Jose Carillo's Forum


This page seeks to promote good English usage in everyday life—whether at home, at school, in the workplace, in public platforms, in the mass media, in books, and anywhere else where the printed or spoken word is used. In short, this page will serve as some sort of grammar police against blatant or grievous public misuses of English.

So, whenever you encounter such misuse, share it through this page in the spirit of constructive criticism. Our ultimate goal, of course, is to bring the misuse to the attention of those responsible so they can make the necessary correction.

Need for parallelism when doing serial enumeration in sentences

Question by Miss Mae, Forum member (March 15, 2012):

What should we consider when enumerating things in a sentence? Should every kind of room specified in this particular sentence be introduced by the article “the”' or is the construction just fine?

“Choose from the Moroccan room at €105 ($137), English room at €125 ($163), Swedish room €140 ($182), and Caribbean at €105 ($137).”

I asked because I wish to construct the sentence like this:

“Choose from the Moroccan room at €105 ($137), English room at €125 ($163), Swedish room at €140 ($182), and the Caribbean at €105 ($137).”

My reply to Miss Mae:

When making a serial enumeration in a sentence, the listing should be kept parallel by ensuring that every item listed is in the same grammatical form—whether all noun forms, all adjective forms, all verbal forms (infinitives, gerunds), etc.* As to article usage, “the” or “a”—or none of them—can be used for each item or used only once at the beginning of the serial list; the choice is largely a matter of style on the part of the writer.

When evaluated using these two grammatical yardsticks, the original construction and your revised construction fail either the parallelism test or article-usage test, or both.

Take a close look at the original construction:

“Choose from the Moroccan room at €105 ($137), English room at €125 ($163), Swedish room at €140 ($182), and Caribbean at €105 ($137).”

The serial list above is unparallel because the fourth item in the list, “Caribbean,” is an odd-man out without the word “room” right after it. It should be listed as “Caribbean room” to be parallel with all the proper names of the rooms in the list, as follows:

“Choose from the Moroccan room at €105 ($137), English room at €125 ($163), Swedish room at €140 ($182), and Caribbean room at €105 ($137).”

Your revised construction is in even worse grammatical shape:

“Choose from the Moroccan room at €105 ($137), English room at €125 ($163), Swedish room at €140 ($182), and the Caribbean at €105 ($137).”

It fails the parallelism test because three of the items—Moroccan room, English room, and Swedish room—have the word “room” in them but the fourth item, “Caribbean,” doesn’t have it. It also fails the article-usage parallelism test because two items—“the Moroccan room,” “the Caribbean”—have the article “the” but the other two items—“English room” and “Swedish room”—don’t have it.

Here’s how that sentence can be made parallel and consistent in article usage through and through:

“Choose from these rooms: Moroccan, €105 ($137), English, €125 ($163), Swedish, €140 ($182), and Caribbean, €105 ($137).”
“Choose from these rooms: the Moroccan, €105 ($137), the English, €125 ($163), the Swedish, €140 ($182), and the Caribbean, €105 ($137).”

Using parallelism to achieve structural balance in writing

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Previous Feature:

Should three or more “as’s” be allowed in a sentence?

Question from Miss Mae, Forum member (December 9, 2011):

From a news website: “NASA said the last time a space rock as big as 2005 YU55 came as close to Earth was in 1976.”

Why are there three “as’s” in that sentence?

From a news website: “A Russian court ordered a maternity hospital to pay two families about $100,000 apiece for mixing up their newly born daughters 12 years ago.

Isn’t “each” better than “apiece” in the above sentence? And shouldn’t it just be left to a reader’s understanding that the newly born daughters belong to two families and not to a Russian court?

My reply to Miss Mae:

Let’s take a closer look at the first sentence you presented:

“NASA said the last time a space rock as big as 2005 YU55 came as close to Earth was in 1976.”

Note that there are actually two comparative phrases in that sentence. The first comparative is “a space rock as big as 2005 YU55” and the second, “came as close to Earth was in 1976.” These two comparatives are independent of each other; in fact, we can say that each has a grammatical life of its own. (By the way, the comparative “came as close to Earth was in 1976” is actually an ellipted—streamlined and made concise—form of the comparative “came as close to Earth as this time was in 1976,” so formally, there should be four “as’s” in all in that sentence). There’s no rule in English syntax that forbids the clustering of three or more “as’s” in a sentence, so we should judge such grammatical situations on whether they make sense or not. I think you’ll agree that the sentence in question makes sense.  

Now regarding this sentence from a news website:

“A Russian court ordered a maternity hospital to pay two families about $100,000 apiece for mixing up their newly born daughters 12 years ago.”

The use of the adverb “apiece” in that sentence in the sense of “each” is grammatically correct. By definition, “apiece” and “each” are freely interchangeable. The choice is a matter of style.

Now, regarding this question of yours: “Should it just be left to a reader’s understanding that the newly born daughters belong to two families and not to a Russian court?”

No, I don’t think so. In journalism, we should not leave such things to chance. I think the reporter and editor of that news story were very well-advised in making it absolutely clear that it was the maternity hospital that had mixed up the two newly borns. It just so happens that in the process, the phrasing of the sentence also makes it crystal clear that the newly borns belong to the two families and not to the Russian court. We should appreciate the phrasing of that sentence rather than find fault with it for doing that.

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Shouldn’t long acronyms in the news be spelled out in the story?

Question by Miss Mae (December 6, 2011):

In a Philippine newspaper is a news story about an international non-profit organization’s initiative to open a “model cacao nursery” with the following lead sentence:

The Agricultural Cooperative Development International/Volunteers in Overseas Cooperative Assistance or ACDI/VOCA, an international non-profit organization that implements the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)-funded CoCoPal (Coconut, Cacao, and Palay) Integrated Farming Systems Project in Mindanao opened earlier the CoCoPal model cacao nursery situated at Kilometer 12, Bernabe Subdivision, Catalunan Pequeño, this city.

It could be that the very long name of the organization for which the “ACDI/VOCA” stands, followed by the 24-word appositive, “makes for insufferable reading” as you put it (“When media are less than careful in choosing metaphors and words,” My Media English Watch). Aside from your suggested reconstruction, will it also do if the acronym is mentioned a paragraph later and the appositive trimmed, as in my rewrite below of that lead passage?

“An international non-profit organization opened a model cacao nursery recently.

“Presently, we are providing support to qualified nursery operators and partners in our project areas. In Davao City, we supported the establishment of a model nursery with 100,000 production capacity to showcase best practices in cacao nursery production,” said Nicholas Richards of the ACDI/VOCA, which stands for Agricultural Cooperative Development International/Volunteers in Overseas Cooperative Assistance.

“The ACDI/VOCA implements the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)-funded CoCoPal (Coconut, Cacao, and Palay) Integrated Farming Systems Project in Mindanao. The place where cacaos would be grown for sale* will be at Kilometer 12, Bernabe Subdivision, Catalunan Pequeño.”

*Not everybody knows that a nursery could also be “a place where plants are grown for sale, transplanting, or experimentation” (, right?

My reply to Miss Mae:

Yes, it’s always advisable to mention the acronym of an organization with a longwinded name later in the news story; that way, the name need not be repeated in every subsequent mention of it, which, of course, could be such a terrible aggravation to the reader. But whether the organization uses an acronym or not, the point I wanted to emphasize is that the reporter mustn’t overtax the powers of comprehension of the readers by starting off a lead sentence with a kilometric, mind-boggling proper name like “The Agricultural Cooperative Development International/Volunteers in Overseas Cooperative Assistance” and, even before delivering the operative verb, immediately follow that proper name with another horrendously long qualifier like “an international non-profit organization that implements the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)-funded CoCoPal (Coconut, Cacao, and Palay) Integrated Farming Systems Project.” That’s turning a routine news story into a Babel of nouns, nouns, and more nouns followed by even more nouns, which I must say is more than the average brain can take.

Regarding your proposed rewrite of that story, I think it starts on the wrong foot by giving an overly generic lead sentence that offers no particulars whatsoever in terms of the who, what, where, and when of the subject being reported about: “An international non-profit organization opened a model cacao nursery recently.” This is a big no-no in news journalism; the least a reporter should do to begin with is to identify by name the subject of the news story so as to put everything that follows in the context of that subject.

As it is, in the absence of a specific subject in your lead sentence, the quoted statement that immediately follows it rings hollow and meaningless. It’s very much like a blind speaker talking to a nonexistent audience in an utterly dark convention hall.

Rejoinder by Miss Mae (December 7, 2011):

Uh, couldn’t that be considered a trick to entice the readers to continue doing so?

My reply to Miss Mae’s rejoinder:

To be able to get away with a news lead using an overly generic statement, you must at least dangle morsels of particularity in it, something controversial the way entertainment and gossip writers do it, as in “Did you know that Hunk A is now Hunk B”s lover after breaking off with Starlet C?” Unfortunately, a news release that “An international non-profit organization opened a model cacao nursery recently” hardly meets the grade for this kind of titillating trick reporting. It’s therefore best in such mundane situations to stick to the straight news basics.

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Proposed rewrite of inscrutable English of magazine’s foreword

New Forum member Menie made the following posting that offers a suggested rewrite of the seriously flawed English of a college magazine’s foreword that was sent to me last August 8, 2010 by Prof. R. Muthukumar of the Department of Business Administration of NMSSVN College in Nagamalai, Madurai, India:

I see that no one has taken up the challenge of translating this to something which can be understood at first reading, so I will give it a try. Step one is a literal translation: substituting the weird words and phrases with understandable words or phrases, but retaining the general style of the sentences.

Dear Readers,

We are proud to say that this College Annual Magazine is a product of the hard work of qualified people.

It is an announcement that our college has a collection of versatile people who have clear ideas about prevalent issues in society. We believe that our readers will be invigorated after reading these articles, which deal closely with sensitive and unique ideas.

The Editorial Board thanks the members for their meritorious and sincere effort in bringing this Magazine out. We also thank Management for their encouragement and cooperation toward the successful completion of this annual book.  

Once again we bow our heads in recognition of Management’s untiring effort to uplift the condition of the college staff and to continue the progress of our college.

We also thank M/s Edison Printers for their good and prompt service.

Having understood what they are trying to say, we can then attempt to rewrite it in a better style, but still retaining all of the ideas expressed above.

Dear Readers,

We are proud to present to you this College Annual Magazine.  

This is a collection of views on prevalent issues in our society, which are examined with sensitive and unique perspectives. We hope that you will find these articles interesting and that these will move you to take further action.

We wish to thank the contributors and magazine staff for their hard work and dedication.

We also thank the school administration for their encouragement and support toward the successful completion of this magazine. We take this opportunity to acknowledge their untiring effort toward the betterment of the college staff and the continuing progress of our school.

Lastly, we thank M/s Edison Printers for their excellent work.

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“Sick books” issue goes off the deep end, then bubbles up again

There was this story in two of the broadsheets last November 9 that Education Secretary Armin Luistro visited “sick books” crusader Antonio Calipjo Go recently and encouraged him to resume his terminated crusade. This was after Mr. Go announced a few days back that he was shelving his one-man advocacy for good, having been intensely pilloried instead of being thanked for it by the publishers, authors, and editors of the targeted textbooks.

Well, what a coincidence! Just two days before that, a new member of Jose Carillo’s English Forum—his username is pedestrian—asked me to explain what those textbook errors were all about in the first place. He was belatedly responding to a June 6, 2009 editorial of The Manila Times that commented on the several dozens of questionable English passages that Mr. Go had found in six locally produced English-language textbooks. Pedestrian was saying that since there was no explanation for those errors, it’s difficult for him to learn from them.

I told pedestrian that then and now, I just didn’t have the time to critique all those problematic textbook passages, but I consented to doing the following four samplers just to give him some idea of what the problem is all about:

(1) “The rain and storm are needed to snuff out the heat in the air.” There’s nothing wrong with the grammar of that sentence, but its sophomoric use of the phrasal verb “snuff out” makes it sound infantile. To “snuff out” is much too strong and emotional a verb phrase in that statement, for it means “to extinguish (as in smothering the flame of a candle), make extinct, kill, or execute.” And to say that the rain and storm are “needed” to do that snuffing out action on heat is unwarranted personification, or inappropriately representing rain and storm as humans. Here’s a more objective, level-headed way of wording that sentence: “The rain and storm remove heat from the air.”

(2) “Just remember this acronym—DOCSiShQACNMN to make it easy for you to remember the order of adjectives in a series.” It should be obvious even to a preschooler that this is ridiculous advice—to use a tangled, tongue-twisting, terribly-hard-to-recall acronym as a mnemonic for remembering the order of adjectives in a series. We normally expect to get such advice from simpletons, not educators or textbook writers.

(3) “Robert Louis Stevenson wrote the novels ‘The Treasure Island’ and ‘The Kidnapper.’” This factually erroneous sentence is the result not only of the ignorance and laziness of the textbook writer but also the carelessness and cluelessness of the textbook editors. The correct titles of those very popular novels are Treasure Island—without the article “The”—and Kidnapped—not “The Kidnapper.” It’s really unthinkable for the author of that book not to know this, and this kind of factual error makes that textbook statement sound almost like a sick joke.

(4) “My sister is old. She can accompany me to the outing.” This statement is semantically faulty and almost laughable. It gives the idea that old age is a prerequisite for someone to qualify as a companion to an outing. This time, the problem is both semantic and grammatical. What the writer obviously wanted to say is, “My sister is old enough. She can accompany me to the outing.” The adjective “enough” would have been enough to make that statement logical, but the textbook writer evidently didn’t have enough semantic sensitivity to make that distinction.

I told pedestrian in closing that I wish someone would pick up after me and find time to dissect the remaining problematic textbook passages, which I daresay won’t be remedied by simply providing supplemental notes to the flawed textbooks, as had been done by the DepEd. Those textbooks should be withdrawn from circulation as soon as practicable, then replaced with textbooks written by semantically competent authors.

Read The Manila Times editorial on the textbooks with erroneous English!

Read “Luistro backs Go crusade” in the Philippine Daily Inquirer now!

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And we thought we’d find typos only in newspapers and books!

Mispelled Road Sign

I don’t think we can blame this one on the influence of too much short-cut texting on the mobile phone.

What do you think?

Here’s the story from Yahoo!

Cringe-inducing typo outside N.C. school
By Brett Michael Dykes

Well, here's something to make your old English teacher gasp in horror: A road contractor hired to paint the word “school” on a freshly paved stretch of road near Southern Guilford High School in North Carolina rendered the traffic area in question a “school” zone.

But fear not for the (surely confused) youth of Greensboro! The contractor, a company called Traffic Markings, has already corrected the error.  Here's visual evidence, courtesy of local TV station WXII.

WXII had some fun with the typo on the air too:

This isn’t the first such mishap on record. Last year, for instance, a Miami-area road crew offered the variant spelling of “scohol,” while in 2007, a team in Kalamazoo, Mich., managed the same “h” and “c” reversal.

Chalk it all up to a bad day’s wrok.

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Reporting English misuse:

You can report the English misuse by e-mailing a verbatim transcription or an image in GIF or JPEG format to When doing so, please be mindful of the laws against libel and oral defamation. Our interest is not to humiliate English-language offenders but to help them rectify the error, so there’s no need to identify them in your messages. Just indicate the city, district, street, and general location where you saw or found the particular English misuse to make it easier for those concerned to be alerted about it.

We will also need your full name, residence, e-mail address, and telephone number so we can confirm with you before the posting is made on this page. Just let us know if you don’t want to be identified in the posting so we can withhold your identity. Please keep in mind that this page will be moderated and will not entertain scurrilous reports nor those sent in by anonymous sources.

That said, you can now get started in doing volunteer police work for the sake of good English! It should be a truly gratifying educational experience and you and other English lovers can have lots of fun besides!

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