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I’m trying to create the following phrase:

It is important not only to ____ but also to ____ in general.

But the way I’ve written it above doesn’t sound that good to me. Since I’m not a native speaker, could anyone please help me to improve this?

closed as off-topic by MetaEd, TrevorD, choster, Hellion, Kris Aug 29 '13 at 8:53

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    The sentence is fine but please do not misuse acute accents as apostrophes. That is very wrong. – RegDwigнt Aug 23 '13 at 22:43
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    Questions like this one might be better asked at the companion site for English Language Learners. – J.R. Aug 23 '13 at 22:49
  • I don't understand the question. If you're asking whether your construction is OK, then the answer is yes, it's fine to say so mething like "It is important not only to be able to drive but also to be able to drive safely." "It is important not only to eat meat but also to eat in general." – TrevorD Aug 23 '13 at 23:26
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    Off topic (writing advice request). If there is something in particular about your sentence that you think requires expert assistance, please restate the question so your issue is clear. – MetaEd Aug 24 '13 at 5:01
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    Search online for the construction ("not only" AND "but also") -- Nice day! – Kris Aug 29 '13 at 8:53
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The “not only X but also Y correlative conjunction gives copyeditors no end of headaches. The problem commonly encountered with it is that X and Y are supposed to be grammatically parallel, but frequently people mess this up, so it doesn’t read right. So copyeditors are forced to recast the sentence.

In the examples below, I will set the two things which “not only . . . but also” is governing — and which are therefore supposed to be parallel — in bold face.


For example, this would be wrong:

He not only ate shrimp but also cocktail sauce, too. [WRONG]

That doesn’t work because ate is a verb while cocktail sauce is a noun. Instead that should be written as:

He ate not only shrimp but also cocktail sauce, too. [RIGHT]

If you want to alternate on the verb, then one might try this:

He not only ate shrimp but also vomited it, too. [RIGHT, but ick!]

Here’s another wrong example:

I come not only to bury Caesar, but Brutus and Cassius as well. [WRONG]

That’s wrong because “to bury”“Brutus and Cassius”. They aren’t parallel. That should instead be one of:

I come not only to bury Caesar, but also to praise him. [RIGHT]

I come to not only bury Caesar, but also praise him. [RIGHT]

I come to bury not only Caesar, but also Brutus and Cassius as well. [RIGHT]

Your sentence, however, seems to run afoul of none of these problems, because you are correctly using parallel grammatical pieces in both halves.

  • I agree about your main point, the need to make the "not only" and "but also" clauses grammatically parallel, but I'm not happy about the combination of "also" and "too" in two of the "right" examples. It's not bad English, but it strikes me as unpleasantly redundant. (In other words, I'd put "ick" on both of those examples, not just the second.) The same comment applies to "also ... as well" in the last example. – Andreas Blass Aug 24 '13 at 5:11
  • Why are there commas in some cases before "but," but not in the others?? – AimForClarity Aug 19 '15 at 20:01
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Perhaps you are looking for the "in general/in particular" phraseology. It is a balanced sentence-construct of a complementary nature, such that the general truth is on one side of the sentence and the particular truth is on the other side. In other words,

On the one hand, _____ is true in general, but ____is also true in particular.

For example,

It is important not only to know the truth in general, but also to speak the truth in particular.

Or, in different (and fewer) words but with the same thought, more or less:

It is important not only to know the truth but to speak the truth.

Or,

It is important not only to brush your teeth, but also to floss between your teeth.

Again, in fewer words,

It is important not only to brush but also to floss.

And now, for something completely different:

"It is good to stand rather than walk, and to sit rather than stand, but best of all is to lie down."

  • Or: “It is important to not only brush but also floss.” – tchrist Aug 24 '13 at 2:12
  • @tchrist: OK. If you MUST split the infinitive, I hereby give you my permission and my blessing. I'll also concede the second "to" needs to go. – rhetorician Aug 24 '13 at 3:26
  • OK. Now you're pulling out the big guns. All I can say is, "Oh yeah!?" (If I think of something more profound, I'll let you know.) – rhetorician Aug 24 '13 at 4:06

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