Location Matters in Writing


“The vegetables rotted on the counter and began to stink.”

What do realtors say matters most? Location, location, location. This principle is as true in writing as it is in realty. The word order and placement determines not only whether you communicate clearly but also whether you present yourself credibly. 

This is especially true when using two-part expressions, such as either…or, not only…but also, and both…and. (The technical term for these two-part expressions is correlative pair.) If you put the words in the wrong place, your reader will be confused about your meaning, and you will have a parallelism problem. 

Let’s first learn about parallelism problems and then apply that knowledge to these 2-part expressions. 

What is parallelism? 

When you match 2 or words or phrases, they need to have the same grammatical structure. That is called parallelism. For example, find the two matching expressions in this sentence: 

“The vegetables rotted on the counter and began to stink.” 

This sentence is matching “rotted on the counter” with “began to stink.” Both expressions start with a past tense verb, and they are both verb phrases. Thus, they have the same grammatical structure. 

If we look a bit closer at the sentence, we see that both expressions are linked to, or relate to, the word “vegetables.” To demonstrate how they are linked to “vegetables,” we can write, “The vegetables rotted on the counter. The vegetables began to stink.” When we write them this way, we see that they both are connected to “vegetables,” which we can call the linking word. 

We have proved that these two matching expressions are parallel by using a two part test. (1) They have the same basic structure. (2) They are both linked to the same word in a manner that makes grammatical sense. 

What is a parallelism problem? 

If the matching expressions don’t have the same grammatical structure, you have a parallelism problem. Let’s look at another sample to show what this means. 

“The vegetables were rotting on the counter, attracting flies, and smelled.” 

This sample is matching three parts: (1) “rotting on the counter,” (2) “attracting flies,” and (3) “smelled.” The first two parts are “-ing” verbs, but the last one is a simple past tense verb. They don’t have the same grammatical structure. 

As we study this sentence, we see that these expressions are linked to “were,” as follows: “The vegetables were rotting on the counter. The vegetables were attracting flies. The vegetables were smelled.” Wait a minute! That last one doesn’t make sense. Were smelled? 

This sentence failed both tests. The matching parts don’t have the same grammatical structure, and they can’t be linked to the same word. This sentence has a parallelism problem. 

Location, Parallelism, and Two-Part Expressions 

Remember, two-part expressions (or correlative pairs) are such expressions as either…or. Parallelism problems frequently occur when the first part of the pair is in the wrong place. Let’s look at some examples of parallelism problems caused by mis-placement with correlative pairs. 

Example 1: Both…And 

Here is an incorrect example, which we’ll study and fix: 

“We recognize the difficulties both in the national and international economy.” 

This sentence uses both…and to match up two places where we recognize difficulty: the national economy and the international economy. The first part of the matching set follows “both,” and the second part of the matching set follows “and,” which is how two-part expressions work. In this sentence, therefore, the matching expressions are “in the national economy” and “international economy.” (“economy” goes with both parts in this case.) 

First, we see that these don’t have the same grammatical structure. The first one, “in the national,” is a prepositional phrase; the second one, “international” is an adjective.

Second, this sentence is linking both parts of the expression to “difficulties.” Can we remove one, then the other, and still have grammatically correct sentences? Let’s try. “We recognize the difficulties in the national economy. We recognize difficulties international economy.” Whoops again! That second one doesn’t make sense. 

This sentence fails both tests, so we know it has a parallelism problem. But it’s easy to fix in this case! The problem occurs because the two parts are linked to “difficulties.” They should be linked to “in.” If we switch the position of “both” and “in,” the problem will be solved. 

“We recognize difficulties in both the national and international economy.” 

The first part, following “both,” is “the national.” The second part, following “and,” is “international.” They are both adjectives. We can write “We recognize difficulties in the national economy. We recognize difficulties in the international economy.” These sentences are also correct. 

By moving the first part of the correlative pair, the sentence is now parallel and won’t confuse the reader. 

Example 2: Not only…But also 

Here’s another incorrect example: 

“I not only feel the heat but also the dampness.” 

Do you see what’s happening here? The correlative pair is not only…but also. This sentence is matching “feel the heat” with “the dampness.” They are not the same grammatical structure, and they don’t both link to “I.” We can’t write, “I feel the heat. I the dampness.” This sentence is not parallel. 

To fix this parallelism problem, we need to move “not only” to a new location so that both parts can connect to “feel.” We could rewrite the sentence this way: 

“I feel not only the heat but also the dampness.” 

Now, both parts link correctly to “I feel,” as in “I feel the heat. I feel the dampness.” They also have the same grammatical structure: “the heat” and “the dampness.” This also clarifies that I feel two things, and it fixes the parallelism problem. 

Example 3: Either…Or 

Let’s look at the third and final example of a parallelism problem in a two-part expression. 

“I will photograph either the flowers or record the birds singing.” 

This sentence is trying to match “the flowers” and “record the birds singing,” which doesn’t make sense. These two parts certainly don’t link up to “photograph.” I can write “I will photograph the flowers,” but I can’t write “I will photograph record the birds singing.” 

However, if I will do either of two things, then “either” needs to be moved prior to the two things I will do, as follows. 

“I will either photograph the flowers or record the bird singing.” 

What Should You Do? 

In each example, we followed the same steps, as follows.

1. Find the two parts of the two-part expression and the words that they are trying to match.
2. First test: Determine whether the matching parts are the same grammatical structure.
3. Find the linking word, the word to which the expressions connect. It is usually just before the first part of the two-part expression.
4. Second test: Determine whether you can use the expressions independently with the linking word.
5. Revise the sentence, if needed, to place the two-part expression correctly. 

The end result is a parallel sentence that clearly communicates what you mean and helps you present yourself as a professional writer.

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