Listen to an audio version of this page (10 min, 48 sec):
What is parallelism?
Parallelism is the use of similar structure in related words, clauses, or phrases. If we list two or more things, we should try to refer to those things using the same grammatical form. Parallelism creates a sense of rhythm and balance within a sentence. We often correct faulty parallelism intuitively because an unbalanced sentence sounds awkward and poorly constructed. Repetition of grammatical construction makes the sentence flow and minimizes the amount of work the reader has to do to make sense of it. Try reading the following sentences aloud:
|Sentences with parallel items in bold||Explanation|
|Kelly had to iron, do the washing, and shopping before her parents arrived.||
Incorrect: Each item in the list is a verb in a different form: to iron, do the washing, and shopping.
|Kelly had to do the ironing, washing, and shopping before her parents arrived.||Correct: Now the items in the list all have the same -ing verb form: ironing, washing, and shopping.|
|Driving a car requires coordination, patience, and to have good eyesight.||
Incorrect: The list begins with a noun, coordination, but ends with a phrase, to have good eyesight.
|Driving a car requires coordination, patience, and good eyesight.||
Correct: Each item in the list is in noun form: coordination, patience, and good eyesight.
|Ali prefers jeans to wearing a suit.||
Incorrect: Jeans is a noun, but wearing a suit is a verbal phrase.
|Ali prefers wearing jeans to wearing a suit.||
Correct: Now the sentence lines up one verbal phrase, wearing jeans, next to another, wearing a suit.
A simple way to check for parallelism in your writing is to make sure you have paired nouns with nouns, verbs with verbs, prepositional phrases with prepositional phrases, and so on. Underline each element in a sentence and check that the corresponding element uses the same grammatical form.
How to create parallelism
Parallelism may be created by connecting two clauses or making a list using coordinating conjunctions; by comparing two items using than or as; or by connecting two parts of a sentence using correlative conjunctions.
Creating parallelism using coordinating conjunctions
When you connect two clauses using a coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so), make sure that the same grammatical structure is used on each side of the conjunction. Take a look at the following example:
- Faulty parallelism: When I walk the dog, I like to listen to music and talking to friends on the phone.
- Correct parallelism: When I walk the dog, I like listening to music and talking to friends on the phone.
The first sentence uses two different verb forms (to listen, talking). In the second sentence, the grammatical construction on each side of the coordinating conjunction (and) is the same, creating a parallel sentence.
The same technique should be used for joining items or lists in a series:
- Faulty parallelism: This committee needs to decide whether the company should reduce its workforce, cut its benefits, or lowering workers’ wages.
- Correct parallelism: This committee needs to decide whether the company should reduce its workforce, cut its benefits, or lower workers’ wages.
The first sentence contains two items that use the same verb construction (reduce, cut) and a third item that uses a different verb form (lowering). The second sentence uses the same verb construction in all three items, creating a parallel structure.
Revise each of the following sentences to create parallel structure using coordinating conjunctions.
- Mr. Holloway enjoys reading and to play his guitar at weekends.
- The doctor told Mrs. Franklin that she should either eat less or should exercise more.
- Breaking out of the prison compound, the escapees moved carefully, quietly, and were quick on their feet.
- I have read the book, but I have not watched the movie version.
- Deal with a full inbox first thing in the morning, or by setting aside short periods of time in which to answer e-mail queries.
Creating parallelism using than or as
When you are making a comparison, the two items being compared should have a parallel structure. Comparing two items without using parallel structure can lead to confusion about what is being compared. Comparisons frequently use the words than or as, and the items on each side of these comparison words should be parallel. Take a look at the following example:
- Faulty parallelism: Swimming in the ocean is much tougher than a pool.
- Correct parallelism: Swimming in the ocean is much tougher than swimming in a pool.
In the first sentence, the elements before the comparison word (than) are not equal to the elements after the comparison word. It appears that the writer is comparing an action (swimming) with a noun (a pool). In the second sentence, the writer uses the same grammatical construction to create a parallel structure. This clarifies that an action is being compared with another action.
To correct some instances of faulty parallelism, it may be necessary to add or delete words in a sentence.
- Faulty parallelism: A brisk walk is as beneficial to your health as going for a run.
- Correct parallelism: Going for a brisk walk is as beneficial to your health as going for a run.
In this example, it is necessary to add the verb phrase going for to the sentence in order to clarify that the act of walking is being compared to the act of running.
Revise each of the following sentences to create parallel structure using than or as.
- I would rather work at a second job to pay for a new car than a loan.
- How you look in the workplace is just as important as your behavior.
- The firefighter spoke more of his childhood than he talked about his job.
- Indian cuisine is far tastier than the food of Great Britain.
- Jim’s opponent was as tall as Jim and he carried far more weight.
Creating parallelism using correlative conjunctions
A correlative conjunction is a paired conjunction that connects two equal parts of a sentence and shows the relationship between them. Common correlative conjunctions include the following:
- not only…but also
Correlative conjunctions should follow the same grammatical structure to create a parallel sentence. Take a look at the following example:
- Faulty parallelism: We can neither wait for something to happen nor can we take evasive action.
- Correct parallelism: We can neither wait for something to happen nor take evasive action.
When using a correlative conjunction, the words, phrases, or clauses following each part should be parallel. In the first sentence, the construction of the second part of the sentence does not match the construction of the first part. In the second sentence, omitting needless words and matching verb constructions create a parallel structure. Sometimes, rearranging a sentence corrects faulty parallelism.
- Faulty parallelism: It was both a long movie and poorly written.
- Correct parallelism: The movie was both long and poorly written.
To see examples of parallelism in use, read some of the great historical speeches by rhetoricians such as Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. Notice how they use parallel structures to emphasize important points and to create a smooth, easily understandable oration. You may want to watch and listen to Martin Luther King’s speech “I Have a Dream."
Revise each of the following sentences to create parallel structure using correlative conjunctions.
- The cyclist owns both a mountain bike and has a racing bike.
- The movie not only contained lots of action, but also it offered an important lesson.
- My current job is neither exciting nor is it meaningful.
- Jason would rather listen to his father than be taking advice from me.
- We are neither interested in buying a vacuum cleaner nor do we want to utilize your carpet cleaning service.
Read through the following paragraph, and revise any instances of faulty parallelism to create parallel structure.
Owning a pet has proven to be extremely beneficial to people's health. Pets help lower blood pressure, boost immunity, and are lessening anxiety. Studies indicate that children who grow up in a household with cats or dogs are at a lower risk of developing allergies or suffer from asthma. Owning a dog offers an additional bonus; it makes people more sociable. Dogs are natural conversation starters and this not only helps to draw people out of social isolation but also they are more likely to find a romantic partner. Benefits of pet ownership for elderly people include less anxiety, lower insurance costs, and they also gain peace of mind. A study of Alzheimer's patients showed that patients have fewer anxious outbursts if there is an animal in the home. Some doctors even keep dogs in the office to act as on-site therapists. In short, owning a pet keeps you healthy, happy, and is a great way to help you relax.