• TV advisory runs aground due to unparallel construction – II

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    Jose A. Carillo

    Jose A. Carillo

    Last week, to answer a question on whether infinitives and gerunds can be used in the same sentence, I demonstrated that the following TV advisory violates the parallelism rule in English grammar:

    “The [X] Foundation announces that it is currently accepting donations to assist in rescue operations and providing aid to families affected by typhoon Yolanda.”

    I explained that an infinitive phrase and a gerund phrase can be used in the same sentence, but only if they are functioning separately and independently. When made to function jointly in that sentence, however, they violate the parallel construction rule: When forming a serial or enumerative listing, elements that are alike in function should follow the same grammatical pattern all throughout.

    That TV advisory clearly violated this rule because it forced the infinitive phrase “to assist in rescue operations” and the gerund phrase “providing aid to families affected by typhoon Yolanda” to function jointly as a compound adverbial phrase modifying the noun “donations.” To work in parallel, they should either be both infinitive phrases or both gerund phrases.

    That particular sentence becomes dysfunctional when the both-gerund option is taken, however. Only the both-infinitive option works properly: “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 problem with this parallel reconstruction, though, is that it also serves to show in bolder relief the faulty semantics of that sentence: “donations” can’t do the act of assisting in rescue operations, and it can’t provide aid to typhoon-struck families either.
    So what do we do with that parallel reconstruction?

    I’ll boil down the problem to this question: Grammatically and semantically, what can the subject “donations” legitimately do as doer of the action?

    Well, “donations” can “fund,” “finance,” or “support” an undertaking. Since “donations” will just have a supportive role in the effort, however, the sense will be much better if we use the verb phrase “help fund” or “help finance” instead (but not “help support,” which is a redundancy). But then again, while either of them will apply neatly to the “rescue operations” as their object, they won’t work properly with the phrase “to provide aid to families affected by typhoon Yolanda” as another object (it’s awkward to say “donations to provide aid to families affected by typhoon Yolanda”).

    Two more problems: By singling out “families affected by typhoon Yolanda” as aid recipients, that TV advisory excludes lone victims and individuals not related by blood or marital ties; a more inclusive phrase would be “victims of typhoon Yolanda.” And then the noun “aid” in the phrase “to provide aid to families affected by typhoon Yolanda” is too unspecific and too inclusive (it even encompasses “rescue”); “relief” would be more appropriate.

    Here’s a revision that takes all the points above into account: “The [X] Foundation announces that it is currently accepting donations to help fund the rescue and relief operations for victims of typhoon Yolanda.” This sounds much better, except that the verb “fund,” which denotes money, conceptually excludes donations in kind—something that I’m sure wasn’t intended by the foundation.

    To deal with this complication, I’ll offer a little open secret in English grammar: the use of the preposition “for” to indicate purpose or the object or recipient of a perception, desire, or activity without necessarily identifying the action involved. What this means is that we can use “for” to take the place of the troublesome verb phrase “to help fund.”

    Here now is the fine-tuned TV advisory: “The [X] Foundation announces that it is currently accepting donations for the rescue and relief operations for victims of typhoon Yolanda.”

    For the road, here’s an even better version: “The [X] Foundation announces that it is currently accepting donations to support the rescue and relief operations for victims of typhoon Yolanda.”

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

    j8carillo@yahoo.com

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    2 Comments

    1. Don’t be sorry for giving your opinion, Phylliss. It’s perfectly understandable to think, like you do, that I missed the point of that sentence. That’s really the problem with unparallel and poorly worded constructions; their sense can be so ambiguous or unclear that they can be interpreted any which way. Indeed, even if we assume that the TV advisory merely intended to make the phrase “to assist in rescue operations” explain why the foundation was accepting donations, I would say that it didn’t communicate that point at all. A construction like this would have done so: “The [X] Foundation announces that to assist in rescue operations for families affected by typhoon Yolanda, it is currently accepting donations and providing aid to them.” I think you’ll agree with me though that that while that sentence is grammatically correct, it is garbled, roundabout, and ultimately illogical. Perhaps what would yield a sense closer to what you have in mind is this other reconstruction of that sentence: “The [X] Foundation announces that it is currently accepting donations to support the rescue operations and that it is providing aid to families affected by typhoon Yolanda.” That’s two parallel “that”-clauses doing a better job of delivering the point that was possibly meant by that TV advisory (although we can never be sure from the tenor of that sentence). But then again, Phylliss, isn’t this another strong proof why—no matter what we want to say—we need parallel construction all the time for clarity’s sake?

    2. Phylliss Quinn on

      I’m sorry to say, Prof. Carillo, that you missed the point of the sentence.
      “The [X] Foundation announces that it is currently accepting donations to assist in rescue operations and providing aid to families affected by typhoon Yolanda.”
      It does not violate the parallelism rule at all. The foundation is “accepting donations” and “providing aid.” The phrase “to assist in rescue operations” merely explains why the foundation is accepting donations.