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Finding Parallel Perfection: Parallelism in Writing Sentences

What is “parallelism” in writing? Parallelism definition: The use of identical or equivalent syntactic constructions in corresponding clauses or phrases. (The American Heritage Dictionary)

Faulty parallelism is the result of mixing up tactics when composing a sentence. This happens most often when a writer wants to make a sentence more interesting, especially when the sentence is long or complex, but the result can be unsettling to the reader. Parallelism can relate to just about anything: nouns, verbs, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, articles, and prepositions (as in the following example).

Not parallel:      They rode to the market, the post office, and to the library.
Parallel:            They rode to the market, the post office, and the library.
Parallel:            They rode to the market, to the post office, and to the library.

If a sentence contains elements related in purpose or structure, be sure these elements are presented in the same grammatical form.

Not parallel:      I enjoy long walks on the beach, eating gourmet food, and to stargaze on a clear night.
Parallel:            I enjoy taking long walks on the beach, eating gourmet food, and stargazing on a clear night.

Often more a matter of style than grammatical error, achieving parallel structure adds rhythm and elegance to a sentence. Creative writers do have a certain poetic license to forego the rules of parallelism when the result is a more powerful or artistic sentence, but in general, watch out for elements that don’t jibe.

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Some more examples:

When I was a teenager, I was a cook at a fast-food restaurant, delivered newspapers, and then I worked as a valet.
BETTER: When I was a teenager, I cooked at a fast-food restaurant, delivered newspapers, and worked as a valet.

We vacation in spring, summer, and in fall.
BETTER: We vacation in spring, summer, and fall.
OR: We vacation in spring, in summer, and in fall.

A time not for words, but action.
BETTER: A time not for words, but for action.

Work is as important as playing.
BETTER: Work is as important as play.
OR: Working is as important as playing.

She is a teacher who is dedicated and, at the same time, finding her students tedious.
BETTER: She is a teacher who is dedicated and, at the same time, finds her students tedious.

The new budget calls for lower salaries, marketing funds, and shorter hours.
BETTER: The new budget calls for lower salaries, lower marketing funds, and shorter hours.

The politician has the charisma, the charm, and has the contacts to run successfully.
BETTER: The politician has the charisma, the charm, and the contacts to run successfully.
OR: The politician has the charisma, has the charm, and has the contacts to run successfully.

Susan is interested but not very good at foreign languages.
BETTER: Susan is interested in but not very good at foreign languages.

At my favorite restaurant, the lunch menu is good but the drinks expensive.
BETTER: At my favorite restaurant, the lunch menu is good but the drinks are expensive.

She traced his face in the photograph slowly and with love.
BETTER: She traced his face in the photograph slowly and lovingly.

Still don’t get parallelism? The Writer’s Relief proofreading team can help you get your stories, essays, poems, and books in top shape!

2 Responses to Finding Parallel Perfection: Parallelism in Writing Sentences

  1. Thanks for the blog. I find myself rewriting these types of sentences all the time. I’ll change them because something ‘sounds’ off but then change them back. This was very helpful.

  2. When I worked on a government project’s publishing team of document checkers and editors, I was the only one without a degree. However, I was the only one selected to quality-check the work of the other eleven team members. None of them had even heard of “parallel construction.” I literally needed to explain it to each one of these degreed writers and ediors. One gal had two Master’s degrees. Thank you for bringing this important aspect to the attention of beginning writers. Non-parallel construction doesn’t destroy an article, but it slows down the reader. They sense something is “off kilter,” even if they do not understand what it is. We want our words to be effective and to be effective, we can’t afford to slow down our readers.

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