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Grammar (continued)

Parallel structure Active/passive voice Split infinitives Preposition at the end of a sentence

Parallel structure

Sentences are much easier to understand if they are consistent in their structure. In any sentence that presents two or more ideas or pieces of information, the different ideas or items must be presented in the same form, using the same structural elements. Using parallel structure in this way increases the sense of similarity (or difference) between listed ideas, objects or events.

“He bought the car because it had enough seats for the whole family, he liked the colour, and having low mileage.”

Each of the reasons listed in this sentence is presented in a different way, and the result is very confusing. The sentence becomes much clearer when the ideas are presented using the same structural elements:

“He bought the car because it had enough seats for the whole family, it was painted in an attractive colour, and it had low mileage.”

Similarly, the sentence “We arrived, I examined the situation, and they were defeated”, becomes much clearer in meaning when changed to “I came, I saw, I conquered”.


Active/passive voice

In the active voice, the subject of the sentence acts. In the passive voice, the subject of the sentence is acted upon. Passive constructions rely on the verb “to be”; they express what happens to the subject of the sentence, rather than what the subject does (as in active construction). When a verb is in the active voice, the subject of the verb is clearly identified as the one who performs the action. For example:

Active: The giraffe [subject] ate the leaves.
Passive: The leaves [subject] were eaten by the giraffe.

Use the active voice unless you have a particular reason for choosing to use the passive. Active constructions are more dynamic, more direct, and less wordy than passive constructions. They are stronger in their impact upon the reader.

Many students show a great fondness for passive constructions such as “it seems” and “it can be seen that ...”. Using passive constructions can convey a sense of wanting to avoid responsibility for a statement or claim, and your markers can recognise it as such.


Split infinitives

The infinitive form of a verb is the most basic form. It is often expressed in combination with the word “to”: to stand, to go, to want, to be loved. To split the infinitive means to separate these words by inserting something, usually an adverb, between them. For example:

  The infinitive: to want
  The split infinitive: to sincerely want
  Correct forms: sincerely to want
to want sincerely

Split infinitives are common in informal conversation, but should be used with great caution in formal writing.


Preposition at the end of a sentence

Prepositions are the small words that connect a noun or pronoun with some other word. Examples include “at”, “in”, “up”, “onto”, “about”, “over”, “to”. Locating a preposition at the end of a sentence is perfectly acceptable in conversational speech:

“What are you talking about?”
“She’s the person I’m going with.”
“This is not an issue I’m prepared to go into.”
“It was the third window on the right that he was trying to gain entry to.”

Conversely, in formal and academic writing, a preposition should never appear at the end of sentence. Instead, the sentence must be restructured, thus:

It was the third window on the right into which he was trying to gain entry.

You can remember these principles by thinking about the following exaggerated sense of the correct:

“The use of a preposition at the end of a sentence in formal writing is something up with which I will not put.”


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MHRA Referencing

Flinders University Library

Professor Graham Tulloch of the English Department has written a booklet entitled English Grammar: A Short Guide. This text covers fundamental aspects of English grammar, such as parts of a word, parts of a sentence, and parts of speech


















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