68 – Grammar shot: Interpolated coordination

I feel it was a tad unfair to leave you, in my previous post, more or less high and dry after hitting you with the term ‘interpolated coordination’, with which some of you may be unfamiliar. In this post, I’m trying to atone for the lapse. The logical start would be a brief overview of coordination. Coordination is a way of combining words, phrases and clauses of equivalent status into more complex structures by means of coordinators. Coordinators include coordinating conjunctions and, or and but and punctuation. Coordination is an exceedingly common procedure, and it’s not at all necessary to be aware of the term to be able to perform the operation without mishaps, although it is by no means plain sailing. But that’s not what this article is about.

Examples of coordination:

 I like apples, plums and pears.

Sink or swim.

They were bloodied but unbowed.

I was late; consequently, I wasn’t allowed to sit the exam.

 So far, so uncomplicated. We, however, also use the so-called interpolated coordination, a very common device, but one which often seems to present some writers with difficulties – hence this post. Since to interpolate means to insert, interpose, incorporate, inset, interpolated coordinate constructions are constructions where one is ‘inserted’ inside another. This usage is illustrated in the examples below.

Examples of interpolated coordination:

She is, or at least was, a famous pianist.

He is known for his love for, and expertise in, grammar.

Some girls consider themselves not just equal to, but the same as, boys.

 In order for interpolated coordination to work, the inserted unit MUST be enclosed by two correlative commas (the most common), dashes or brackets. Why?  Because it is inserted – or interpolated. But the point is that it often lacks the required punctuation, this being illustrated through the two examples below.

 Both correlative commas (or dashes/ brackets) missing (very common):

 “It was perfectly possible to get an A grade in history without the slightest interest in or grasp of the subject.” (The Times Educational Supplement)

 Write: interest in, or grasp of, the subject.

 The second correlative comma (or dash/ bracket) missing (very common):

 “Extra money and facilities must be focused on, not away from the disadvantaged.” (The Times Educational Supplement)

 Write: focused on, not away from, the disadvantaged.

 Interestingly, I have found no examples with the first correlative comma (or dash/ bracket) missing, although such omission can be seen with other constructions. I am using the three examples below to exemplify the omission of relevant prepositions – another type of error – but there are punctuation mistakes in two of them as well.

 “The imperial bureaucracy must be accountable and the servant of the commonwealth.” (The Sunday Times)

 Write: must be accountable to, and the servant of, the commonwealth.

 “Nobody loves fancy dress as much (or is more ill-advised in its adoption) than members of the Royal family.” (The Daily Telegraph)

 Write: as much as (or is more ill-advised in its adoption than) members of the Royal family.

 Occasionally, the omission of a preposition is likely to result in unintentional hilarity.

 “Every school should offer classes for parents to teach them how to talk and play with their children.” (The Times Educational Supplement)

 Blimey, you would think that parents can talk already!

Write: to teach them how to talk to, and play with, their children.

So mind how you go with interpolated coordination!


13 thoughts on “68 – Grammar shot: Interpolated coordination

  1. Hi Anna. I like your explanation of how to use the commas and the reminder not to leave out the prepositions. Putting in the parenthesis seems a bit awkward to me. I usually use parenthesis to add an explanation/definition of something. I do not use the parenthesis that often because I am not confident in where to use it appropriately. [Brackets] are even harder for me. I read that brackets are to be used when the author is inserting a correction or clarification in a passage taken from someone else’s writing. If you get a change I would love to hear more about the use of parenthesis and brackets. My husband mentioned that grammar rules are different in England and America. I wondered if you agree about that. Gads, lots of questions in this comment. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for your comprehensive comment, Deborah. I believe people often use parentheses and brackets to mean the same thing. Brackets are used to enclose extra information or comments; I will happily elaborate further but am a bit under the weather at the moment, so please give me bit of time. Your husband is right – sort of. Let me quote the four professors of English who are the authors of its most comprehensive grammar: “Grammatical differences are few, and the most conspicuous are known to many users of both national standards.” So, yes, there are differences in grammar – but not all that many. There are, of course, differences in spelling, vocabulary and idiomatic expressions. Love xxx

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You Tweeted me (eraruc) this: I’d be truly delighted if you would care to sample (and maybe follow?) my jocular blog Flaming English: https://flaming-english.com/
    This was an interesting read, Anna. I never thought of writing this way, but then I always follow the rule ‘keep it simple stupid’ and that goes for the grammar too as not everyone is literary competent. I also believe in ‘Monkey see, monkey do’ as far as learning something complicated is concerned.
    I have over fifty books on Amazon as beggars like me cannot afford to be choosy.
    I used to suffer from dyslexia (caused by a PTSD) but now it’s just a slight pain in the bum. I have a spell checker and a head full of homophones, but my problem is the connection between brain, eyes and finger tips.. simple typos like missing the “y” from “They”, the “D” from And”.
    Punctuation, as shown here, fascinates me, though I have heard that professors, for want of a better word, argue about the use of the comma at the drop of a hat.
    I have a question on the question mark; is it really necessary when it is obvious a direct question is asked. I believe in trusting my readers; if somebody slams a door it goes without saying they are angry, and if somebody asks what the time is… do we really have to point out to the reader that this is a question.
    My spell checker only works on Microsoft, so if I ain’t got all the typos, well; that’s life.
    I hope I have delighted you; sort of ‘made your day’; to misquote “Dirty Harry”.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with me, William; yes, you have delighted me! You are absolutely right about professors and the comma, but I don’t think they are the only ones. Punctuation (alongside grammar) is an endlessly fascinating subject – at least to me – and I can happily spend endless hours pondering its intricacies. Using a question mark after a direct question is a generally accepted convention; whether to follow it in your own writing or not is ultimately up to you. But why would you have it in for the poor question mark? What harm does it do? I don’t think my having used it here twice has insulted anybody’s intelligence, has it? (Oops, that’s three times now!)


  3. Anna, am not sure why I didn’t see this post when you wrote it, but am thankful to have found it now! I just have no idea how you keep all this in your head! Do hope you feel better by now and very much look forward to your “humourous” upcoming post and also your posts on brackets/parentheses!

    Liked by 1 person

    • How very kind of you, Torrie! I am, indeed, much better after the most vicious bout of tonsillitis in my whole life. And you know what: suddenly, my greatest ambition is … simply to stay well. Everything else is inconsequential in comparison. The humorous post is coming soon, but, as for the brackets, I replied individually to Deborah (doubting whether my esteemed readers would enjoy another boring ‘grammar shot”). I’m still shaken by your description of your men’s incredible adventure in the dunes – and overjoyed you are all well. xxx


      • Thank you, Anna.

        Actually, the brackets/parenthesis issue is one that I have need of. I did read your reply to Deborah but with me it’s all about repetition, so reading about it again is always a good thing for me!

        Staying well….yes, I think that’s probably a very good goal for here as well!

        Liked by 1 person

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