Aug 20, 2012

Grammar Hammer: Julia Child’s Recipe for Parallel Structure

Everything has its place in Julia’s kitchen, and in the sentences you write. You wouldn’t put the toaster in the fridge.

When I was little and had to stay home sick from school, I’d always watch a TV cooking show with my mom, featuring a tall lady with a peculiar warbly voice making really delicious-looking food with lots of butter. I didn’t realize until many years later — when the movie “Julie & Julia” came out — that my mom and I had been watching reruns of Julia Child.

Watching those reruns was my first introduction to the legendary chef, author and TV personality. I’m sure many of you have your own versions of how you were introduced to Child, whether you’re a longtime fan, like my mom, who owns a weathered copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking; or a newer fan, like me, who was captivated by her charm in reruns and modern adaptations like “Julie & Julia.”

Child penned 18 cookbooks during her 91 years of life, so she surely was aware of grammar rules like parallel structure. In honor of what would have been her 100th birthday last week, we’ll review this principle:

Main Rule: Similar material within a sentence, list or passage should be presented in a consistent manner to ensure grammatical purpose, structure and rhythm.

Within a sentence:

  • Julia Child was magnetic, hilarious and wholehearted. [all adjectives]
  • Julia Child was charming, a chef and funny. [incorrect]
  • Julia Child loved salade nicoise, chicken waterzooi soup and pizza. [all recipes]
  • Julia Child loved coq au vin, boeuf bourguignon and baking. [incorrect]

Within a List:

  • To cook the duck:
    • Debone the bird.
    • Discard fat.
    • Add the stuffing.
    • Heat the oil.
    • Brown the duck.
  • [Each bullet point starts with a verb.]
  • To make pastry:
    • Mix flour, salt, sugar and butter.
    • Add water.
    • Dough into a ball.
    • Sprinkle with flour.
    • Knead repeatedly.
  • [This list is incorrect because “dough” is not a verb.]

Within a passage:

  • Chefs who create delicious food don’t always get television shows, but one always has the advantage of eating well. [incorrect; switches from plural to singular subject]
  • Chefs who create delicious food don’t always get television shows, but they always have the advantage of eating well. [correct]

Bon appetit!

Written by Grace Lavigne, senior editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. Grammar Hammer is published weekly on ProfNet Connect, a free social networking site for communicators. To read more from Grace, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user EvanFuchs.

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