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I'm not talking about the basic items in a list (e.g. X, Y and Z), but a list of clauses (I think).


I am interested in things like going to this place, going to that place, eating food, and other things. In that example, do the verbs have to match for proper grammar? What I learned in university writing class was that the entire series has to have verbs that match: going to this place, going to that place and going to eat.

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The verb tenses certainly need to match. Just try it without matching them to see how horrible it sounds:

I enjoy things like play on the beach, going to the fair, and ate ice cream.

The verb itself doesn't have to match, but it's more aesthetically pleasing if it either matches all the way through or never matches: you can certainly say

I like going to the the beach, going to the mall, and playing hockey

but it would sound better if you either said

I like going to the beach, the mall, and the hockey rink


I like going to the beach, shopping at the mall, and playing hockey.

One thing you definitely want to avoid is starting a list with one verb form that's implied for the rest of the list, and then changing it partway through:

I like going to the beach, the mall, the theater, and playing hockey.

And finally, don't forget to stay away from syllepsis.

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"You can leave in a taxi. If you can't get a taxi, you can leave in a huff. If that's too soon, you can leave in a minute and a huff." — Groucho Marx – Malvolio Feb 2 '11 at 4:18

Personally, I always place the comma before the conjunction, but I believe it's only a style thing.


one, two, three, and four


one, two, three and four

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This question is about verbs, not the serial comma. – waiwai933 Feb 2 '11 at 2:35
It's true the question is about the verbs to use in a comma-separated list, but the question title was not the best title to use, nor was the question tagged with verbs. I can understand why warren didn't correctly reply to the question. – kiamlaluno Feb 2 '11 at 4:23

Grammatical matching is called parallelism. Good usage requires any series of items (whether verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs, or anything else) to be parallel in form, i.e. having the same grammatical form.

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The restriction you are speaking of is not applied in the nowadays writing.

I came, I saw the uncut grass, and ran back into the house.
All I had to do was going to the store, going to the barber shop, and returning home before 4:00 PM.

The verbs should all use the same tense, but that doesn't mean that if the first verb is going to, then you need to keep writing going to and not using another verb.

A sentence like

I am going to eat, going to rest, and going to go to an appointment.

is normally written without to repeat going to every time.

I am going to eat, rest, and go to an appointment.

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I would call your first example sentence ungrammatical: mixing past and present tense ("came, saw" and then "run") in the same list is not proper. I would also say your second sentence is poorly phrased with the mixing of the infinitive form "to do" and then the gerund form "going/returning" in the actual list; it would sound much better as "All I had to do was go to the store, then the barber shop, and then return home before 4:00pm." – Hellion Feb 2 '11 at 4:46
Using run instead of ran was a typo, and I keep to make that error because I confuse the past with the past participle. I corrected the second sentence too. – kiamlaluno Feb 2 '11 at 4:55

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