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!