Parallel Structure Making Your Sentences Parallel



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Parallel Structure

Making Your Sentences Parallel

What is Parallel Structure?

  • Whenever you include a list of actions or items, you must use equal grammatical units. If the first item is a noun, then the following items must also be nouns; if the first action is a simple past tense verb, then make the other items simple past tense verbs as well.

Just like the apple standing out because it is unlike the oranges, non-parallel forms stick out too!

  • Nonparallel structure looks like this:

  • Students capped their pens, were closing their notebooks, and zipped their book bags as they tried to alert Professor Goldstone, rambling at the lectern, that the end of class had arrived.

“Faulty Parallelism”

  • You run into trouble with parallel structure when forms don’t match:

  • Example: Derek loves nothing more than to eat cookies, annoy his father, and playing his guitar.

  • There is a parallel error here because the sentence contains mixed forms: we have “to eat,” “to annoy” and then “playing.” The -ing form at the end is confusing and jarring.

  • This sentence could be fixed by making all the forms parallel:

  • Derek loves nothing more than to eat cookies, annoy his father and play his guitar.

  • The best way to avoid parallel structure errors is to not mix forms!

Parallel Words and Phrases

  • Paralellism with the -ing form of words:

  • Parallel: Mary likes hiking, swimming, and bicycling.

  • Not Parallel: 
Mary likes hiking, swimming, and to ride a bicycle.

  • What could you do to make this parallel?
  • Parallelism with infinitive phrases (to + a simple form of the word):

  • Parallel: Mary likes to hike, to swim, and to ride a bicycle.

OR

  • Mary likes to hike, swim, and ride a bicycle.

  • (Note: You can use "to" before all the verbs in a sentence or only before the first one.)

Changing Words to Get Parallel Structure

“Faulty parallelism,” as errors in parallel construction are called, are not always grammatical errors, but are instead, matters of style.

Composing with parallel structure requires an alertness to the forms you have used and sometimes requires you to revise your word choice.

  • Parallel: 
The production manager was asked to write his report quickly, accurately, and thoroughly.

Correct Form for Parallel Structures

  • Not Parallel: 
The teacher said that he was a poor student because he waited until the last minute to study for the exam, completed his lab problems in a careless manner, and his motivation was low.

  • Parallel: 
The teacher said that he was a poor student because he waited until the last minute to study for the exam, completed his lab problems in a careless manner, and was not motivated.

Correct Form for Parallel Structures

  • Which of the following is parallel and why?

  • 2.The Writing Center needs tutors who are ambitious, who are self-motivated, and who are dedicated.

  • NOTE: Repeating the verbs becomes a question of style and emphasis. Don't go too far with parallelism! Sentence 2 above could also be stated, without too much repetition:

  • The Writing Center needs tutors who are ambitious, self-motivated, and dedicated.

Using Parallelism to Clarify Meaning

“Janet researches cell membranes and walls.”

  • Is Janet a biologist, or a biologist with an interest in interior design?

  • This revision makes the meaning clear:

  • Janet researches cell membranes and cell walls.

Parallelism for Items in a Series

  • Keep all forms parallel:

  • As an artist, he drew, painted, and sculpted.

  • I came; I saw; I conquered.

  • Eat, drink, and be merry.

  • Can you imagine if this said, “Eat, drink and practice being merry”?
  • This wouldn’t be grammatically incorrect, but it would take all of the spark out of the language.

More Places to Use Parallel Construction

  • Lists and Outlines:

  • The research had three main goals: To discover the cause of the disease. To propose a medicinal treatment. To document the success of the treatment.

  • In Resumes:

  • Note: As you write or update your resume, make sure all your listings are "parallel":

  • "Responsibilities included communicating, reporting and supervising.”

  • Begin each description with verbs in the same tense: "Researched," "Conducted," "Attended," etc.

Practice

  • Which of the following exhibit parallel structure?

  1. Mr. Nguyen kept his store clean, neat, and he made it conveniently arranged. 


  1. Mr. Nguyen kept his store clean, neat, and conveniently arranged.

More Practice!

  • Which of the following exhibit parallel structure?

  1. He wanted three things out of college: to learn a skill, to make good friends, and to learn about life. 


  1. He wanted three things out of college: to learn a skill, to make good friends, and learning about life.

Last Practice!

  • Which of the following exhibit parallel structure?

  1. Martin felt the movie was boring, silly, and was too long.

  1. Martin felt the movie was boring, silly, and too long.

Proofreading Strategies to Try:

  1. Skim your paper, pausing at the words "and" and "or." Check on each side of these words to see whether the items joined are parallel. If not, make them parallel.

  1. If you have several items in a list, put them in a column to see if they are parallel.

  1. Listen to the sound of the items in a list or the items being compared. Do you hear the same kinds of sounds? For example, is there a series of "-ing" words beginning each item? Or do your hear a rhythm being repeated? If something is breaking that rhythm or repetition of sound, check to see if it needs to be made parallel.



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