Parallel universes

rogersgeorge on September 19th, 2012

That’s a misleading title. Sorry. My marketing instinct got the better of me. It should be Parallelism in sentence construction. Not as catchy, is it? Here’s our example sentence:

When mixed with existing soil, it improves water and nutrient retention as well as increasing the population and activity levels of beneficial microbes.

Can you see the mistake? The conjunction “as well as” does this to a lot of people. We have a sentence with a compound predicate. The first part is “improves water retention” and the other part is (ak! horrors!) “increasing the population …” The verbs in a parallel construction like this are supposed to be the same form. Here’s how the sentence should go:

When mixed with existing soil, it improves water and nutrient retention as well as increases the population and activity levels of beneficial microbes.

See? It improves and increases. That’s correct parallelism. If you watch your parallel constructions, your writing will hold together better, and people in the know will see that you pay attention to what you’re writing, and will grant you more credibility than if you had made the goof.  (See? “will see” and “will grant”).

What happens if you change the second predicate into an adverb phrase?

When mixed with existing soil, it improves water and nutrient retention,  increasing the population and activity levels of beneficial microbes.

It’s not parallel now—the participle is subordinate. Hence, “increasing” is now okay.

Bonus item: Do you see the redundancy in the sentence? What word could you leave out without changing the meaning of the sentence?

This sentence, by the way, is about biochar, or homemade charcoal, which I wrote about in my personal blog, Mushrooms to Motorcycles, when I made some a while back. I’m planning to make another batch soon—I have loads of scrap wood from the addition we’re building on our house. Hmm. I need to write a post about that, too.

This guy’s biochar retort is a lot nicer looking than mine. I suspect he hasn’t used it yet.

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