Rectifying usage myths about correlative conjunctions and appositives II

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Jose A. Carillo

Jose A. Carillocarii

Last week, I presented the first part of this discussion that seeks to rectify some myths about the usage of correlative conjunctions and appositives. I am making it in reply to the contention of a member of Jose Carillo’s English Forum, Mwita Chacha, that this sentence of mine using the correlative conjunction “either…or…” has a serious parallelism flaw: “Your colleague is either kidding you, or he or she is a superwriter from another planet.”

I explained in that first part that contrary to his contention, it’s definitely wrong to say that the grammatical elements linked by “either . . . or . . . ” should be similar in length. This time, I’ll proceed to show that he’s also definitely mistaken in arguing that the grammatical elements linked by “either . . . or . . . ” should be perfectly balanced.
Here’s the continuation of my reply to Mwita Chacha:

Your Proposition #2. That elements linked by a correlative conjunction should be perfectly balanced. That this proposition is indefensible can readily be demonstrated by the following sentence using the correlative conjunction “either . . . or . . . ”:
“Our travel destination this summer? It’s either Europe—or bust!

Here, there’s absolutely no balance—or attempt to balance—the elements linked by the correlative conjunction “either…or…” The word “Europe” is a noun, while “bust” is an adjective in the sense of “bankrupt” or “broke.” Indeed, the most that can validly be said about the elements connected by correlative conjunctions, particularly “either . . . or . . . ”, is that they should be of equal grammatical weight and are usually parallel.

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Equal grammatical weight means that the two clauses are relatively equal in grammatical importance, not equal in length as you argued in your critique against my sentence.

Unfortunately, many grammarians or grammar commentators on the web wrongly restate the “equal in importance” idea as “equal in length,” thus making a lot of learners of the English language acquire a false notion about correct correlative conjunction usage. It’s not too late for you and others who similarly subscribe to this false notion to unlearn it.

As to parallelism, yes, it’s definitely desirable for elements linked by the correlative conjunction “either . . . or . . . ” to be constructed in parallel. By definition, a correlative conjunction is a paired conjunction that links balanced words, phrases, and clauses, but it needs to be emphasized here that “balanced,” as I’ve explained above, means that they are of equal grammatical weight—meaning that they are of equal grammatical importance and not necessarily equal in length—and are constructed in parallel.

In this context, I’m sure that this sentence of mine that you questioned is beyond grammatical reproach: “Your colleague is either kidding you, or he or she is a superwriter from another planet.” Your proposed alternative construction, “Either your colleague is kidding you or he or she is a superwriter from another planet,” is also grammatically correct, but frankly, I can’t see why you think this particular construction of yours “has perfectly connected two balanced clauses” any better than mine.

Responding to this explanation, Mwita Chacha challenged me to present more examples showing that the grammatical elements in an “either…or…” construction need not be perfectly balanced. I gave these additional four sentences:

1. “Either stay or you can say goodbye forever to your freebies that you enjoy so much.”

2. “You either confess now or back to the penitentiary you go and rot there for the rest of your life.”

3. “What can I say about the missing bank robbers? Well, they are either dead now or gallivanting with their loot in Europe.”

4. “By leaving this much evidence against them, either those counterfeiters are dumb or they are supremely confident that the police authorities neither have the will nor the energy to go after them.”

Clearly, the four sentences above demonstrate beyond any doubt that the grammatical elements linked by the correlative conjunction “either . . . or . . . ” need not be perfectly balanced.

(To be continued next week)

Visit Jose Carillo’s English Forum at http://josecarilloforum.com. Follow me at Twitter.com @J8Carillo.

j8carillo@yahoo.com

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