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Acceptable to split similar open compounds in lists?

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Acceptable to split similar open compounds in lists?

Postby carlschutte » Tue Jul 26, 2011 3:21 pm

Let's say I enjoy doing 4 things:
1. Drinking
2. Dancing
3. Baking muffins
4. Eating muffins

Now I write that in a sentence:
I enjoy drinking, dancing, baking muffins, and eating muffins.

I think we'd agree upon that sentence being correct.

Now I write the sentence slightly differently:
I enjoy 4 things: drinking, dancing, baking muffins, and eating muffins.

Again, we hopefully agree on its correctness.

Finally, I change it a bit more:
I enjoy 4 things: drinking, dancing, baking and eating muffins.

Is it acceptable to just merge those last 2 items?
Here's my biggest issue... I feel that it introduces ambiguity.
Do you enjoy baking in general or do you only enjoy baking muffins? To me, it's simply not clear. Perhaps I'm not reading the punctuation correctly?

What's your take on this?

Another example:
My career has consisted of 4 roles:
1. Product Manager
2. Project Manager
3. Leader
4. Business Analyst

This is then rewritten as:
He has worked in a role as Product and Project Manager, Leader and Business Analyst.

Here it almost like my career on consisted of 3 roles:
1. Product and Project Manager
2. Leader
3. Business Analyst

We've effectively combined 2 roles to create an entirely new role.

Please help... I really need to know what the rules surrounding this are.

Thanks,
Carl
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Re: Acceptable to split similar open compounds in lists?

Postby Josef » Wed Jul 27, 2011 5:54 am

Your confusion is very understandable, but you are forgetting one thing: the little word "and" :roll:

1. I enjoy 4 things: drinking, dancing, baking and eating muffins. :ok:

2. I enjoy 3 things: drinking, baking and eating muffins, and dancing. :ok:
3. I enjoy 3 things: drinking, dancing and baking and eating muffins. :ok:

The problem arises because people often confuse the "and" necessary at the end of a list (I like 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9) with the "and" joining two things.

As always, the considerate writer strives to ensure that his words are readily understandable by the reader. This is as much a matter of common courtesy as clear communication. Although examples 1, 2 and 3 above are all correct grammatically, some changes could be made to help the reader, for example:

I enjoy 4 things: eating muffins, baking, drinking and dancing. :ok: :ok:

I enjoy 3 things: baking and eating muffins, drinking and dancing. :ok: :ok:

Note that the comma at the end of a list is a question of style and not obligatory:
a) I like 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9. :ok:
b) I like 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9. :ok:
In b), the comma is known among other things as an "Oxford comma" because Oxford University Press adopt this style.
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Re: Acceptable to split similar open compounds in lists?

Postby carlschutte » Wed Jul 27, 2011 6:47 am

Thanks Josef - I was almost certain that the serial comma would play its part in this situation.
That said, any further discussion here should enforce the Oxford comma.

So to answer my question regarding the introduction of ambiguity - it would be true to say that we've changed the original meaning by splitting the open compound.

In my very first example - the vertically numbered list - it's perfectly clear that I enjoy baking only muffins and eating only muffins.

If I look at the example you provide, it appears as if we've somehow lost that original message.

I enjoy 4 things: drinking, dancing, baking, and eating muffins.
(I interpret this as enjoying all types of baking)

I enjoy 3 things: drinking, baking and eating muffins, and dancing.
(I interpret this as consuming muffins, whilst performing any baking activity)

I enjoy 3 things: drinking, dancing and baking, and eating muffins.
( interpret this as dancing, whilst performing any baking activity)

Thus, I must conclude that it is not acceptable to split open compounds purely for the sake of brevity. Just because 2 open compounds in the list share the same stem, doesn't mean we can simply factor out that commonality. That's a very wordy explanation, but essentially I'm saying that just because baking and eating both qualify muffins, doesn't mean you can rewrite those 2 list items as baking and eating muffins.

Essentially what I've done, is remove the modification from the verb baking and generalised it.

What are your thoughts in this regard?
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Re: Acceptable to split similar open compounds in lists?

Postby Josef » Thu Jul 28, 2011 9:57 am

Re your three examples immediately above...

Firstly, they are not strictly as I had them since you have introduced the serial comma.

#1: To retain the original sense it should be:
I enjoy 4 things: drinking, dancing, baking muffins and eating muffins.

You used the number "4" and therefore by the rules of "and" baking must be a separate activity.

One other problem with "baking and eating muffins" is that it could suggest that you enjoy a single activity - that of baking muffins and then eating them. (You don't enjoy baking muffins without eating them, and you don't enjoy eating muffins without baking them.) However, as always, context plays a part in how your wording will be interpreted.

#2: You could interpret it thus, subject perhaps to context.

#3: You could interpret it thus because of where you have introduced a serial comma. A more logical position would be:
I enjoy 3 things: drinking, dancing, and baking and eating muffins.

At the end of the day, you can decide how you want your reader to interpret your sentence and then write accordingly, for example:

I enjoy drinking, dancing, baking muffins and eating muffins.

But then that was your original sentence, less an Oxford comma :twisted:
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Re: Acceptable to split similar open compounds in lists?

Postby carlschutte » Thu Jul 28, 2011 10:11 am

Thanks mate; you've helped me achieve clarity on the matter.
Appreciate your assistance.

-Carl
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