My question is very similar to Does an adjective apply to both nouns when joined with 'and'?, where the answer is "it depends, make it clear."

How do I write it clearly, while still being succinct? The answers in that question add a lot of words compared to the simple (but ambiguous) sentence. Since SE doesn't like links in questions, my specific wording is

Outside of the federal government and states, typically only large cities and counties use the “legislature-executive” model.

Yes, I could write "... only large cities and large counties ..." but I don't want to say "large" twice, and using a synonym seems a bit contrived and maybe even a touch stilted.

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    Only counties and large cities means that the scope of large is only cities. To make it apply to both, use only large cities and large counties. At the cost of one word, your intention is made clear. You don't want to do that, but you said that the only alternatives presented "add a lot of words". Only one word is needed.
    – Drew
    Feb 14, 2017 at 2:47
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    @Dan consider fresh fruits and vegetables. I think most people would assume that the vegetables are fresh as well. But such sentences are subject to misunderstandings nonetheless.
    – NVZ
    Feb 14, 2017 at 2:53
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    @NVZ: Maybe most would, but it would still be ambiguous. (Would most assume the same for fresh fruit and meat?)
    – Drew
    Feb 14, 2017 at 2:54
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    @NVZ: I know you are. And I agree that many/most people would understand fresh as distributed throughout. The unstated part of the question is how important it is for the OP to be unambiguous. It doesn't sound like it's too important, and he mainly wants to avoid repetition.
    – Drew
    Feb 14, 2017 at 3:01
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    To be, or not, that is the question.    :-)    ⁠ Feb 14, 2017 at 3:28

1 Answer 1


I saw some comments to the effect that it wouldn't hurt to add just one more word and make it only large cities and large counties but that sounds awkward to me.

Parallelism is usually a desirable thing, but it is definitely possible to go overboard.

I started googling around for an actual grammatical term such as "implied parallelism" or "accordioned parallelism" without much success, but I did come across Mr. Clarity's style blog, which points out the great example of Winston Churchill's famous speech of June 4, 1940, where he uses parallelism to great effect, but only where it's really important:

Even though large parts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…

There is a lot of parallel construction here, but if Churchill had not preceded all of those repeated "we shall"s with the implied parallelism of "we shall not flag or fail", perhaps Churchill would have emphasized long-windedness rather than iron determination.

Perhaps. But it does show that parallel construction isn't necessary in absolutely every case. In your case, you can get away without the second "large".

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