Balancing correlative conjunctions
by Bill Ball
Correlative conjunctions are used in pairs to link two equal grammatical elements in the same sentence. The main pairs are 'both.. .and', 'either... or', 'neither.. .nor', and 'not only.. .but also'. in sentences containing any of these pairs, the items linked should be of the same grammatical type: noun/noun, adjective/adjective, phrase/phrase, clause/clause, etc. in other words, the two parts of each pair should balance.
Here are three examples where the first correlative in each pair (both, either, not only) has been incorrectly placed.
She is the author both of novels and textbooks.
It is either necessary for you to go to the gym or to exercise at home.
We not only need to show how it was done but also why it was done.
We know what these sentences mean, of course, but is that sufficient? in the first sentence, 'both' is followed by the preposition 'of, but 'and' is followed by the noun 'textbooks'. In the second, 'either' is followed by the adjective 'necessary', but 'or' is followed by the infinitive 'to exercise'. in the third, 'not only' is followed by the verb 'need', but 'also' is followed by the adverb 'why'.
It is interesting to note that if we were to take out 'both' in the first sentence, 'either' in the second, and 'not only' in the third, the sentences would then be above grammatical suspicion. Surely, therefore, if we are to make use of these correlative conjunctions, we should at least make sure that we place them where they belong.
Here is one way of correcting our examples.
She is the author of both novels and textbooks.
It is necessary for you either to go to the gym or to exercise at home.
We need to show not only how it was done but also why it was done.
The correlative parts in each sentence now balance. In the first, 'both' and 'and' are followed by nouns; in the second, 'either' and 'or' are followed by infinitives; and in the third, 'not only' and 'but also' are followed by clauses.
By the way, in the 'not only.. .but also' construction, the 'also' is not obligatory. Indeed, it is frequently omitted:
We need to show not only how it was done but why it was done.