True and False Series

 >>Illustration by the brilliant Danielle Hernandez.  See more of her work    here   .<<

>>Illustration by the brilliant Danielle Hernandez. See more of her work here.<<

A sentence with a series includes an introductory clause, related items, and is punctuated with or without the Oxford comma. 

Did something sound a bit off to you in that first sentence? It should have, because there was an error — a false series error to be exact. In this post, you're going to learn how to spot them, fix them and avoid them. 

But first, get to know the true series.

When you present a series of things in one sentence, you are responsible for sticking to a consistent pattern or a cadence of items. 

Rainbows are the result of rain showers, unicorn sneezes, and magical writing. 

Yes, that is a true series up there. You can diagram that sentence easily and determine that each of the items listed makes grammatical sense with the introductory clause. 

Rainbows are the result of:

  • rain showers

  • unicorn sneezes

  • magical writing

Try it out: Read "rainbows are the result of..." with each of the series items separately. Do each of the three sentences make sense? If they do, you can be certain you have a true series on your page. 

Beware the false series.

While the idea of the series seems simple, because it is a simple concept, writing a false series is painfully easy, especially with waning attention and rushed deadlines. 

Be it in published articles on reputable websites, on your cousin's Facebook post, in self-published books — once you are aware of the false series, you will start to spot these monsters everywhere. 

While you cannot vanquish everyone's errors, you can limit your own grammatical monsters. The trick to spotting a false series lies with your inner ear, your natural instincts, and your unyielding review. 

The construction of a true series depends on consistency. If the word "to" precedes two of your series items but not the third, you have a false series. 

I like to play ukulele, to speak to flowers, and eat sequined marshmallows. 

Sometimes false series crop up because a writer is combining a series of two items with a second and separate but related thought. 

Unicorns exist in front of computers, in the wild, and are best left alone until they've had a second cup of coffee. 

You, the writer, have a couple options here (really unlimited if you want to completely recast the sentence). 

Fix 1: Unicorns exist in front of computers and in the wild, and they are best left alone until they've had a second cup of coffee. 

Fix 2: Unicorns exist in front of computers and in the wild. They're best left alone until they've had a second cup of coffee. 

Kill those false series, brave writer.

A false series is the plastic bag to your true series ocean (on that note, never use plastic bags; if you need convincing, see this video). It's akin to a beat of one, two, and sparkles! It might seem fine at first glance, but the false series is wrong, wrong, wrong. 


Have a grammar topic you'd like covered? See an error these unicorn eyes missed (hey, even unicorns can be human sometimes)? Email me.