What is parallelism?
You might be familiar with the term “parallel” in geometry where it means two or more lines that will never meet. Lines like these face the same way and are alike in their constructions. Similar to these lines, parallel structure in grammatical terms means constructing two or more phrases or clauses that have the same grammatical structure.
The purpose of parallelism is to make writing easier to read by linking related concepts with similar grammatical structure. Doing this is more memorable to readers as it stands out, making your writing more effective as a result.
Parallelism in Form
She likes to run, swimming, and biking on the weekends.
The above sentence isn’t parallel. While it makes sense as a sentence, we have a list of actions the lady is doing on the weekend that are not structured in the same manner. Running, swimming, and biking are all actions (verbs), but running is stated as to run while swimming and biking are in the progressive forms with -ing at the end. To make this sentence parallel, we need to add balance by making the verbs in this list alike.
She likes running, swimming, and biking on the weekends.
She likes to run, swim, and bike on the weekends.
You might notice that the second example does not include the word to before each action. In the case where we are using multiple infinitives back to back, you do not need to repeat the to every single time.
Words with parallel structure should be the same part of speech and should be in the same form for that part of speech.
Nouns vs Verbs
The company values people’s creativity and to work beyond the minimum required.
The sentence above seems a little clunky because the parallel structure is not there. In this case, we have the noun creativity paired with the verb to work. This sentence would function better if we used the noun work instead.
The company values people’s creativity and hard work.
The company values when people create and work hard.
Singular vs Plural
Scooters and a bicycle can be great commuting alternatives to driving a car.
Keeping the same structure, we want to make sure we are referencing things the same way in general statements unless referring to specific examples. Since scooters is plural, bicycles should be as well.
Scooters and bicycles can be great commuting alternatives to driving a car.
He completed the project that day and had a sandwich for lunch.
Something seems to be missing here. Without any context, sandwiches and lunch have little to do with projects unless he is working for a sandwich-making company. Everything discussed within the sentence should have some sort of relation to each other in order to be parallel.
He didn’t eat breakfast in order to finish the project early, so he had a sandwich for lunch.
Parallelism is pretty easy to spot once you get the hang of it. Keep your eyes out for the following:
- Mismatching parts of speech
- Mismatching forms for those parts of speech
- Mismatching singular words with plural words
- Mismatching subject matter
Parallelism is a powerful tool that can add clarity and emphasis to any piece of writing. By mastering it, you will add a sense of balance and symmetry that draws the reader’s attention to key ideas of your writing, reinforcing your message.
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