TV advisory runs aground due to unparallel construction – I

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Jose A. Carillo

Jose A. Carillo

This thorny language problem regarding the response to Typhoon Yolanda’s devastation was brought to my attention by Miss Mae, a Middle East-based member of Jose Carillo’s English Forum:

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“A certain TV network is running this advisory every now and then: ‘The [X] Foundation announces that it is currently accepting donations to assist in rescue operations and providing aid to families affected by typhoon Yolanda.’

“This is no doubt a public service to the Filipinos, but I can’t help but wonder if it’s doing its English right. Could infinitives and gerunds be used in the same sentence? That one has ‘to assist in rescue operations,’ an infinitive, and ‘providing aid to families,’ a gerund.”

My reply to Miss Mae:

I’m sorry to say this, but that innocuous-looking sentence is actually a serial killer of English. It not only violates the parallelism rule but, even worse, suffers from stilted and slippery construction. I really can’t imagine how that TV network and that foundation could allow such English to be broadcast without being vetted for grammar and syntax.

To unravel what ails that TV advisory, let me first answer your question: “Could infinitives and gerunds be used in the same sentence?” Yes, absolutely, but only if the infinitive (or infinitive phrase) is functioning separately and independently from the gerund (or gerund phrase).

For example, we can say “We went to Leyte to assist in the rescue operations, but we ended up providing relief goods to the typhoon-struck families.” Here, the infinitive phrase “to assist in the rescue operations” is an adverbial complement that modifies the verb “went,” and the gerund phrase “providing relief goods to the typhoon-struck families,” also an adverbial complement, modifies the phrasal verb “ended up.” Even so, the sentence works because the infinitive phrase and gerund phrase are separate and independent of each other.

But the situation is different for that TV advisory: “The [X] Foundation announces that it is currently accepting donations to assist in rescue operations and providing aid to families affected by typhoon Yolanda.” Here, the infinitive phrase “to assist in rescue operations” and the gerund phrase “providing aid to families affected by typhoon Yolanda” are functioning jointly as a compound adverbial phrase modifying the noun “donations.”

In English, the elements of such compound modifiers should strictly be set in parallel to ensure clarity and cohesion. The cardinal rule for parallel construction is this: When forming a serial or enumerative listing, elements that are alike in function should follow the same grammatical pattern all throughout. They should all be noun forms, all infinitives, all gerunds, all verbs, all adjectives, and so on as the case may be. Different grammatical forms should never be mixed.

For that TV advisory then, we need to construct the two adverbial phrases in parallel to jointly modify the verb “donations.” Tentatively, we can either make them both infinitive phrases or both gerund phrases, then check which resulting parallel reconstruction will actually work.

Let’s first render both adverbial modifiers into gerund phrases: “The [X] Foundation announces that it is currently accepting donations assisting in rescue operations and providing aid to families affected by typhoon Yolanda.” Simply by inspection, we can see that the reconstructed sentence has become dysfunctional, unable to convey its intended sense.

Now let’s render both adverbial modifiers into infinitive phrases: “The [X] Foundation announces that it is currently accepting donations to assist in rescue operations and to provide aid to families affected by typhoon Yolanda.”

The elements of that compound adverbial modifier of “donations” are clearly parallel now, but we are now face to face with an even bigger problem: the flawed semantics or sense of that sentence. For grammatically, “donations” can’t do the act of assisting in rescue operations, and it can’t provide aid to typhoon-struck families either.

We’ll take up this serious problem 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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