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I'm trying to understand the parallelism error in this sentence: "The university's board of trustees, being worried over declining student enrollments and their failing to secure additional funding from the state, has formed a committee to determine what cuts need to be made to staff and programs."

I believe the parallelism error is this: The board is worried over "declining student enrollments" and "their failing to secure". What exactly is the error? "declining student enrollments" is an adverb + adjective + noun structure right? Is "declining" an adverb here? Does "their failing to secure" need to be in that same adverb + adjective + noun structure too?

Can I change "their failing to secure" to "increasingly insecure funding"?

Is "declining" an adverb?

  • Is "declining" here a present partciple? gerund? What are those again? – Jwan622 Nov 21 '13 at 18:23
  • I don't see any "parallelism error" here. I might prefer concerned about rather than worried over, and I'd probably use failure instead of failing, but the existing forms are perfectly okay. OP's suggested change would imho significantly alter/extend the meaning. – FumbleFingers Nov 21 '13 at 18:31
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The board of trustees is worried about two things [nouns] - declining and failing. Both of those are gerunds, verb forms that can serve as nouns.

I don't think the lack of exact parallelism poses a serious problem. The only parallelism gaff to my ears (and a minor one at that) is the introduction of the determiner their for only one of the things they worry about. I probably would say either

The university's board of trustees, being worried over declining student enrollments and failing to secure ... [their omitted]

or

The university's board of trustees, being worried over their declining student enrollments and their failing to secure ... [extra their added]

Both gerunds take objects, the first a true noun and the second an infinitive used like a noun. This does not seem problematic.

Your proposed alternative is not wrong, but it changes the focus from an active failing on their part to a vaguer lack of funding.

  • "declining" is a gerund here? It's a noun here? – Jwan622 Nov 21 '13 at 18:44
  • @Cerberus I agree that the two theirs is a better form, but disagree that the worrier is the subject of the gerund. The enrollment declined and the [bid] to secure funding failed. – bib Nov 21 '13 at 21:00
  • @bib: Ohh you're absolutely right. How could I have misread the sentence like that? I typed that comment in a hurry, but I wasn't in a hurry when I read the question. I don't know what to say. I will remove my comment. – Cerberus Nov 21 '13 at 23:12

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