knew or wondered) is followed by phrasing in which an adverbial dependent clause is tucked inside a nounal dependent clause is always at risk of ending up with a surplus that.

 She knows that if a person is on the street that it’s not necessarily due to laziness or drug addiction. (The Fabulous Girl's Guide to Decorum [Broadway Books], by Kim Izzo and Ceri Marsh)

The nounal dependent clause in that sentence (functioning as the direct object of knows) is intended to be that it’s not necessarily due to laziness or drug addiction. Whisk away the adverbial dependent clause (if a person is on the street) from the sentence, though, and you’re left with the stuttery nonsense of She knows that that it’s not necessarily due to laziness or drug addiction, in which the nounal dependent clause starts off with duplicate thats when one alone will do the trick. 
 The quickest fix? Substitute a comma for the second that.

She knows that if a person is on the street, it’s not necessarily due to laziness or drug addiction. OR [reworded]: She knows that a person living on the street isn’t necessarily a lazybones or a drug addict.
Mr. Witcover said that while many reporters looked down on politicians, that Mr. Germond liked them, particularly the “old rogues.” (New York Times)
Mr. Witcover said that while many reporters looked down on politicians, Mr. Germond liked them, particularly the “old rogues.”
He said that if parents were unable to provide satisfactory conditions for their children that alternative solutions had to be considered, including putting neglected children up for adoption. (australiantimes.co.uk)
He said that if parents were unable to provide satisfactory conditions for their children, alternative solutions, including putting neglected children up for adoption, had to be considered.
He said that if the weather is in the upper 60s and 70s, that it is great weather for planting corn. (southernminn.com)
He said that if the weather is in the upper sixties and the seventies, it is great weather for planting corn.  OR [more concise] He said temperatures in the upper sixties and the seventies are great for planting corn.

An ungrammatical, second that can also materialize following one or more adverbial phrases that have been inserted after a first that, whose purpose is to introduce a nounal dependent clause.

And yet I can’t help thinking that despite Mr. Luhrmann’s research, despite his collaborations with Miuccia Prada and Brooks Brothers, and his chats with his friend Anna Wintour, that he missed something quite elemental about the ’20s—namely, the flapper. (New York Times) [The sentence is also weakened by faulty parallelism; see Chapter 41.]
And yet I can’t help thinking that despite Mr. Luhrmann’s research, his collaborations with Miuccia Prada and Brooks Brothers, and his chats with his friend Anna Wintour, he missed something quite elemental about the nineteen-twenties—namely, the flapper.

  ^^   54 

That we do need.
 

A small but vocal minority of writers and editors, enamored of the hyperconcise, would like to eject the word that from virtually every sentence in which it appears at the start of a nounal dependent clause. They insist that the pronoun serves no purpose and clutters a sentence. But the deletion of that can diminish the readability of a sentence, as in this one about Bob Dylan:

By now we know the voice—one of the most brilliant, peculiar and iconic instruments on Earth—is somewhat ravaged by the endless touring, smoking and what have you. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Reaching the verb is, after the second dash, a reader is likely to a register a minor shock and realize that she has been misled about the direction the sentence has been taking her. Earth, after all,appears to be a likely place for the sentence to come to its end: By now we know the voice—one of the most brilliant, peculiar, and iconic instruments on Earth. The writer has failed to signal to the reader that voice is in fact not the direct object of the transitive verb, know, in the independent clause but instead the subject of a nounal dependent clause. That dependent clause, in its entirety, is the direct object of know, and the predicate of that clause makes an assertion about voice. The insertion of that at the start of the dependent clause will spare the reader a nanosecond of confusion.

By now we know that the voice—one of the most brilliant, peculiar, and iconic instruments on Earth—is somewhat ravaged by the endless touring, smoking, and what-have-you.

Even more disorienting is the second sentence in the following excerpt, about a supermarket chain’s policy of “locking” prices instead of gradually raising them.

Giant Eagle's first round of price locks officially was set to end Jan. 2. This time around, the company said it will guarantee prices on locked items won't change at least until spring, although the grocer isn't giving a specific cutoff date. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
This time around, the company said it will guarantee that prices on locked items won't change at least until spring. . . .

In the first sentence of the following excerpt, the writer dutifully inserts that at the start of each of the two nounal dependent clauses. The omission of those two thats, however, might not throw off many readers. But what’s the consequence of the writer’s having excluded a second that from the second sentence?

Obama Administration officials knew that normal turnover in the individual market would mean that most old plans would end under the new law. But they never made this clear at the time, a conspicuous failure for an Administration that promised transparency and candor would be paramount. (Time)

The nouns transparency and candor are too easily mistaken for the direct objects of promised. The positioning of that at the start of the sentence-ending nounal independent clause that functions as the direct object would prevent misreading.

But they never made this clear at the time, a conspicuous failure for an Administration that promised that transparency and candor would be paramount. OR: But they never made this clear at the time, a conspicuous failure for an Administration having promised that transparency and candor would be paramount.

A writer will be showing readers a small kindness by plugging that into each of the following excerpts as well.

Providing wireless networks would allow Google to circumvent incumbent cable companies and wireless carriers. Such companies, particularly in the U.S. and Europe, have clashed with Google, believing it is unfairly reaping profits on the back of their networks. Google has long feared such companies would make it harder for its Web services to work properly on the networks, said people with direct knowledge of the matter. (Wall Street Journal)
Google has long feared that such companies would make it harder for its Web services to work properly on the networks. . . .
They imagined a new film would follow the basic template of the first two—a dialogue-heavy piece centered on Celine and Jesse over the course of a single day in Europe. (Los Angeles Times)
They imagined that a new film would follow the basic template of the first two. . . .
If you look at it [the bottle of Essie nail-polish gel] really carefully, you’ll see the brush’s stem is twirled like a Twizzler. (Allure)
If you look at it really carefully, you’ll see that the brush’s stem is twirled like a Twizzler.

  ^^   55 

This rule is too vague.
 

Oh, so there’s an acceptable degree of vagueness permissible in the phrasing of a rule? But beyond that degree, the phrasing becomes completely intolerable? That, sadly, is the line of thinking into which many readers will be forced when they encounter sentences like the following.

The Eastern European love poems translated by Friedrich Daumer are too mediocre to merit attention, and the German lyrics are not comprehensible to most in the audience. (New York Times)
Of course the precise intellectual and social history of bad economic practices is too useless to study, even if it is none too easy. (New York Times)
Some things are simply too idiotic to bear serious discussion. (quoted from a book under review in New York Times)

It’s in the best interest of logic, clarity, and the reader’s well-being to avoid the adverb too when the adjective following it denotes a quality that’s wholly undesirable. Too works perfectly fine, though, in sentences in which the adjective is neutral (That restaurant is too expensive for me) or positive (She is too smart for me).

Some other events like rowing where an American woman won a silver medal are considered too worthless to write about. (New York Times)
Some other events like rowing, in which an American woman won a silver medal, are considered unworthy of coverage.
The new data are too imprecise to permit pure comparisons of school quality. (New York Times)
The new data lack the necessary precision to permit pure comparisons of school quality.
[about the band Arcade Fire] “Reflektor,” which was produced by the dance-music savant James Murphy, came in for some accusations of white cultural appropriation when it was released last fall. Like the other complaints often hurled at the band—that it’s too pretentious or precious, too given to earnestness or grandiosity—this one was half-effectively disarmed, and not just because the album made its debut at No. 1. (New York Times
Like the other complaints often hurled at the band—that it’s pretentious or precious, grandiose or exaggeratedly earnest—this one was half-effectively disarmed, and not just because the album made its début at No. 1.

  ^^   56 

I’ve had my car broken into twice this year.
 

Not really—I didn’t arrange for the break-ins. What possessed me, then, to write such a silly sentence?
 I’m not alone, though.

[headline] Adam Sandler Reportedly Had Several Native American Actors Walk Off the Set of His Netflix Movie (New York’s vulture.com)
Ms. Hsu has had her residence broken into three times, most recently three years ago. (New York Times)
The hacking was just the latest of a major media organization, with The Financial Times and The Washington Post also having their operations disrupted within the last few months. (New York Times)
[about a pugilist] Nogueira (34-8-1, 5-4) loses for the first time since December of 2011, when he had his arm broken in a submission loss to Frank Mir at UFC 140. (USA Today)
Brooke Schell says she had her car stolen early Tuesday morning, and then saw it on the morning news during a Good Day Oregon story about a police chase through northeast Portland. (kptv.com)
A Red Wing woman had her house broken into and her vehicle stolen while she was out of town, Red Wing Police reported. (republican-eagle.com)
He's been concussed, he's had his jaw broken, he's had several teeth knocked out. (lowellsun.com)
I have had cousins, friends and church members shot and killed. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

The writer of that final sentence, which appeared in an op-ed essay, is the pastor of a church, not some lowlife fessing up to a slew of murders.  

Duffy appeared to be referring to a recent episode involving the comedian Kathy Griffin, who posed for a photograph with the likeness of the severed head of President Trump. The photo was widely condemned, and Griffin had shows canceled and her CNN contract terminated. (Washington Post)

What the writer means in the final independent clause of the excerpt is not that Griffin herself cancelled her shows and that she herself terminated her contract with CNN. The writer means that a number of venues cancelled Griffin’s upcoming performances and that CNN terminated her contract.

Piers Morgan, the British tabloid editor who replaced Larry King on CNN only to have his show canceled three years later, will join the American website of The Daily Mail as an editor at large, the newspaper said Tuesday. (New York Times)

What the writer obviously intended to say is something along the lines of Piers Morgan, the British tabloid editor who replaced Larry King on CNN but whose show was cancelled only three years later, will join the American website of The Daily Mail as an editor at large, the newspaper said Tuesday.
     Grammarians have a name for this regrettable use of had. They call it the passive causative had. It’s perfectly ducky in sentences such as She had her driveway resurfaced and She had her car repaired, in which the action is positive, restorative, remedial. But when the action is burglarious or destructive, and when a sentence seems to be saying that a person has gone out of her way to wreak havoc on herself (or on someone or something else), it’s time to rephrase. At the very least, the writer can substitute a form of the verb to be for had: Her iPad was stolen, instead of She had her iPad stolen. In sum, resort to the passive causative had only when the news is good, or at least neutral.
 It’s a different story, though, if you want to emphasize that someone has intentionally arranged for harm to be inflicted on herself or on something she owns. In the second sentence of the following excerpt, for instance, the causative had correctly imparts to readers the fact that the artist Chris Burden wanted a friend to shoot him.

The human body keeps turning up—vulnerable, gross, distressed, embattled—in the West Coast Conceptualism, and sometimes in an atmosphere of stress or danger. The danger was real when Chris Burden had a friend shoot him in the arm with a rifle, but subtler in a 1973 performance by Barbara T. Smith, in which the artist, nude and alone, received visitors one by one, inviting interaction, no prohibitions imposed. (New York Times)

  ^^   57 

Just because other writers write sentences like this doesn’t mean you have to.
 
Just because a stock is beaten down, reeling, and universally maligned doesn't mean you shouldn't buy it. (New York)
But just because a girl has a famous dad and friends named Gwyneth and Madonna doesn't mean she lacks the talent—and the drive—to become a design powerhouse. (New York)
Julian Assange may be back in the news because of aiding Edward Snowden. But for the US government, just because he hasn’t been covered in a while doesn’t mean he was forgotten. (New York Observer)
And just because people live longer doesn’t mean they can work longer. (New York Post)
Sounds like Agnew knows an important principle of community organizing: just because the revolution is not being televised doesn’t mean it’s not in our midst. (Washington Post)

The common sentence pattern in the excerpts above sounds conversational, and it’s fine if your context is the equivalent of a casual Friday at work. But the pattern is otherwise messy, even crass—because it forces an adverbial dependent clause (the word-group beginning with just because) to serve as the subject of a sentence. That’s a grammatically unnatural act for a member of the adverb family to commit, because the subject of a sentence must be a noun or the equivalent of a noun—namely, a pronoun, a nounal dependent clause, or an adjective preceded by the article the (such as the underemployed).
 A reliable quick fix is to substitute the fact that for just because—a maneuver that transforms the adverbial dependent clause into a nounal dependent clause.

Just because something increases your metabolic rate doesn’t mean it’s good for you. (New York Times)
The fact that something increases your metabolic rate doesn’t mean it’s good for you.

Often, though, it’s better to rephrase the sentence.

Not everything that increases your metabolic rate is necessarily good for you.

  ^^   58 

A middle-aged incompetent, the author and his best friend lament the error in this sentence.
 

The lamentable error in the sentence flaunting itself as the title of this chapter is what we might call overshared phrasing. Although the phrase a middle-aged incompetent is obviously intended to provide information about only one person, it’s in the unenviable position of being shared by the two parts of the subject: both author and friend. The result is a violation of syntactic etiquette. A sentence that begins with an appositive expressed in the singular can correctly be followed only by a subject expressed in the singular. The easiest way to repair the title sentence is to reposition the appositive: The author (a middle-aged incompetent) and his best friend have no reason to lament anything about the phrasing in this revision.
 Beware, then, of phrasing in which an additive-compound subject (a subject taking the form of A and B or of A, B, and C) is preceded by an appositive, a prepositional phrase, a participial phrase, or some other sort of introductory element whose purpose is to describe only the first member of the subject. That introductory phrase will inevitably appear to be describing the one or more additional members of the subject as well.

A native of north India and the father of two boys, ages 7 and 9, Mr. Singh and his wife, Manjit Kaur, were inspired to open a straightforward Indian restaurant that also speaks to south Indian tastes. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Mr. Singh alone is the father of the two boys. His wife is their mother.

 A native of north India and the father of two boys, ages seven and nine, Mr. Singh, along with his wife, Manjit Kaur, was inspired to open a straightforward Indian restaurant. . . .   
A herky-jerky jackanapes who triumphed over naysayers as the host of NBC’s Late Night with Conan O’Brien, O’Brien and company delighted dormitories across America with beloved characters such as the Masturbating Bear, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, and the mustachioed Spanish soap-opera heartthrob Conando. (Critical Mass: Four Decades of Essays, Reviews, Hand Grenades, and Hurrahs [Doubleday], by James Wolcott)

The appositive is the exclusive property of O’Brien alone and cannot be shared with company.

A herky-jerky jackanapes who triumphed over naysayers as the host of NBC’s Late Night with Conan O’Brien, O’Brien led a loopy crew that delighted dormitories across America. . . .
Audrey [Hepburn] now occupied a curious existential and cinematic position, as Warren Harris points out: At forty-two, she and her primary peers—Elizabeth Taylor (thirty-eight), Leslie Carron (thirty-nine), Jean Simmons (forty-one)—were past the ingenue age. (Audrey Hepburn [Putnam], by Barry Paris)

As a reader learns after the first dash, only Hepburn, and not her peers, was forty-two at the time.  

She, at forty-two, and her primary peers—Elizabeth Taylor (thirty-eight), Leslie Carron (thirty-nine), Jean Simmons (forty-one)—were past the ingenue age.
As a child, Mr. Avedon and his paternal grandfather actually didn’t discuss photography all that much. (New York Times)

Mr. Avedon and his paternal grandfather were obviously not children at the same time.

As a child, Mr. Avedon actually didn’t discuss photography all that much with his paternal grandfather.
[from a review of a documentary about women and their guns] Sampling a respectable range of beliefs and backgrounds—including a competitive skeet shooter and more than one victim of violence—Ms. Czubek reaches the unremarkable conclusion that women who like guns do so for lots of different reasons. But whether viewed as empowerment tools or aphrodisiacs, stress relievers or deadly bodyguards, these weapons and their owners never cohere into an actual point. (New York Times)

Only the weapons—and not their owners—can be viewed as empowerment tools or aphrodisiacs, stress relievers or deadly bodyguards. To make matters syntactically worse, the independent clause of the second sentence suffers from faulty predication (see Chapter 45).

But whether these weapons are viewed as empowerment tools or aphrodisiacs, stress relievers or deadly bodyguards, their owners’ comments and observations never cohere into an actual point.
Now a makeup artist, Wendi and her kit have been present for many milestones: senior prom, both of my book-cover shoots, my wedding. (Allure)

Wendi alone (not both Wendi and her kit) is now a makeup artist.

Now a makeup artist, Wendi, with kit in hand, has been present for many milestones: senior prom, both of my book-cover shoots, my wedding. OR: Now a makeup artist, Wendi, along with her kit, has been present for many milestones: senior prom, both of my book-cover shoots, my wedding.
While an art student at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor, he and some friends started a noise band called Destroy All Monsters, which was more about art and language than about music. (New York Times)

Grammarians will recognize the phrasing While an art student at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor as the collapsed version of the adverbial dependent clause While he was an art student at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor, and some will find no fault with the sentence. Others, however, will insist that in its collapsed form, the introductory element appears to be applying itself to both halves of the additive-compound subject when in fact the introductory phrasing belongs to the pronoun he alone. The easiest solution is to expand the elliptical clause.

While he was an art student at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor, he and some friends started a noise band called Destroy All Monsters, which was more about art and language than about music.
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