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Is there a parallelism issue with the following sentence?

Prizes will be given to the best dressed, the worst dressed, and the most “interesting” garment.

Is it natural to interpret "the most interesting garment" as the person who is most interestingly dressed?

  • Garments are not usually dressed, people are. I would say that the prizes would be awarded to the best dressed, worst dressed and most interestingly dressed people. – BoldBen Jun 20 '18 at 22:52
  • I commented on this very question recently but can no longer find it. It seems as if the original was deleted but since re-asked. – Jason Bassford Jun 20 '18 at 23:16
  • The term person or participant is implied. For marketing bumph, it's fine. – Lambie Jun 20 '18 at 23:43
  • Is it fine, as far as written English is concerned? Is it the kind of thing you'd write on a high-stakes exam ? – Apollyon Jun 21 '18 at 12:33
  • Many things can be implied, but the question is whether they are natural and sound right. For example, I could say "The best dressed will receive $500, the worst dressed will receive $200, and the most interesting garment will receive $150," and you'd understand it. But is it good written English? – Apollyon Jun 21 '18 at 12:34
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Yes, there is a problem with parallelism.

In order for this sentence to not be awkward, it should be rephrased in one of two ways:

Prizes will be given to the best dressed, the worst dressed, and the most “interestingly” dressed.

Prizes will be given to the best garment, the worst garment, and the most "interesting" garment.

You can assume that if a particular item in a list isn't in sync with the other items in some way ("garment" rather than "dressed") that it should be mentally rephrased. However, the sentence is better correctly phrased to start with.

  • Shouldn’t it be “for the best garment...”? Unless the clothes themselves are getting an award – rosslh Jun 20 '18 at 23:28
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    @rosslh Yes, perhaps. Although I believe that some competitions do give awards to things rather than people. It's an interesting question. Does a person accept on behalf of the thing? Does the award for best doughnut go to the gold-topped lemon-filled honey cruller—or does it go to J. Smith, who created it? :) – Jason Bassford Jun 20 '18 at 23:34
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Yes, there's a parallelism problem. However, in informal speech and writing it's often acceptable to elide understood terms, and parallelism failures are also often ignored to simplify phrasing. Since only contestants can win prizes, it's clear that the last item refers to the contestant wearing the most interesting garment, not the garment itself. The other items also don't explicitly mention the contestant, but it's obvious that "best dressed" is short for "best dressed contestant".

If everything were to be said explicitly, it would be something like:

Prizes will be given to the best dressed contestant, the worst dressed contestant, and the one with the most "interesting" garment.

This is unnecessarily wordy.

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I would understand it that way but also ask for definite clarification if I was entering this contest. I might not want to wear the most interesting garment.

Prizes will be given for the best sausage, the tallest person, and the oldest dog.

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