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English Corner

Scientific English grammar and style   English Corner   Glossary of English grammar and style  

EC14 grammatical equivalents

Only equivalent grammatical structures (adjectives, adverbs, phrases, clauses, nouns, pronouns etc.) are compared by some grammatical devices. The most commonly encountered devices are conjunctions, either coordinating conjunctions, which can be non-adversative (linking similar grammatical terms: and, then, or, not) or adversative (linking contrasting grammatical terms: but, yet), and discontinuous correlative conjunctions, which either link related grammatical equivalents (as far as …, as well as …, both … and …, if … then …, not only … but also) or alternative grammatical equivalents (either … or …, neither … nor …, on the one hand … on the other …, whether … or …). Some adjectives also require only similar grammatical forms to be compared. Examples are given below of their proper and improper use.

Correct comparisons
Adjectives may be conjoined by and [[he spermatozoa swim fast and straight], not [it was hot not cold], but [The method is time-consuming but cheap] and yet [My supervisor was firm yet kind], as can adverbs [The spermatozoa swam rapidly then slowly].
Nouns and gerunds (verbal nouns) can be linked by and [Eating and drinking are allowed in the social room], or [Eating or drinking is not allowed in the laboratory] and either … or [He should open either the window or the door]. When comparisons are made pronouns may be used to prevent repetition of nouns, whether linked by the adjective unlike [Unlike spermatozoa from other species, those [i.e. spermatozoa] from man are characterised by incomplete replacement of histones], than [Lymphocytes from treated patients were larger than those [i.e. lymphocytes] from untreated patients] or similar to [Growth in the treated group was similar to that [i.e. growth] in controls]. With like used as an adjective [Like her husband, Dr Yeung studied for a PhD at Reading], the linked noun may be elided when the genitive is used [Like her husband’s [i.e. PhD], Dr Yeung’s PhD was conferred at Reading]. With discontinuous conjunctions nouns may not be strictly comparable if they are of different number [Neither the professor [i.e. singular] nor the students [i.e. plural] were to blame].
Phrases may be linked by either … or [He was either at home or at the office], not only … but also [The birth rate varies not only between cities but also between areas within the city], both ... and [You should inform both the Chief Editor and the Institute Director] and as well as [Their job is to design the primers as well as to validate them].
Verbs and clauses may be linked by and [Dr Jones is clever and seems professional], but [The cleaners sweep the floors but scientists sterilise the bench tops], whether or not [She asked whether or not I had read Cooper’s monograph on the epididymis], as far as … it is [As far as next season goes, it is too early to make forecasts], both … and [You should both inform the Chief Editor and telephone the Institute Director], either …or [He should either open the window or open the door], if … then [If you administer too much anti-androgen then mating performance will be reduced], neither … nor [He could neither admit that he was right nor consider that he was wrong], not only … but also [The birth rate not only varies between cities but also differs between areas within the city], on one hand … on the other [On one hand, the results could reflect the maturity of the spermatozoa, on the other, they may merely reflect their age].

Common errors in making comparisons between non-equivalent grammatical structures
In [Like her husband, Dr Yeung’s PhD was made at Reading] a person (husband) and an inanimate object (PhD) are being compared. The sentence can be made grammatical by emphasising that the two PhDs are compared by making husband genitive [Like her husband’s, Dr Yeung’s PhD was made at Reading. Like her husband’s PhD, Dr Yeung’s was made at Reading].
In [Unlike other species, human spermatozoa are characterised by incomplete replacement of histones] a nomenclature (species) is compared with cells (spermatozoa). For a comparison of spermatozoa between species, grammar demands that only the cells be compared [Unlike spermatozoa from other species, human spermatozoa are characterised by incomplete replacement of histones]; the use of a pronoun would eliminate repetition [Unlike spermatozoa from other species, those (i.e. spermatozoa) from man are characterised by incomplete replacement of histones].
In [Lymphocytes from treated patients were larger than untreated patients] and [Growth in the treated group was similar to controls] a particular group of people (patients, controls) is compared with a particular cell type (lymphocytes) or a physical attribute (growth). For similar objects to be compared, the introduction of a pronoun suffices to provide good grammar [Lymphocytes from treated patients were larger than those [i.e. lymphocytes] from untreated patients. Growth in the treated group was similar to that [i.e. growth] in controls].
In (He should either open the window or the door), a clause (open the window) is compared with noun (door). A verb can be added to the noun to make a clause that can be compared (He should either open the window or open the door). Alternatively, the verb can be removed from the clause (moved before either … or) to compare nouns (He should open either the window or the door).
In [He could admit neither that he was right nor wrong], a clause (admit that he was right) is compared with an adjective (wrong). As above, a verb can be added to the adjective to make a compared clause [He could admit neither that he was right nor that he was wrong], but this introduces repetition of that he was, which can be avoided by moving the words outside neither … nor, for a comparison of adjectives [He could admit that he was neither right nor wrong]. In this situation, it is more usual to use a negative verb with either … or [He could not admit that he was either right or wrong].
In [You should both inform the Chief Editor and the Institute Director] and [The birth rate not only varies between cities but also between areas within the city] clauses (inform the Chief Editor/varies between cities) are compared with phrases (the Institute Director/between areas within the city). As above, moving the clausal verbs outside the linking structure generates valid, comparable phrases [You should inform both the Chief Editor and the Institute Director. The birth rate varies not only between cities but also among areas within the city]. Alternatively, verbs can be added to the phrases to generate compared clauses [You should both inform the Chief Editor and write to the Institute Director. The birth rate not only varies between cities but also changes between areas within the city].

By Dr Trevor G Cooper (ctrevorg@gmail.com)

 
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