What Is Parallel Structure?

Parallel structure or parallelism uses elements that match in grammatical form or pattern throughout the sentence. In this article, we’ll be going over what parallel structure in English grammar is, how to use it, as well as parallel structure examples.  

Parallel Structure: What Is It? 

Parallel structure is repeating the grammatical form of elements in a sentence.

When similar grammatical forms are used to describe two or more ideas, it creates a smoother, more cohesive sentence. Writers often use parallel structures when there is a series of verbs or a series of nouns. 

If the elements in your sentence (whether the first sentence or second sentence) do not match in form, it is called faulty parallelism. An example of faulty parallelism is: 

“I like playing, jogging, and to read.”

Notice that the “to read” ruins the parallelism of “playing” and “jogging” because it is in the infinitive form (to + verb stem).    

There are two ways you can fix it. You can either put the third element (“to read”) to its gerund form, “reading,” or you take all of the serial elements and transform them into the infinitive form, “to play, to jog, and to read.”

Here are some parallel structure examples: 

Faulty ParallelParallelI love drawing more than to write.I love drawing more than writing.
I am interested in reading, learning new things, and to meet new people.I am interested in reading, learning new things, and meeting new people.
Either you take the garbage out or can clean the dishes.Either you take the garage or clean the dishes.

How to Use Parallelism

When using parallelism in your writing, always remember that you should never mix different grammatical forms. Basically, if you use gerund forms, they should stay consistent throughout the sentence.

You should also keep in mind that using passive voice in any of the elements can ruin parallelism.  

The various ways you can use parallelism include:

With Coordinating Conjunction

Coordinating conjunctions such as “or,” “for,” and “yet” are also found in parallel structures. Again, keep in mind that you’ll have to ensure that elements in the sentence are using the same form. 

Consider the following parallel structure examples:

Faulty ParallelParallel
I enjoyed pasta and drinking wine. I enjoyed eating pasta and drinking wine. 
The toddler doesn’t know how to use a fork, tablespoon, or a teaspoon. The toddler doesn’t know to use a fork, a tablespoon, or a teaspoon. 
She looked beautiful, but she was feeling nervous. She looked beautiful but nervous.

With Correlative Conjunction

Correlative conjunctions utilize two words or phrases to combine sentence elements. Some of the correlative conjunctions we use daily are “both…and,” “either…or,” and “not only…but also.” 

So, if you are using correlative conjunctions, you should make sure that the elements of your sentence have the same value. 

Consider the following parallel structure examples:

Faulty ParallelParallel
You can either take the bus or you can walk to school.You can either take the bus or walk to school.
My cat not only likes napping, but also to play. My cat not only likes to nap but also likes to play. 
You can find protein not only in chicken, but egg whites have it.You can find protein not only in chicken but also in egg whites. 

With -ing Endings

As mentioned earlier, all elements in your sentence should follow the same form. That means if you started with a gerund, you should not add an infinitive form.

Consider the following parallel structure examples:

Faulty ParallelParallel
I like to swim, running, and to play tennis.I like swimming, running, and playing tennis.
He enjoys reading books, watching documentaries, and to learn about different cultures.He enjoys reading books, watching documentaries, and learning about different cultures.
She likes to sing, to dance, and acting.She likes singing, dancing, and acting.

With Linking Verbs

To keep your writing interesting, use parallelism in your linking verb phrases. That means using the same grammatical form for each verb or adjective.

Consider the following parallel sentences:

Faulty ParallelParallel
To lie is sleeping on the bed.To lie is to sleep on the bed.
Loving me is to be there for me.To love me is to be there for me.
Passing the exam is to excel.To pass the exam is to excel.

With Lists or Series

If your sentence includes three or more elements in a list, you should also use parallel structure. Keep in mind that it can be a series of words, infinitives, clauses, and even infinitives. 

Consider the following parallel sentence examples:

Faulty ParallelParallel
All I wanted were three things: money, power, and to get glory.All I wanted were three things: money, power, and glory. 
She didn’t give me a chance to explain, to request a meeting, or reschedule. She didn’t give me a chance to explain, to request a meeting, or to reschedule. 

With Comparison

Here, it is important to ensure that both sides of the comparison are grammatically equal.

Consider the following parallel sentence structure:

Faulty ParallelParallel
I like walking than to run.I like walking better than running.
Watching documentaries is better than to read.I prefer watching documentaries to reading.
Playing the violin is harder than the piano.Playing the violin is harder than playing the piano.

Conclusion

Using parallelism can make your writing more concise, readable, and persuasive. The next time you’re crafting an argument or trying to drive home a point, remember to keep an eye out for opportunities to employ parallel structure. Your readers will thank you!


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