Writing Multiple-Choice Questions
Comparisons and Parallelism
What’s wrong with the following sentence?

Like birds, wings have evolved in some mammals.

What’s being compared here? Birds and wings or birds and some mammals? Right, birds and some mammals. To fix this, put the two things being compared next to each other:

Like birds, some mammals have evolved wings.

Another, trickier example:

Like the Byzantines, Ottoman buildings often feature huge domes.

It’s illogical to compare the Byzantines to Ottoman buildings. You’re comparing people to structures. Instead, compare like with like. Here are some ways to fix this problem:

Like Byzantine structures, Ottoman buildings often feature huge domes.

Like the Byzantines, the Ottomans built structures that feature huge domes.

Like Byzantine architects, Ottoman architects built structures with huge domes.

Watch out for that typical SAT distraction, the long intervening clause:

Like the Byzantines, who in the course of ruling the eastern Mediterranean basin for a thousand years left behind much-imitated traditions in law, art, and architecture, Ottoman architecture often features huge domes.

No matter how long that intervening clause is, you still have to compare like with like; this sentence compares the Byzantines with Ottoman architecture. Note how the word architecture comes right before Ottoman architecture. This is a typical SAT device intended to camouflage the mistake. There are many possible fixes: either compare Byzantines to Ottomans, Byzantine architecture to Ottoman architecture, Byzantine buildings to Ottoman buildings, Byzantine architects to Ottoman architects . . . you get the idea. This kind of error comes up a lot in Sentence and Paragraph Improvements.
Another key concept is the difference between like and as. Use like to compare nouns (persons, places, things, or ideas):

That woman sings like Aretha Franklin.

This desert looks like the surface of the moon.

That piece of chicken you cooked for me is like iron.

Neoconservatism sounds an awful lot like Wilsonianism to me.

Use as to compare verbs:

That woman sings powerfully, just as Aretha Franklin did.

This desert looks barren, just as the surface of the moon does.

Neoconservatism sounds like a bad idea to me, just as Wilsonianism did to observers in the 1910s.

For the like version of the chicken sentence above, compare the actions rather than the things and use as:

That piece of chicken you cooked for me is hard, just as iron is.

A bit inelegant, isn’t it? The following is better:

That piece of chicken you cooked for me is as hard as iron.

As/as is one of a few important constructions used for comparison. Others are:
Form Example
neither/nor That candidate has neither the experience nor the stomach to run for national office.
either/or Some maintain that a leader can be either honest or effective.
not only/but also Others maintain that if we simply change the political culture, we can have leaders that are not only honest but also effective.
the more/the more The more things change, the more they stay the same.
the less/the less The less people care, the less chance there is anything will change.
both/and Both liberals and conservatives hunger for more effective government.
if/then If a candidate appeals to what’s best in all citizens, then that candidate will win in a landslide.
These forms should always be maintained: Don’t write neither/or or not only/but. Also, notice how the underlined portions in the example sentences all follow the same form. In other words, these forms are “parallel.” Look at this sentence:

I eat lots of vegetables, but on the other hand, I eat lots of fish.

You have the other hand, but where’s the first hand? This sentence is not parallel; to fix it, write:

On the one hand, I eat lots of vegetables, but on the other hand, I eat lots of fish.

What’s wrong with the following sentence?

Not only do I like to ski, but I also like sledding

The verb in the first clause is an infinitive: to ski. But the verb in the second clause is a gerund: sledding. Fix it in one of two ways:

Not only do I like to ski, but I also like to sled.

Not only do I like skiing, but I also like sledding.

The need for parallel structure arises in series as well. The following sentence is incorrect:

Achilles liked killing, running, and to sulk.

Again, there are two ways to fix this:

Achilles liked to kill, to run, and to sulk.

Achilles liked killing, running, and sulking.

Another version of the parallelism mistake you’re likely to see is:

Painting with oils is easier than when you paint with watercolors.

To fix this, make sure your verbs are in the same form:

Painting with oils is easier than painting with watercolors.

As usual, you may encounter sentences with intervening, camouflaging clauses:

Painting with oils, which you might as well use if you want to paint at all, is easier than when you paint with watercolors.

Don’t be thrown by a camouflaging clause. Change when you paint to painting, just as we did in the previous, incorrect sentence.
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