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Which sentence in each group is correct? Are they both acceptable?

1)

I can't tell if you are joking or being serious.

I can't tell if you are joking or if you are being serious.

2)

Is it better to regret believing in someone's lie or doubting someone's truth?

Is it better to regret believing in someone's lie or to regret doubting someone's truth?


I have been browsing through various related threads in order to clear up the issue, but for some reason I keep thinking that the first sentence in each group doesn't sound quite right. A friend of mine claims they are both correct in each case and that the first sentences are preferred for brevity. Is he right?

closed as off-topic by Mari-Lou A, Chenmunka, FumbleFingers, Centaurus, Misti Aug 14 '15 at 18:54

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  • There's no significant difference in meaning, and the first is briefer. However, brevity is not always the only goal. – Hot Licks Aug 7 '15 at 12:32
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A sentence can contain multiple levels of parallelism, and parallelism can be established at multiple points in a sentence, depending on how you construct it. In your first example, we can construct at least three versions with parallel branches starting at different points in the sentence:

  • I can't tell if you are joking or serious. [parallel forms after are]

  • I can't tell if you are joking or are being serious. [parallel forms after you]

  • I can't tell if you are joking or if you are being serious. [parallel forms after tell]

And likewise in the second example:

  • Is it better to regret believing in someone's lie or doubting someone's truth? [parallel forms after regret]

  • Is it better to regret believing in someone's lie or to regret doubting someone's truth? [parallel forms after better]

  • Is it better to regret believing in someone's lie or better to regret doubting someone's truth? [parallel forms after it]

The choice you make about where in the sentence to have the parallel branches sprout from the shared trunk will affect the length and tone of the resulting sentence, and some choices seem aesthetically superior to others, but all of these forms are syntactically and grammatically correct.

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