In November 2010, InternsOver40, a popular job-search site for older job seekers, published an article entitled Bobby’s Rant, Rave & Whatever: “Less is More?” internsover40

The second paragraph begins as follows: “Over the years I have ranted  to many of my close friends “that in my worst day I have more than 98% of the world.” Those people who live on less than $68 dollars a month(yes month).” [sic]

While I like the sentiment of this article, I am compelled to rant about its writing style.  First, there are small formatting issues like the extra space between “ranted” and “to,” and the lack of a space prior to “(yes month).”  That’s just a tiny little rant.

Did you Understand That Sentence?  Parallel Construction

More notably there’s the sentence, “In my worst day I have more than 98% of the world.”  Do you see the ambiguity here?  Honestly when I first read the sentence I did not understand it.  I thought the author was saying he had in his possession some percentage of the world.  Upon second or third reading, I realized he meant that he had more than does 98% of the world – or that he has more than 98% of the world has.

On a basic level, the problem here is parallel construction.  Lack of parallel construction is an issue that plagues many writers, and that takes the sense out of sentences.  In my article about correlative conjunctions, I addressed the issue of parallel construction when using conjunctions such as “both” and “and” in a sentence.  If you read that article, you learned that the phrases after the correlative conjunctions “both” and “and” must be the same part of speech, e.g. “He likes both running and swimming.”  The same idea applies here.

Take the following sentence.  How would you interpret its meaning?I like coffee more than my husband - parallel construction

I like coffee more than my husband.

Read grammatically, this sentence would imply that given a choice between coffee and her husband, the writer would choose coffee.  And although we might be able to cut corners in our spoken communications, it doesn’t work in writing.

Now read:

I like coffee more than does my husband.


I like coffee more than my husband likes it.


I like coffee more than my husband does.

These versions are looking much better for the husband.

To write an unambiguous sentence, we need to look at the two things being compared to ensure they are really the things we want to compare! “I like coffee more than my husband” has nouns (coffee, husband) as the compared objects, so “coffee” is compared against “my husband.”  “I like coffee more than does my husband” has verbs as the compared objects (like, does) so we are comparing degrees of the verb “like.”  And “I like coffee more than my husband likes it” again compares verbs (like, likes).

Sentence Fragments

You may also have noticed that the last sentence in the InternsOver40 paragraph is not a sentence.  It reads, “Those people who live on less than $68 dollars a month(yes month).”

You can probably spot a sentence fragment when you see one.  Sometimes sentence fragments can be used to stylistic advantage, but I don’t think this particular fragment was effective, especially considering the multitude of other errors in the paragraph.

If you are concerned, as I am, about what a major job seeking resource like InternsOver40 is teaching job seekers about how to write, please share your concern with them.  I personally would like to see InternsOver40 post well-written, well-edited articles that will give candidates tools to shine in their written presentation.

Do you have a question about how to keep your sentence structure parallel?  Or about whether a sentence is a sentence fragment?  I’d love to listen to and answer your questions.  Please share your comments below.

Image courtesy Damian Cugley CC BY-SA 2.0

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