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If you use a prefix for the first item in a list do all items in the list keep that pre fix or should each item restate the prefix. This is my example. "This excludes pre-approved sick, vacation, compensatory time, and personal leave." Should all items that need to be pre approved be stated clearly, or is this ok?

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To answer the question, I do not believe you would or should use "pre-approved" in front of every word in the list but the ambiguity would need to be addressed in some clearer, less clunky way. If I were re-writing it, and all items in the list should have the pre-approved prefix, I would state it like this:

"This excludes all pre-approved time off, including sick days, vacation, compensatory time and personal leave."

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The statement as written is ambiguous in a few ways. You have a series

  • pre-approved sick [time? leave?]
  • vacation [time]
  • compensatory time
  • personal leave

Sick is an adjective and cant stand alone, but the noun it modifies is not clear.

Vacation can stand alone, but it is not clear if that is the intent.

It is also unclear as to whether anything other than sick [time?] needs to be pre-approved. Ironically, sick time or leave is often the very type of absence for which pre-approval is sometimes least possible.

There are ways to make applicability across the board clear. Assuming you want pre-approval to apply to all, you could say

This excludes pre-approved leaves (sick [or illness], vacation, compensatory time, and personal).

or

This excludes pre-approved leaves for

  • illness
  • vacation
  • compensatory time
  • personal time

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