This is part two of our discussion on mistakes that crop up when authors write lists; you can find part one here. In part one, we discussed mismatched lists of nouns; today, we’ll discuss lists of actions. For instance:
Before he could go out for the evening, Jeremy had some chores to get done, like walking the dog, cleaning out the car, and run to the store for snacks.
Do you realize how much effort I put into this? I had to research all of the information myself, tracked down the original designers, and convinced them to help me put together a matching setup.
Can you see the problem with those lists? The items in these lists don’t all match. Let’s play a game of “one of these things is not like the others”:
walking the dog
cleaning out the car
run to the store for snacks
The first two items in the list begin with “-ing” verbs (we’ve discussed those several times before), but the final item in the list does not (it begins with an imperative verb, if you’re curious). That’s a problem—when you list actions like this, the format of each action needs to match the others. Partly, we do this because symmetry looks and sounds better. But it’s often more than that.
The formatting of each action needs to match up with the portion of the sentence that introduces the list. You should be able to remove all of the actions in the list but one (any one) and still have the sentence make sense. Let’s look at the second example above in this manner:
I had to research all of the information myself.
I had to tracked down the original designers.
I had to convinced them to help me put together a matching setup.
That didn’t work, did it? Those second two items on the list switched to past-tense verbs, even though the introductory text required an infinitive form of the verb (the basic, “unchanged” form of the verb). We can fix the sentence in one of two ways: we can fix the second two entries in the list or we can change the introductory text and first item in the list.
I had to research all of the information myself, track down the original designers, and convince them to help me put together a matching setup.
I researched all of the information myself, tracked down the original designers, and convinced them to help me put together a matching setup.
It’s that simple: items in a list should match one another in format, especially when it comes to the tense of the verb.