Parallel structure is an important element of proper writing. Words, phrases and clauses should all be parallel when linked together in a series or connected with coordinating conjunctions. Combinations and patterns of words should all agree with the subject. However, many native speakers and ESL learners are left wondering what parallel structure is, and how can this technique be used in everyday writing?
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What is Parallel Structure?
Single words, multi-word phrases and clauses can be made parallel by ensuring each item is equal. Examples of parallel structure include multiple gerunds or –ing verbals that function as nouns, past participles, infinitive phrases (to be) and complete clauses that include a subject and predicate. Never mix and match when using parallel structure to create a list or series. Here is an example of parallel structure paired with a non-parallel construction.
On his day off, he did this, this and did that.
On his day off, he did this, this and that.
Joel packed sneakers, sweatpants and put in three pairs of socks.
Joel packed sneakers, sweatpants and three pairs of socks.
Mary likes hiking, biking and to go running.
Mary likes hiking, biking and running.
Mary likes to go hiking, to go biking and to go running.
Mary likes to go hiking, biking and running.
The salesman said the car was fast, sporty and didn’t use a lot of gas.
The salesman said the car was fast, sporty and economical.
Try using each item individually, or create a column with each word or phrase. If they don’t match up, there is a problem with the syntax, or the list is something called a false series. When each item is equal, the series is parallel. Ensure each item is in the same voice. If the list is in the past tense, ensure each item has the appropriate ending. In most cases, making a list parallel only takes a few small changes that make a big difference in the overall rhythm of the series while creating a sentence that’s easier for readers to understand.
When creating a list with parallel clauses, make sure all items are in the same voice. If one clause is used, each item must be complete and contain a subject and predicate. Here’s an example of parallel structure paired with a non-parallel sentence.
The tour guide said they would view sea lions, they would hunt seashells and could photograph the wildlife.
The tour guide said they would view sea lions, they would hunt seashells and they would photograph the wildlife.
Identifying parallelisms and items that aren’t parallel are equally important. Parallel words, phrases and clauses are typically placed around the coordinating conjunctions “and” and “or.” Listen to the sounds, analyze the structure and check for parallel endings. If there is a non-parallel element that is breaking the rhythm of the sentence, it can be fixed quickly and easily. If you have questions on parallel structure or tips for creating parallelism, share them in the comments below.