• Rectifying usage myths about correlative conjunctions and appositives

    0
    Jose A. Carillo

    Jose A. Carillo

    I’d like to take this opportunity to rectify some myths about the usage of correlative conjunctions and appositives. I’m doing so in response to this combative reaction of Mwita Chacha, a Tanzania-based member of Jose Carillo’s English Forum, to my column last week, “Protocol should trump grammar at all times”:

    “I hate to be a spoilsport, but I think there’s a serious parallelism flaw in this sentence of yours: ‘Your colleague is either kidding you, or he or she is a superwriter from another planet.’ A parallelism rule governing the usage of correlative conjunctions demands that the elements being connected be similar both in their length and in their grammatical form. It’s a fact that ‘kidding’ is not only obviously very short in comparison to ‘he or she is a superwriter from another planet’ but also entirely different in grammatical form from it.

    I’d have written the sentence as ‘Either your colleague is kidding you or he or she is a superwriter from another planet. Here ‘either…or’ has perfectly connected two balanced clauses.

    “Another disturbing thing: The comma next to proper noun ‘Mwita Chacha’ in this first sentence of your column topic has rendered the construction subjectless: ‘A Tanzania-based member of Jose Carillo’s English Forum, Mwita Chacha, recently related this very curious incident about…’ In this sentence, ‘Mwita Chacha’ has been made to act as an appositive renaming ‘a Tanzania-based member of Jose Carillo’s English Forum,’ which shouldn’t have been the case. My proposed revision: ‘A Tanzania-based member of Jose Carillo’s English Forum, Mwita Chacha recently related this very curious incident about…’ or ‘Mwita Chacha, a Tanzania-based member of Jose Carillo’s English Forum, recently related this very curious incident about…’ Now the sentence has its subject in the right place.”

    My reply to Mwita Chacha:

    On the usage of the correlative conjunction “either…or…”:

    You think that there’s a serious parallelism flaw in this sentence from that column of mine: “Your colleague is either kidding you, or he or she is a superwriter from another planet.”

    You made this conclusion based on your understanding that “the usage of correlative conjunctions demands that the elements being connected be similar both in their length and in their grammatical form.”

    I must say at the very outset that my usage of the correlative conjunction “either…or…” in that sentence is grammatically faultless. On the contrary, I think the serious flaw is in your own contention about the proper use of correlative conjunctions. That serious flaw is that although it is indeed a must for the elements linked by a correlative conjunction to be similar in grammatical form and to be constructed in parallel, it is definitely wrong to say that these elements (1) should be similar in length, and (2) should be perfectly balanced.

    Your Proposition #1. That elements linked by a correlative conjunction should be similar
    in length. That this proposition about the use of correlative conjunction “either…or…” is absurd can readily be demonstrated by the following sentences:

    1. “We can either start cooking now so the kids can have dinner before going to sleep, or eat at that Chinese restaurant.”

    Here, the first grammatical element, “start cooking now so the kids can have dinner before going to sleep,” consists of 13 words, while the second element, “eat at that Chinese restaurant,” consists of only five words.

    2. “Give her either five days or as long as necessary to exhaust her accumulated leaves.”

    Here, the first element, “five days,” is only two words long, while the second element, “as long as necessary to exhaust her accumulated leaves,” is nine words long.

    Clearly then, the similarity in the length of the elements linked by “either…or…” isn’t a valid requirement for its correct usage. Those elements could be of any length whatsoever and the correlation would remain grammatically correct.

    (To be continued next week)

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

    j8carillo@yahoo.com

    Share.