My friend Zev Lowe (ESADE MBA ’09) took this photo in Kumasi, Ghana.
Did the sign make you laugh? Why would many speakers of English find it amusing?
Probably because it violates the principle of grammatical parallelism, thus creating unintentional hilarity.
We learn about parallelism in class 3 of our 9-session GMAT class. In short, parallelism is (or should be) present in any construction that puts two or more things the same way.
CORRECT: The company balanced its budget, hired a new janitor, and laid off two executives who wouldn’t stop stealing staplers.
In this sentence, balanced, hired, and laid off are all past tense verbs, nicely arranged in a list with an “and” before the last item. (Note that the comma before the “and” is somewhat controversial in American English. The GMAT tends to use a comma before the last item in a list, but you are not tested on this issue.)
INCORRECT: An effective executive should be capable of identifying and nurturing talent from a diverse pool of applicants and to retain high-potential employees by creating a shared vision.
Wait, what should an effective executive be capable of? Identifying and nurturing one thing, and to retain another thing? Those verb forms don’t match!
CORRECT: An effective executive should be capable of identifying and nurturing talent from a diverse pool of applicants and retaining high-potential employees by creating a shared vision.
Note that, when looking for parallelism, we don’t care much about what things are being identified, nurtured, or retained. In fact, verbs that have objects can be parallel to verbs that don’t have objects at all. For instance:
CORRECT: I like to build robots from kits that I order from Japan, run marathons in seaside towns, sing, hike, and bake special brownies.
What songs are we singing? Where are we hiking? It doesn’t matter — the verbs match and the sentence is correct.
For a review of Parallelism, see the Manhattan GMAT Sentence Correction book, Chapter 4.
So, are you wondering about “No Keep Fit”?
Zev writes, “I had to ask someone. No jogging, walking, in-line skating, recreational cycling, or anything else like that. No hawking or loitering, either. It’s a nice road, and there are no sidewalks, so obviously we can’t have that kind of person taking up space that is reserved for vehicles.”
Of course, the sign’s admonishment could easily be made parallel by writing, “No Hawking, No Loitering, No Keeping Fit.” But what fun would that be?
(Previous Post: GMAT Grammar in Real Life: Misplaced Modifiers.)