Parallel Structure : A Key to Effective English Writing

Have you experienced reading an essay, article, or document that left you confused? I guess all of us have. Poor English writing happens when the sentences are messy and not balanced. The writer may have just committed several parallel structure mistakes.

Many students encounter a problem in the use of parallel structure (or parallelism) when writing essays, especially in English assessment tests. This means their sentences need to have a balance in grammar.

Do you want your writing to be clear and easy to read? To understanding parallel structure will help!

Let’s define it first. Parallelism means creating a good list of words that share equal value, and everything on that list is the same part of speech. So everything on the list is a noun or everything is an adjective, verb, prepositional phrase, infinitive, etc. We also use it for comparisons and for options.

When using gerunds:

Harry likes hiking, cooking, and traveling.

When using infinitive phrases:

Harry likes to hike, to cook, and to travel.

Harry likes to hike, cook, and travel.

When using nouns:

Everybody finds Troy funny. This includes his friends, classmates, and cousins.

What will happen if your language is not parallel? It will sound awkward and you’d need to rephrase or restructure it so you can be understood easily.

If you noticed the sentences above, once you use a gerund, use it all throughout the sentence. If it’s infinitive, then use it all throughout. Let’s examine further the following examples.

EXAMPLE 1.

When talking about his cause for the poor, he speaks sincerely and with passion.

Sincerely is an adverb, while with passion is a phrase with a preposition ‘with’.  So, this is what we call faulty parallelism. For the sentence to be balanced and strong, these two things have to have the same grammatical structure.  You must use two adverbs to keep the structure balanced.

CORRECT:

1) When talking about his cause for the poor, he speaks sincerely and passionately.

     (You have two adjectives now.)

2) When talking about his cause for the poor, he speaks with sincerity and passion.

    (Here you have two nouns after ‘with’.)

EXAMPLE 2.

The club was noisy, messy, and it was crowded.

The problem in this sentence is that noisy and messy are adjectives, while it was crowded is a clause with a subject ‘it’ and the verb ‘was’. We have to change this so that they all become the same.

CORRECT:

The club was noisy, messy, and crowded.

EXAMPLE 3.

Josh was desperately trying to find his credit card. He looked in his bedroom, the sofa, and on the kitchen counter.

Of the three listed items, one does not belong because it is a noun (sofa), while the other two are phrases (in his bedroom and on the kitchen counter).  To correct this, you must make all these into prepositional phrases.

CORRECT:

Josh was desperately trying to find his credit card. He looked in his bedroom, under the sofa, and on the kitchen counter.

Now that you know the basics of this grammar rule, all it takes is to practice more so that you can recognize a parallel structure and use it to write effectively.

Here are other examples to get you more familiar with parallelism.

NOT Parallel:

She’s excited about swimming in the Adriatic, skiing in the Alps, and the drive across the African desert.

The problem in this sentence is that “skiing” and swimming” are both ‘ing’ verbs called gerunds, while “the drive” is a noun.

Parallel:

She’s excited about swimming in the Adriatic, skiing in the Alps, and driving across the African desert.

Here, the three things listed are all in the form of gerunds.

NOT Parallel:

I have neither the patience to finish the project nor do I have the time to complete it.

Neither and nor should have the same structure types. Here, after neither, the noun patience is used. And yet, after nor, the word ‘do’ is used.

Parallel:

I have neither the patience nor the time to complete the project.

After neither and nor, notice that nouns were used in the same spot.

NOT Parallel:

Miles spent his afternoon returning overdue library books, playing soccer, and then he ate beef and mushroom pizza.

In this sentence, there’s a lack of balance because the list includes two ‘ing’ verb forms and then one dissimilar simple past tense “ate”.

Parallel:

Miles spent his afternoon returning overdue library books, playing soccer, and eating beef and mushroom pizza.

NOT Parallel:

Sandra wanted to make sure her speech is presented effectively, creatively, and one that persuades the listeners.

Do you see what makes this sentence off? Well, the list includes two adverbs- effectively and creatively, and then one dissimilar clause.

Parallel:

Sandra wanted to make sure her speech is presented effectively, creatively, and persuasively.

You can see that in the correct form, we’ve used three adverbs. Or, you can also restructure it this way:

Sandra wanted to make sure her speech is effective, creative, and persuasive.

NOT Parallel:

Buying a car is not a decision to take lightly nor be careless about.

Parallel:

Buying a car is a decision not to be taken lightly or carelessly.

This is now the correct sentence because we’ve used two adverbs which brought balance to the structure.

Can you spot the faulty parallelism in the following sentences?

  1. Kim must prepare her lab report speedily, neatly, and with accuracy.
  2. My cousin took me fishing and to a soccer game.

Note that when using a parallel structure, you’d also need to use coordinating conjunctions, such as and, but, or, nor, etc. These are words that connect one phrase, clause, or word to another. Coordinate means equal in quality, value, rank, or significance. Use coordinating conjunctions when you want to show that the elements you’re joining are equal.

As you can see from the examples above, a parallel structure will add clarity to your writing. It helps prevent disarranged items or ideas that cause confusion. When you use parallelism, it increases the readability of your writing by creating balance as well as word patterns that are easy to follow.


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