What Is Parallelism?
Parallelism is the use of similar structure in related words, clauses, or phrases. It creates a sense of rhythm and balance within a sentence. As readers, we often correct faulty parallelism—a lack of parallel structure—intuitively because an unbalanced sentence sounds awkward and poorly constructed.
Read the following sentences aloud:
- Kelly had to iron, do the washing, and shopping before her parents arrived.
- Driving a car requires coordination, patience, and to have good eyesight.
- Ali prefers jeans to wearing a suit.
All of these sentences contain faulty parallelism. Although they are factually correct, the construction is clunky and confusing. In the first example, three different verb forms are used. In the second and third examples, the writer begins each sentence by using a noun (coordination, jeans), but ends with a phrase (to have good eyesight, wearing a suit).
Now read the same three sentences that have correct parallelism.
- Kelly had to do the ironing, washing, and shopping before her parents arrived.
- Driving a car requires coordination, patience, and good eyesight.
- Ali prefers wearing jeans to wearing a suit.
When these sentences are written using parallel structure, they sound more aesthetically pleasing because they are balanced. Repetition of grammatical construction also minimizes the work the reader has to do to decode the sentence.
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.
Creating Parallelism Using Coordinating Conjunctions
When you connect two phrases or 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:
When I walk the dog, I like to listen to music and talking to friends on the phone.
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.
This committee needs to decide whether the company should reduce its workforce, cut its benefits, or lowering workers’ wages.
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.
Exercise: Revise for Parallel Structure
Revise each of the following sentences to create parallel structure using coordinating conjunctions:
- Mr. Holloway enjoys reading and to play his guitar on 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.
- Deal with a full inbox first thing in the morning, or by setting aside short periods of time in which to answer email 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:
Swimming in the ocean is more difficult than a pool.
Swimming in the ocean is more difficult 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.
A brisk walk is as beneficial to your health as going for a run.
Going for a brisk walk is as beneficial to your health as going for a run.
- or -
A brisk walk is as beneficial to your health as a run.
Exercise: Revising for Parallel Structure Using Than or As
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.
- Parallelism creates a sense of rhythm and balance in writing by using the same grammatical structure to express equal ideas.
- Faulty parallelism occurs when elements of a sentence are not balanced, causing the sentence to sound clunky and awkward.
- 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.