There's nothing glaringly wrong; you think you understand what the writer was saying; but somehow what you just read - or wrote - seems "off."
There's something wrong with it, but what?
Sometimes the problem is “parallel construction,” or rather lack of it.
What does parallel construction mean? It means that when you use 3 or more items in a series they need to match.They need to be all the same part of speech and the same tense.
If you saw a sentence such as "You need to stop, look, listening,” the error would jump right out at you. You'd instantly see the non-parallel word. When non-parallel words are used in a long sentence, they can be harder to spot. They just “feel wrong.”
Take this sentence for instance: “Our goal is to provide a high level of service by being attentive, proactive, and maintaining up-to-date market data.”
What’s wrong, and how can you fix it? These three items, separated by commas, are not parallel.
- Being attentive
- Maintaining data
You understand the meaning, but the words are somehow jarring.
You could fix the sentence in two ways. You could write “…by being attentive, by being proactive, and by maintaining…” Or, you could do away with the series and simply write “…by being attentive and proactive, and by maintaining…”
“Today my plans include cleaning the bathroom, walking, and write an email.”
Fix it by changing write to writing.
Sometimes the problem is a case of misplaced modifiers.
These are so common that it’s hard to escape them, especially when reading news articles.
Here’s one from this morning: “The decision follows the revelation of a previously undisclosed security flaw that exposed users’ profile data that was remedied in March 2018.”
It tells you that profile data was remedied – why? Did that data need to be remedied? No, of course not. The modifying clause should have been attached to “security flaw,” not “profile data.” This long sentence should have been turned into two sentences.
Sometimes misplaced modifiers confuse the issue and leave you wondering what was wrong.
Sometimes they’re downright funny. For instance:
- “Janice was walking the dog on the telephone.”
- “We need a babysitter for our toddler who doesn’t drink, smoke, or do drugs.”
- “Barking at full volume, the intruder ran from our large dog.”
Again, when these errors are in short sentences like these, you see them right away and laugh.
When they’re in long sentences – the kind news articles tend to use – they simply feel “off.” The reader might understand the intent, but… something isn’t right.
Proofread. Then do it again.
I nag you all the time about proofreading to catch spelling, grammar, and word usage errors. I also warn you to watch for typos and missing or doubled words. Now I’ll nag some more – re-read what you wrote to make sure it makes sense.
Check the modifiers. Just because YOU know what you’re trying to modify doesn’t mean you put them in the right place.
One more thing – When checking for doubled words, check to see if you’ve doubled the part of speech, not just the exact word. I’ve found this happens sometimes when editing and changing sentences around. I’ve done it, and I see it in blog posts quite often.
It looks something like “I see find it in blog posts…”
The words you write do matter, so take that extra few minutes to make sure they say what you meant to say…
Confused man image courtesy of artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net