English Language – Parallel Structures

Parallel structure, or parallelism, means using the same pattern of words to show that two or more words or ideas are of equal importance. Words and phrases should not only match in structure, but also in tense. Writers use parallel structure to add clarity to their writing and to make it easier to understand. It also adds value to a writer’s overall composition and shows that their writing is structurally and grammatically correct.

Proper Use of Parallel Structure

Writers use parallel structure in the words and phrases in their sentences. This grammatical form can be used with a variety of structures including infinitives, words, clauses and lists.

Parallel structure should be used when you connect clauses with a coordinating conjunction such as: for, and, nor, or, but, so, or yet. Some examples of this include:

  • Correct: Every morning, we make our bed, eat breakfast and feed the dog.
    Incorrect: Every morning, we make our bed, eating breakfast and feed the dog.
  • Correct: I will not sing a song, nor will I dance.
    Incorrect: I will not sing a song, nor dance.

In addition to coordinating conjunctions, parallel structure is also used with correlative conjunctions such as: either…or, neither…nor, not only…but also. Some examples of this use include:

  • Correct: They argued not only about the article, but also about the review.
    Incorrect: They argued not only about the article, but they argued also about the review.
  • Correct: Either she likes to see him or she doesn’t like to see him.
    Incorrect: Either she likes to see him or doesn’t like seeing him.

Parallel structure should be used with infinitives. Some examples of parallel structure with infinitives:

  • Correct: Ashley likes to ski, to swim and to jump rope.
    Incorrect: Ashley likes to ski, to swim and jump ropes.
  • Correct: She likes to dance and to sing songs.
    Incorrect: She likes dancing and to sing songs.

Be consistent and use parallel structure with words that end in -ing. Some examples of parallel structure of words that end in -ing:

  • Correct: Joe likes running, walking and being active.
    Incorrect: Joe likes running, walking and outdoor activities.
  • Correct: We enjoy relaxing and sitting out in the sun.
    Incorrect: We enjoy relaxing and like to sit out in the sun.

Parallel structure should be used when writing clauses. Some examples of clauses using parallel structure are:

  • Correct:  The teacher told them that they need to study and that they should practice their words every night.
    Incorrect: The teacher told them to study and that they should practice their words every night.
  • Correct: My parents said get a good education and do not settle for less.
    Incorrect: My parents said to get a good education and not settle for less.

Some more examples of parallel structure include:

  • Correct: Mary wanted to make sure that she made her presentation creatively, effectively and persuasively.
    Incorrect: Mary wanted to make sure she made her presentation creatively, effectively and persuaded others.
  • Correct: Tim was considered to be a good employee because he was always on time, he was very motivated and he was a good leader.
    Incorrect: Tim was considered to be a good employee because he was always on time, he was very motivated and led the team well.

Examples of Parallel Structure on Lists

When you have items on a list following a colon, the items should all be in the same form in order to avoid a parallel structure error.

Some examples can illustrate this point:

  • Correct: The following activities can be done at the mall: buying groceries, eating lunch, and paying bills.
    Incorrect: The following activities can be done at the mall: buying groceries, eating lunch and bill payment.
  • Correct: In your bedroom, you will find the following: a bed, a closet, and a desk.
    Incorrect: In your bedroom, you will find the following: a bed, a closet and, sitting at a desk.
  • Correct: Dogs are great pets for the following reasons: they are loyal, they are loving, and they are obedient.
    Incorrect: Dogs are great pets for the following reasons: they are loyal, they are loving, and because of their obedience.
  • Correct: People who get ahead do lots of different things such as: studying, working hard, and going to college.
    Incorrect: People who get ahead do lots of different things such as: studying, working hard, and attend college.

Parallel Structure in Verb Tense

Keep in mind that parallel structure should be used when it comes to verb tense. Your verb tenses should always match.

Some examples include:

  • Correct: She wrote a letter and mailed it to the school.
    Incorrect: She writes a letter and mailed it to the school.
  • Correct: Yesterday we watched a movie, played video games and made pizza.
    Incorrect: Yesterday we watched a movie, play video games and made pizza.

The Importance of Parallel Structure

Parallel structure provides flow in a sentence. It keeps your writing balanced and makes it easier to read. It also shows that ideas are of equal importance. Errors in parallel structure errors can make your writing sound strange to listeners. Many tests, including the SAT, will require you to identify parallel structure errors as a means of testing your writing abilities.

 

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