- PROBLEMS OF CONSISTENCY
In this THIRD post, please feel free to scroll through to what you want from these topics:
- Subject-Verb Agreement
- Inconsistencies With Verb Tenses
- Faulty Parallelism
- Double Negatives
- The Laws Of Parallelism
Good writing does not exist without good sentences, so the saying goes.
Consistency is the orderly treatment of a set of linked elements, and it is a necessary characteristic of polished, highly readable prose. Consistency is either ‘uniform’ or ‘harmonious,’ depending on whether a set of linked elements is indivisible or divisible into subsets.
Consistency is how similar a text looks or feels throughout its entirety, and either refers to writing style or content. If you use words that vary in spelling but have the same meaning (e.g. color vs. colour) interchangeably, that isn’t consistent. Same goes for voice or tone: if you use some short, choppy paragraphs and then move into longer, more elegant text, that’s not consistent either.
Consistency with information is also important: A pair of shoes can’t be red in one sentence and blue in the next.
The structure of sentences can be a problem for students. You will need to be able to identify and revise problem sentences so that your writing is technically correct.
GUIDE FOR REVISING: Subjects and verbs must AGREE with one another in number (singular or plural). Thus, if a subject is singular, its verb must also be singular; if a subject is plural, its verb must also be plural.
In a more erudite manner: The verb in every independent or dependent clause must agree with its subject and in person and number.
There are three persons:
- First person is the speaker;
- Second person is the person spoken to and,
- Third person is the person or thing spoken about.
There are two numbers:
- the singular, denoting one person or thing; and,
- the plural, denoting more than one person or thing.
Agreement of subject and verb nearly always has the problems in the following areas:
The number of the verb in a sentence is not affected by any modifying phrases or clauses standing between the subject and the verb, but is determined entirely by the number of the subject.
The evidence that they submitted to the judges was [not were] convincing. (Evidence is the subject of the verb was).
A list of eligible candidates was [not were] posted on the bulletin board. (List is the subject of the verb was posted)
Verbs Preceding The Subject
In some sentences the verb precedes the subject. This reversal of common order frequently leads to error in agreement.
There is [not are] in many countries much unrest today. [Unrest is the subject of the verb is.]
There are [not is] a table, two couches, four chairs, and a desk in the living room. [Table, couches, chairs and desk are the subject of the verb are.]
The indefinite pronouns or adjectives either, neither and each; the adjective every, and such compounds as everybody, anybody, everyone, anyone are always SINGULAR. None may be singular or plural.
- Each of the plans has [not have] its advantages.
- Everyone who heard the speech was [not were] impressed by it.
- Is [not Are] either of you ready for a walk?
- None of the men have brought their wives.
- None of the three is [are] interested.
- Compound Subjects
Compound subjects joined by and normally require a plural verb:
Correctness and precision are required in all good writing.
Where are the bracelets and beads?
NOTE: When nouns joined by and are thought of as a unit or actually refer to the same person or thing, the verb is normally singular.
The sum and substance of the matter is [not are] hardly worth considering.
My friend and coworker Mr Jones has [not have] gone abroad.
Subjects Joined By Or and Nor
Singular subjects joined by or or nor take a singular verb. If one subject, however, is singular and the other plural, the verb agrees in number and person with the nearer one:
Either the coach or the player was [not were] at fault.
Neither the cat nor the kittens have [not has] been fed. [The plural word kittens in the compound subject stands next to the verb have been fed]
Neither the kittens nor the cat has [not have] been fed. [The singular subject cat stands next to the verb which is therefore singular.]
Nouns In Plural Form
As a general rule use a singular verb with nouns that are plural in form but singular in meaning. The following nouns are usually singular in meaning: news, economics, ethics, physics, mathematics, gallows, mumps, measles, shambles, whereabouts:
The news is reported at eleven o’clock.
Measles is a contagious disease.
The following nouns are usually plural: gymnastics, tactics, trousers, scissors, athletics, tidings, acoustics, riches, barracks:
Athletics attract him.
The scissors are sharp.
Plural nouns denoting a mass, a quantity, or a number require a singular verb when the subject is regarded as a unit.
Five dollars is too much for Hassan to pay.
Though usage in mixed, phrases involving addition, multiplication, subtraction and division of numbers preferably take the singular:
Three and three is [are] nine.
Two times five is ten.
Sixteen divided by four is four.
Some nouns occur only in plural form, but they are singular nouns and take a singular verb: politics, news, ethics, measles.
Plural nouns of Latin origin take plural verbs (alumni, media, criteria, phenomena). The word data can take both a singular verb and a plural verb. The use of plural is more formal.
In expressions like some of the pie(s), a percentage of the profit(s), all of the money, all of the children; the number of some, percentage, and all is determined by the number of the noun in the prepositional phrase:
- Some of the pie is missing.
- Some of the pies are missing.
Whether to use a singular or plural verb with the word number depends on the modifying article. The number requires a singular verb, a number, a plural one.
- The number of students at the exhibition was small.
- A small number of students were at the art exhibition
Some nouns are singular in form but plural in meaning. They are called collective nouns and include such words as team, class, committee, crowd and crew. These nouns may take either singular or plural verb: if you are thinking of the group as unit, use a singular verb; if you are thinking of the individual members of the group, use a plural verb.
- The crew is striking for higher pay. [The crew is acting as unit.]
- The crew are writing reports of the week. [The members of the crew are acting as individuals.]
Nouns With Foreign Plurals
Some nouns retain the plural forms peculiar to the languages from which they have been borrowed: alumni, media, crises. Still other nouns occur with either their original plural forms or plural forms typical of English: aquaria or aquariums, criteria or criterions.
Note: Be careful not to use a plural form when you prefer to use a singular idea.
He is an alumnus of Harvard not He is an alumni of Harvard.
Time and Amount Nouns
Subjects that express time or amount also take a singular verb.
Correct: Forty thousand is an average starting salary for a Computer Science graduate.
Titles and Country Names
Titles and names of countries take the singular form of the verb.
Correct: The Netherlands is a European country that borders Belgium.
INCONSISTENCIES WITH VERB TENSES
In formal writing, it is important to keep verb tenses consistent so that readers can follow the progress of ideas and arguments easily.
In creative writing, verb tenses may be used inconsistently for effect.
In academic writing, it is important to use verb tenses consistently throughout a paper, carefully signaling any necessary shifts in tense.
GUIDE FOR REVISING: Verb tenses should not shift unnecessarily from sentence to sentence or within a single sentence.
Items joined by a coordinating (and, but, or, nor, for, so, yet) or a correlative conjunction, (not only… but also, both… and, either… or, neither… nor) or by a comparative expression (as much as, more than, less than) need to be parallel in their grammatical form.
Correcting Inconsistent Tenses
Sometimes in academic writing, it is necessary to signal to the reader that one event was completed in the past before another past event occurred. This is where the perfect form of verbs can be used (have + verb).
Correct: By the time Peabody joined the kindergarten movement, most of her Transcendentalist friends had died.
The phrase “by the time” signals that the action in the second clause occurred before the action in the first clause. This kind of signal helps the reader follow any shifts in time.
When discussing a specific essay or piece of literature, use the present tense throughout the paper.
Correct: In her essay “A Glimpse of Christ’s Idea of Society,” Peabody by no means endorses all communities of intention. She has criticism for the Shakers, for example, for their focus on economic success to the exclusion of higher ideals. Her main critique is leveled against the loss of “the sacredness of family.”
To eliminate illogical shifts in tenses, the writer should choose the specific tense to be used in the essay and then coordinate all other verbs with it to reflect future and past events in relation to the chosen tense.
Incorrect: For my research project I first selected the subject of interest. But now I discovered that I have to limit it because I realize that I will never be able to cover it in 25 pages. Nevertheless, I am going ahead. I prepared a list of a working bibliography, and now I am in the process of preparing a preliminary outline.
The passage above is full of illogical shifts from the past tense to the present and the future. Since most actions happened in the past, we need to make the verb forms consistent.
Here is the revised version of the passage in which the use of the past tense is consistent:
Correct: For my research project I first selected the subject of interest. Then I discovered that I had to limit it because I realized that I would never be able to cover it in 25 pages. Nevertheless, I went ahead and prepared a list of a working bibliography, and now I am in the process of preparing a preliminary outline.
Parallelism is the matching of the forms of words, phrases, or clauses within a sentence. Editing your work for parallel construction improves clarity and emphasizes your points.
KEY: Making a sentence parallel simply involves making the sentence balanced. Grammar is based on parallel structure.
GUIDE FOR REVISING: Parallel grammatical structures can be two or more words of the same part of speech, two or more phrases of the same type. Correct a sentence containing faulty parallelism by rewording it so that each parallel idea is expressed in the same grammatical structure.
Correcting Faulty Parallelism
Conjoined items in a sentence must be in the same grammatical form.
Incorrect: I like to jog and walking.
In the above sentence, to jog and walking are not parallel in grammatical construction.
To avoid faulty parallelism, the sentence above should be corrected to:
Correct: I like jogging and walking.
Words, phrases, and clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, nor, for, so, yet) need to have parallel grammatical construction.
Incorrect: We all need good nutrition and to exercise on a regular basis.
Correct: We all need good nutrition and regular exercise.
Words, phrases, and clauses joined by a correlative conjunction (not only… but also, both… and, either… or, neither… nor) need to have parallel grammatical construction.
Incorrect: We like both to read books and watching movies.
Correct: We like both to read books and to watch movies.
Words, phrases, and clauses joined by a comparative expression (as much as, more than, less than) need to have parallel grammatical construction.
Incorrect: I enjoy going out to a movie as much as I like to rent a movie and stay home to watch it.
Correct: I enjoy going out to a movie as much as I enjoy renting a movie and staying home to watch it.
Words, phrases, and clauses in a series should be parallel in grammatical construction.
Incorrect: He is smart, honest, and has a great sense of responsibility.
Correct: He is smart, honest, and very responsible.
Items in a bulleted list should also be parallel in their grammatical form. For example,
Incorrect: Set up your own wiki:
- Explore sample wiki sites
- Creating an account on free hosting services
- Selecting a wiki name
- How to choose privacy options
- Creating and customizing your wiki site
Correct: Set up your own wiki:
- Explore sample wiki sites
- Create an account on free hosting services
- Select a wiki name
- Choose privacy options
- Create and customize your wiki site
A double negative is a statement which contains two negative words.
If two negatives are used in one sentence, the opposite meaning may be conveyed. In many British, American, and other dialects, two or more negatives can be used with a single negative meaning.
GUIDE FOR REVISING: A double negative is a statement containing two negative words. It is not part of Standard English, and its use should be avoided.
Incorrect: I ain’t seen nobody.
Correct: I haven’t seen anybody.
CORRECTING DOUBLE NEGATIVES
The most frequently used negative words are no, not, nothing, never, none, no one, nowhere, neither, and nobody.
There are some words which have a negative element in their meanings although they contain no overly negative affix. These words are: hardly, scarcely, barely, etc.
Incorrect: I haven’t barely started to think about my exam.
Correct: I have barely started to think about my exam.
Nobody, nothing, never are considered emphatic. Be careful when you use these words. Use not anybody, not ever instead.
Anybody, anything, and ever are not negative and have to be used with not to convey a negative meaning.
There are justifiable uses of two negative words in a sentence.
Correct: There is no way I cannot visit my mother this year.
In the sentence above, the use of double negatives is emphatic — “I must visit my mother.”
Consider another example:
Correct: I wasn’t unhappy with my grade.
Here the double negative is used to intend a positive or lukewarm meaning — “I wasn’t displeased, but I wasn’t elated either about my grade.”
Two negative ideas can be expressed with not… or and not… nor conjunctions. When not is followed by two or more verbs, nouns, or adjectives, it is joined by or.
Correct: He doesn’t drink or dance.
Use nor after a phrase to separate and emphasize a second verb, adjective, or noun.
Correct: Our main objective is not oil, nor power. It is stability in the region.
Miss has a negative meaning and does not need to have a negative added.
Incorrect: I miss not seeing him every day.
Correct: I miss seeing him every day.
There are several ways of correcting a double negative:
- Incorrect: The waitress wasn’t doing nothing but standing around smoking.
- Correct: The waitress wasn’t doing anything but standing around smoking.
- Correct: The waitress was doing nothing but standing around smoking.
- Incorrect: The shopper did not have no energy left at the end of the day.
- Correct: The shopper did not have any energy left at the end of the day.
- Correct: The shopper had no energy left at the end of the day.
THE LAWS OF PARALLELISM
Words or phrases must be in the same form of speech (adjectives, verbs, nouns) and use the same structure. Often balancing a phrase requires the removal of extraneous words.
KEY: When you see lists, comparisons, standard phrases, pronouns and conjunctions, CHECK for parallelism:
- COMPARISONS: more than, as much as, is, like.
- STANDARD PHRASES: not only/but also, so/that, either/or, neither/nor, prefer/to
- PRONOUNS: on, you
- CONJUNCTIONS: and, but
1. BALANCING LISTS
- Incorrect: She went swimming, running and danced all night.
- Correct: She went swimming, running and dancing all night.
2. BALANCING COMPARISONS
- Incorrect: Tad actually liked to participate in the science league more than he liked playing basketball.
- Correct: Tad actually liked participating in the science league more than he liked playing basketball.
- Correct: Tad actually liked to participate in the science league more than he liked to play basketball.
3. BALANCING TWO SIDES OF A STANDARD PHRASE
- Incorrect: I prefer eating salty foods to sweet foods.
- Correct: I prefer eating salty foods to eating sweet foods.
- Incorrect: Judging by the look on his face, Jed is either nervous or filled with excitement.
- Correct: Judging by the look on his face, Jed is either nervous or excited.
4. BALANCING PRONOUNS
- Incorrect: One should always do what you want.
- Correct: One should always do what one wants.
- Correct: You should always do what you want.
5. BALANCING TWO SIDES OF A CONJUCTION
- Incorrect: To prepare for the party, we should set the table and making the pasta.
- Correct: To prepare for the party, we should set the table and make the pasta.
- Incorrect: Tad’s book is informative but full of entertainment.
- Correct: Tad’s book is informative but entertaining.
6. OMISSION OF EXTRANEOUS WORDS
- Incorrect: The students were happy to learn the lesson, finish the homework, and they could enjoy the weekend.
- Correct: The students were happy to learn the lesson, finish the homework, and enjoy the weekend.
Once again dear folks, this a lot to take in all at once. Practicing will help you getting it right in the end.
As of old: Be EMPOWERED and EXCEL.