2

If someone can improve my title, please do. I seem to be missing some vocabulary.

I was writing an SO answer and ran into something that has always bothered me. Consider the following sentence:

These provide an easy way to stop the user from creating or moving events to the past.

Expanded, this would be:
These provide an easy way to stop the user from
[creating events to the past] or
[moving events to the past].

"Moving events to the past" works but you cannot "create events to the past".

I could change it to:

These provide an easy way to stop the user from creating events in the past or moving events to the past.

But while that feels more accurate, it's longer and doesn't read as well. In fact it's actually confusing and requires a second read to understand.

Maybe it would be slightly better as:

These provide an easy way to stop the user from creating events in the past and from moving events to the past.

But I still don't like it. So,

  • Is my original sentence actually incorrect?
  • If so, under what conditions would it be "acceptable"? As a native English speaker it doesn't sound wrong, but my programmer brain is shouting syntax error.
  • Is there another solution that retains readability and brevity? (for this type of sentence, not just this exact example).
  • A keyword commonly used around this topic is "parallelism in writing" or "parallel structures". For example, personally I would write: to stop the user from creating events in the past or from moving events to the past – Brandin Mar 25 '15 at 15:53
  • 3
    You don't need to repeat everything — "creating events in or moving events to the past". – Peter Shor Mar 25 '15 at 15:56
  • 1
    As another example let's say you can choose between A, going to store, and B, going to the park. Then it makes sense to say "We can go to the store or to the park". But if your choices are between A, going to the store, or B, playing badminton, then it would not really make sense to say, "We can go to the store or badminton". In that case say instead, "We can go to the store or play badminton". – Brandin Mar 25 '15 at 15:57
  • As @PeterShor said, there's usually no need to repeat. If your audience can understand perfectly well what you mean, it's effective communication. If you're really concerned, use in as Peter said. – anongoodnurse Mar 25 '15 at 16:07
  • 2
    No, not at all. If it were in an academic paper, I might not skip the in, but for a technical document, which is mainly for communication of useful information (haha, as opposed to academic papers, wherein people often additionally want to exude correctness), it's perfectly acceptable in my opinion. We have had other questions similar to this one, with the general opinion being that in writing technical documents, the expectation is on clear communication of ideas. – anongoodnurse Mar 25 '15 at 16:25
1

Listen to your programmer brain. You've given a very good analysis and shown that the original sentence is ungrammatical. There are several ways of expanding it, as you've said, but none of them leads to a plausible and grammatical English construction.

0

"These provide an easy way to stop the user from creating events in the past or moving events to the past" maintains clarity. You can shorten it (and make it more concise) by omitting "the past" after "creating events in" since both phrases use "the past" as the prepositional object.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.