Spring has finally fully sprung. Think of this month’s tip as spring cleaning for your writing: use parallel form to keep your lists neat and tidy. Read on for the full scoop.
Until the next tip!
Keep Your Ducks in a Row: Use Parallel Form
One of the most common mistakes I see in good legal writing is the use of non-parallel form—lists that contain a jumble of items that don’t match grammatically. The rule is simple: items in a list need to matchy-match grammatically.
Here’s a non-parallel list that caught my eye when I was reading The New York Times’ coverage of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s ongoing efforts to blame his former staff for the fiasco known as Bridgegate:
But the report . . . doubles down on a strategy of portraying Ms. Kelly as duplicitous, weeping frequently and dependent on men for approval and stability.
Caught that? The three descriptors are duplicitous, weeping,
That’s adjective, verb, adjective. Weeping
just doesn’t fit. (I admit, this is hardly the ickiest part of this sentence.) Weepy
or even prone to weeping
would do the trick in terms of creating parallel form.
And here’s a messy list from the side of a frozen yogurt truck I just saw in Manhattan:
Yogo’s benefits include a mish-mash of just about every grammatical form: nouns, verbs, gerunds. The fix is easy: each of the benefits should start with a verb like Boosts
, as in:
-Contains live and active probiotic cultures
-Enhances one’s nutritional status
You get the idea.
In legal writing, the parallel form issue comes up in the numbered and bulleted lists we constantly use, especially overviews of elements or factors. So instead of:
In the Fourth Circuit, courts deciding whether to grant preliminary injunctions consider the following criteria: (1) the moving party’s likelihood of success on the merits, (2) the moving party will be irreparably injured if the preliminary relief is not granted, (3) a balance of hardships favoring the plaintiff and (4) the public interest would be advanced by the injunction.
In the Fourth Circuit, courts deciding whether to grant preliminary injunctions consider the following criteria: (1) the moving party’s likelihood of success on the merits, (2) irreparable injury to the moving party if the preliminary relief is not granted, (3) a balance of hardships favoring the moving party, and (4) advancement of the public interest.
The revision is grammatically correct, which is reason enough to make the changes, but it also makes the information just a bit easier to take in.
So when you're editing, double check that all of your lists are in parallel form. It’s an easy rule to follow, and it helps send the message to your reader that these items are peas in a pod—they actually serve the same function in your sentence.
If you’re old enough to remember Sesame Street, think of parallel form as the Cookie Monster rule—ask yourself, “Which of these things is not like the others?”