300 Days of Better Writing

May 31, 2010

Parallelism with Gerunds

A gerund is verb form, usually ending in –ing, that is the name of an action. For example, in the two sentences below, the first sentence uses “running” as a gerund naming an action, and the second uses “running” as verb describing an action.

“Running is a good pastime.”
“He was running down the street.”

Here’s the point: Gerunds act like nouns. When you are linking words and phrases in a series, remember that gerunds can only be linked with other nouns and not with verbs. Otherwise, your sentences will have problems with parallelism. You will be mixing nouns and verbs, which is incorrect. Consider this sentence.

“The committee chairperson noted that she supported people who disagreed but not arguing.”

In this sample, the chairperson supports the action of disagreeing, but not the activity called arguing. “Disagreed” is a verb, and “arguing” is a gerund naming a particular type of action.

(We could make the claim that “arguing” is matched with “people who disagreed,” which would make this correct. Both of these are acting like nouns in this sentence. However, we’re still matching different types of things: a type of person with a type of action.)

To make this sentence correct, we need both words to have the same part of speech. Two possible revisions are as follows.

“The committee chairperson noted that she supported people who disagreed but not those who argued.” (This uses two verbs.)
“The committee chairperson noted that she supported disagreement but not argument.” (This uses two nouns.)

As you can see, when we revised this sentence to resolve the problem with parallelism, we found that one of the revisions, the second sentence, was very clear and concise. By solving the error, we produced an economical and forceful sentence.

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