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How to Write Dialogue

What to do about parallel structure.

By
Neal Whitman, read by Mignon Fogarty,
January 13, 2011
Episode #258

Page 2 of 2

At this point, you may be thinking, “Great! I’ll play it safe and always repeat the subject.” That’s not a good idea. To see why, let’s take an example without quotation fronting. Suppose we write

Squiggly squealed with glee and grabbed the box of chocolates.

The “and” is joining two verb phrases: “squealed with glee” and “grabbed the box of chocolates.” This option is good if you want the squealing and the grabbing viewed as parts of a single event. Alternatively, we could restate the subject for the second verb phrase, so that the “and” joins two entire clauses, like this:

Squiggly squealed with glee, and he grabbed the box of chocolates.

This option is better if you want the squealing and the grabbing viewed as separate events. It’s the difference between, “I came, saw, and conquered” and “I came, I saw, and I conquered.”

But wouldn’t it be weird if you read a story whose author always chose to repeat the subject in situations like this? The same is true when it comes to repeating the subject in sentences that use quotation fronting.

So here’s the quick and dirty tip for sentences in which a character says or thinks something, and immediately afterward does something. First, write the part about what the character says or thinks, using or not using quotation fronting as you please. Then, if you want the actions of saying and doing to be more like a single event, don’t repeat the subject: Squiggly squealed with glee and grabbed the box of chocolates. If you want the actions of saying and doing to be more like separate events, then go ahead and repeat the subject for the verb of doing: Squiggly squealed with glee, and he grabbed the box of chocolates.

Literal Minded

This article was written by Neal Whitman, who has a PhD in linguistics and blogs at Literal Minded.

The podcast edition of this article was read by Mignon Fogarty, author of Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing and The Grammar Devotional.

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