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I'm confronted with two compelling options:

  1. I want to be at least partially responsible for getting them to think differently, or inspiring them to earnestly investigate new topics.

  2. I want to be at least partially responsible for getting them to think differently, or for inspiring them to earnestly investigate new topics.

Which one should I choose, and why? The first sentence uses fewer words, usually my yardstick for choice in situations like this. But the second sounds better when spoken, so I'm torn.

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The unnecessary comma may be throwing you off here. The first sentence works better without it. –  Bradd Szonye May 20 '13 at 22:50
The second for is not necessary, since the two gerunds establish the parallel; but it is advisable, as a courtesy to the reader navigating a long sentence. –  StoneyB May 21 '13 at 0:11
Not really an answer (hence in the comments) - but the split infinitive grates with me when I read both options. –  TrevorD May 21 '13 at 0:32
You can take care of the wordiness by omitting a few words! How about: I want to be responsible for getting them to think differently or at least to investigate new topics earnestly. Nineteen words in my suggested version; 22 and 23 in your versions one and two, respectively. I'm biased, of course, but my version sounds a little tighter. Also, the two infinitives are parallel and they make the "getting them to" and the "inspiring them to" unnecessary. What thinkest thou? –  rhetorician May 21 '13 at 0:57
@rhetorician: Two problems: Firstly, OP only aspired to be partially responsible, which could be significant. Secondly, in OP's version it's feasible that he might mean or even investigate new topics (which he might see as a more desirable, but less likely, outcome). You can't easily reduce the number of words and keep the full sense. As StoneyB suggests, adding more words can actually make the sentence "simpler". OP instinctively knows this, which is why he says the second version "sounds" better. –  FumbleFingers May 21 '13 at 1:07

1 Answer 1

I edited your question not merely to refine it, but to make a point that might help you answer it yourself. If you closely compare my edit to your initial question (which is not badly written!) you'll see how much more succinct my edit is, and how much power and clarity is gained by that succinctness. My point is that you tend towards hesitation, uncertainty, and waffling; you throw in unnecessary qualifiers to the point of obfuscation. Get to the point when you write. Notice how there has been a good deal of discussion of the overall structure of the sentence; if you wrote to the point, you might not generate this sort of question as readily.

As for the answer to your question, I will skip considerations of other potential improvements in your syntax, and focus strictly on the question as stated. My answer is, you should add the "for." The second sentence works better; given the verbiage as it stands, I think the second "for" is necessary for clarity. When you read the sentence and come upon the "or" after the comma, you expect what comes next to be an alternative to the last content item in the initial clause ("to think differently"), but it isn't. In other words, without the second "for," the terminal clause appears to be something else you want them to do, thus: "to think differently, or [to do something else]." And that's not the structure you have in mind. The second "for" calls the reader's mind back to the first "for," and away from "to think," and so you get the linkage you want.

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