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I work in a scientific field and when my reports are reviewed I commonly have them kicked back asking to add a second "were" before "compared" to this kind of sentence:

The items were entered into the database and the results compared...

The items were entered into the database and the results were compared...

Is the second "were" necessary? I've been writing like this for a while and never thought twice about it, but when asked I can't explain why this works. I believe the issue is similar to this post: How to write past perfect forms of two verbs in one sentence

If so, can someone please explain in a little more detail? Thanks in advance!

  • Works for me, honestly... How formal are these reports? – Catija May 18 '15 at 21:24
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    Welcome to EL&U! Do you think we could we get the rest of the example sentence please? Might help with explaining why were is/n't a better choice there ... – Araucaria May 18 '15 at 21:32
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    As per @Araucaria's answer: In the sentence - "The items were entered into the database and the results compared favorably with those from other scenarios." - the portion commencing "compared" is NOT replaceable with "were compared". If "were compared" had in fact been intended the reader may instead have been "garden pathed" [tm] into expecting something like "compared favourably" and would then need to mentally reparse the already read "compared". While readers do this sort of thing 'on the fly' without much conscious effort there is an accompanying undesirable "mental speed bump". – Russell McMahon May 18 '15 at 22:12
  • Pretty straightforward examples of Conjunction Reduction. – John Lawler May 18 '15 at 23:20
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  1. The items were entered into the database and the results compared...

  2. The items were entered into the database and the results were compared...

There is no doubt whatsoever that both of these sentences are grammatical. They involve an ellipsis of the passive auxiliary were. The ellipsis of auxiliaries in coordinated sentences is quite a common and natural. Indeed we quite often see auxiliaries and lexical verbs elided. However, the problem here is that the sentence can garden path your reader. What this means is that the reader may start interpreting the second clause in a different way from intended, and then, when they get to the end of the sentence, they may have to go back and re-parse what they've read.

In particular the ellipsis of the passive auxiliary in this particular example means that the subject occurs next to what looks like a tensed (past simple) verb form. In actual fact it is a past participle but the reader won't know this till they get to the end of the sentence (and perhaps backtrack and reread). The second clause begins:

  • ... the results compared

This may well read as if the results were doing the comparing - as opposed to somebody was comparing the results. Whilst this is not a fatal problem once we get to the end of the sentence, the editor involved may feel that it is a problem best avoided for the sake of ease of reading.

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If the subject of the sentence does not change, this can be done because the conjunction combines two similar components of the sentence.

The results were compiled and compared.
The results were compiled using proprietary software and compared by hand.

However, as soon as you create two independent clauses, the second verb effectively "forgets" the previous clause.

Gregory had opened a new store and invited guests to the big party in celebration.
Gregory had opened a new store, and his wife had invited guests to the big party in celebration.

Obviously, all of this still depends on the time frame; correct sentences can have two verbs with different tenses.

With your specific example, the word "were" is definitely needed, otherwise "the results" are the subject of their independent clause. This is a passive construction of the verb (who compared the results?), which is okay in a report where the subject is unknown or does not matter. A better option is to reconstruct the sentence and create a more complex subject. Obviously, it all depends on the surrounding context.

The items entered into the database were compared to...

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