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I have no idea how to describe this. I run into this usage all the time in English, and to me it seems wrong, but considering how common it is, I'm wondering if it's actually accepted. Consider the following sentence:

Roger installed windows in offices, lamps in apartments, doors in schools and repaired roofs.

This is a list of three items that Roger installed, and the last phrase ("and repaired roofs") does not belong in the list. As such it would seem that the word "and" is missing before "doors".

Is this wrong English usage? What would be the closest thing to this pattern that would make it correct?

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    Joe was in a fancy sports car and deep trouble. This time, he had really let his mouth and his exotic foreign lover run away with him and it was getting beyond a joke and his immediate circle of friends in the form of rumours and speculation. As he ran a red light, the conversation back in his mind and away from his troubles, he felt a sense of rising panic and the soft matte finish of his hand-stitched leather steering wheel. Angelica had been absolutely right and his wife for fifteen years, so why was he running scared, these kind of risks and this deadly gauntlet of illicit entanglements? – RegDwigнt Jul 17 at 21:24
  • @RegDwigнt: I'm such a sucker for syllepsis. – KarlG Jul 17 at 21:34
  • @zak I agree with you on both counts - it's wrong, but it's seen often. As it stands, 'repaired' looks like an adjective - Roger installed doors in schools and roofs which had been repaired [but not in ones that hadn't]. But that doesn't mean it's acceptable. Usually when people write like this they don't think about any possible misinterpretation and so it's not corrected. It needs 'and' before 'doors' and comma after 'schools'. – Mynamite Jul 17 at 22:45
  • The answers thus far seem to get lost getting to the answers as to whether this is "actually accepted". If this is interpreted as "good writing", the answer is clearly "no". If this is "interpretable to a reader", the answer is "yes, but not the same to all readers". It seems more like an axe to grind against poor writing, which is fair, but not really a question. – jimm101 Jul 18 at 4:10
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Your example sentence is grammatical, but violates a fundamental rule of style: parallel structure.

The verb installed is elided in the second and third predicate, so a reader expects the pattern to continue. Not doing so is somewhat jarring.

If you simply put the bit about roofs first, the problem doesn’t arise.

Roger repaired roofs and installed windows in offices, lamps in apartments, and doors in schools.

Or, in my opinion, better:

As well as repairing roofs, Roger installed…
As well as installing … , Roger repaired roofs.

  • There are no rules of style, fundamental or otherwise. If there were rules of style it would never change, but it changes all the time. In the OP's example, there certainly is a jarring effect because parallelism is not maintained, but that might be an effect the writer intended. – JeremyC Jul 17 at 21:35
  • @JeremyC: Rules are not immutable. Just think of gay marriage and legalized marijuana. Few writer intend to write poorly constructed sentences, but there's room for every possibility. – KarlG Jul 17 at 21:41
  • "If you simply put the bit about roofs first, the problem doesn’t arise." Well, that's not all you did. You also added "and" before "doors" - which is exactly what I was asking about. If my example sentence were grammatical, wouldn't it also then be grammatical to say the following? "Roger repaired roofs and installed windows in offices, lamps in apartments, doors in schools." – zak Jul 17 at 22:47
  • Actually, you added to Oxford comma, which--if appropriate--would have disambiguated the example as well. – jimm101 Jul 18 at 4:02
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    @zak: And why would one confuse the “two lists”? Because they aren’t in parallel. – KarlG Jul 19 at 14:45
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Yes, it's wrong. Yes, your feeling is correct that it is missing "and" before "doors". This is how that would look:

Roger installed windows in offices, lamps in apartments, and doors in schools and repaired roofs.

...Even then, many would still consider it wrong for one of two main reasons.

  1. It borders on being a run-on sentence, but isn't the worst of violators.

  2. It's just overly-complicated, has "bad mechanics", or is unnecessarily long...

...and the only place you are guaranteed to get away with a sentence having such a complex structuring of lists would be in an academic journal where complexity is king and paragraphs are much longer than styles allow elsewhere.

Looking closely at your lists within lists:

Roger

  • installed windows in offices, lamps in apartments, and doors in schools

  • and repaired roofs.

...You have two lists here, one for each verb (installed & repaired), both having the same subject (Roger). Many would say you should rephrase the sentence any of many ways to make these two lists more clear because "understandability" is the most important and universal grammar rule of any English style standard.

I tend to make the same mistake, a lot of us do, no matter how excellent our English kung fu is. IMHO, it relates to my theory about Word proximity habit. It feels like a list of "things Roger does", so our "auto-grammar" wants to make a list with "and" between the last two items. But, as with most things, our auto-grammar shouldn't be trusted. You have two lists; one way or another, treat them as two lists, not one.

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    +1 for noting there are 2 lists, not 1. – Lawrence Jul 19 at 0:32
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There is no parallel structure that can make the last item use the verb installed by assumption. You have to either make the elided verb explicit in front of every list item (where the last is a different verb), or use a separate clause or sentence.

Roger installed windows in offices, he installed lamps in apartments, he installed doors in schools, and he repaired roofs.

Roger installed windows in offices, lamps in apartments, and doors in schools; he also repaired roofs.


Alternatively, if you mean to use repaired in repaired roofs as an adjective rather than a verb, then:

Roger installed windows in offices, lamps in apartments, doors in schools, and roofs that had been repaired [on top of houses].

Although the additional parenthetical information isn't required, the use of in [somewhere] with every other list item makes it awkward to not continue the pattern and mention where he installed the repaired roofs.

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You can do many things to make "and repaired roofs" stand apart, depending on what you need.

Roger installed windows in offices, lamps in apartments, doors in schools and he repaired roofs...

Roger installed windows in offices, lamps in apartments and doors in schools, he repaired roofs...

Roger installed windows in offices, lamps in apartments and doors in schools. He repaired roofs...

Roger repaired roofs, installed windows in offices, lamps in apartments and doors in schools.

  • 1
    You might want to check how you punctuate a compound sentence with and what a comma splice is. – KarlG Jul 18 at 11:28

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