Working in the Writing Center is a new adventure every day. We get to work with diverse writers and genres, and each essay we look at gives us a new perspective, and sometimes new challenges. I think that one of the hardest things for Writing Consultants can be dealing with grammar. Not that we don’t know what is correct and what is incorrect, but often it is challenging to explain why something is right or wrong grammatically. So, today I’m taking on a couple of points that I often see writers make errors with: parallel structure and using the subjunctive in noun clauses. I know, even the names of this grammar issues can be confusing, so here we go.
What is parallel structure? Basically it means that when you write some words, phrases, or clauses in a series, they need to be in the same form.
Example: On the weekends we often go shopping, running and hiking.
See how the verb tenses match? That’s parallel structure. The first example seems pretty easy, but when writers are creating long sentences with a lot of ideas in them, they often make mistakes with this – especially when they have a list of clauses.
Another example: Yesterday, Sara’s puppy Dex lost a tooth, pooped in the yard (yay!), and slept through the night.
Notice that in this series there are verb phrases and that the verb tense of each item in the series is the same. More parallel structure!!
Next up, using the subjunctive in noun clauses. First of all, a noun clause is a clause (subject + verb) that acts as the subject or object in a sentence. And a subjunctive verb is one that is in its simple form (or base form), and doesn’t have different forms for present, past, future, nor is it singular or plural. We often use this form to suggest that something is important, or to give a recommendation.
Examples: The instructor demanded that the students turn off their phones.
I advised the writer that he organize his ideas more clearly.
It is necessary that she arrive on time. You can see that the verb stays the same, not changing to match the subject – because it is in subjunctive form.
So, hopefully this clarifies some things that may have been confusing to you in the past. Really, when it comes to English grammar, there is a lot of information online, so never be afraid to google if you are confused. Youtube has some great tutorials and there are tons of practice pages online too! Of course, we’re always here at the Writing Center to help as well.
Writing Center Blog >