Blog - Proofreading and Copy Editing

Difficulties with ‘and’

I’d like you to understand, doctor. I grant you it’s easy enough to choose between a ‘but’ and an ‘and.’ It’s a bit more difficult to decide between ‘and’ and ‘then.’ But definitely the hardest thing may be to know whether one should put an ‘and’ or leave it out.

Joseph Grand, a character in The Plague by Albert Camus

http://www.24grammata.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/The_Plague__Albert_Camus-24grammata.com_.pdf

Hopefully, most writers don’t struggle with word choice to quite the extent of Camus’ perfectionist civil servant, but as perfectionist proofreaders we do sometimes need to sort out sentences where ‘and’ causes difficulties.

Consider the following example:

The hospice relies on donations from local businesses and volunteer care workers.

Does this mean that it relies on donations from volunteer care workers? Presumably not, but rather that it relies on them to care for residents. As discussed in a previous blog post, it’s a problem of parallelism: the parts on either side of the ‘and’ are assumed to be equivalent, but in this case they are not.

Solutions:

The simplest solution, and the closest to the author’s original words, is simply to repeat ‘on’:

The hospice relies on donations from local businesses and on volunteer care workers.

A more grammatically accurate, but perhaps semantically rather redundant, one is to repeat the structure of ‘abstract noun + from + people’:

The hospice relies on donations from local businesses and nursing support from volunteer care workers.

A similar issue arises here:

The meal consisted of prawn curry and sweet dumplings in syrup.

Was the prawn curry in syrup? Let’s hope it was just the dumplings! As in M. Grand’s ‘and’ versus ‘then’ dilemma, the problem lies in the fact that the sentence is referring to a sequence of events rather than simultaneous ones.

Solutions:

One solution is to use an Oxford/serial comma:

The meal consisted of prawn curry, and sweet dumplings in syrup.

Another is to rephrase ‘and’ using an expression to indicate sequence:

The meal consisted of prawn curry followed by sweet dumplings in syrup.

Although ‘and’ versus ‘but’ may be relatively straightforward for Joseph Grand, ‘and’ versus ‘or’ often causes writers problems when used with the verb ‘choose’.

We often come across sentences such as:

Students should choose between Question A or Question B.

Solutions:

This is actually tautological and should be either:

Students should choose between Question A and Question B.

or:

Students should choose Question A or Question B.

As for whether to include ‘and’ or to leave it out, this seems to be a problem peculiar to Joseph Grand, but watch this space in case we come across any examples!



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Posted in Grammar, Proofreading/copy-editing