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I am writing a sentence that contains a list of elements in it. Some of the elements are formed with linking verbs and some with action verbs.

For example:

Laura is a sexy lady, smells heavenly, dances salsa gracefully, and plays soccer in her free time.

To me, somehow, mixing linking verbs (is, smells) and action verbs (dances, plays) in the same sentence sounds strange. I feel that it, somehow, breaks the parallel structure of the elements of the list. However, since English is not my mother tongue, I've learned to distrust my "feelings" about how something sounds.

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    "Can" they? Yes. You showed that. "Should" they? That is a question of style for the writer. Good writers of English may sometimes do this. But if you are not yet confident of your English writing skills, it is OK if you avoid this in your own writing. – GEdgar Jun 20 '17 at 12:57
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    It's fine. In general, the more parallel the structure is, the better the style. But your sentence sounds absolutely fine. If you look at the Bible, one of the most famous passages (Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you) has never been translated with strictly parallel structure. – Peter Shor Jun 20 '17 at 13:03
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    There is quite an incongruity between the first three statements and the last, which skews how acceptable the sentence feels (unless quirkiness is being aimed at). There is a minor one of a different nature between the first statement and the next two, which seem a development rather than an addition in kind. 'Laura is a sexy lady – she smells heavenly, has a figure to die for, and dances salsa like Bacall.' // Subject deletion may not always sound awkward with a mix of link and non-link ('smell' is hardly an action verb) verbs. 'He is overweight, eats too much, and doesn't exercise enough.' – Edwin Ashworth Jun 20 '17 at 19:30
  • Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we may die. – Khuldraeseth na'Barya Oct 8 '17 at 20:47
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Though I believe this is grammatically correct, an easy fix for an example like this to improve the "sound" is to change the sentence to:

Laura is a sexy lady who smells heavenly, dances salsa gracefully, and plays soccer in her free time.

As "smells heavenly" is not a phrase that will be parsed by native English speakers as meaning that she has a heavenly skill level at smelling, I believe readers will gloss over the passivity of "smells" vs. the activity of "dances" and "plays". However, replacing a comma with the "who" does a few things:

  • It whittles the list of things Laura does down to three terms, which is the optimal size for such a list (more info on the Rule of Three)
  • It takes focus off of the question of active vs. linking for the verbs, as you have removed the clearly linking verb "is"
  • It sounds much more natural as a sentence.

So, to answer your question: Yes, linking and action verbs can be elements of the same list, but you should take care to make sure that it sounds natural. Perhaps read it aloud to see if it "sounds" right.

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    Nice answer—and welcome to English Language & Usage! – Sven Yargs Dec 13 '17 at 22:56

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