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Parallel Structure

Parallelism is a similarity of grammatical form for similar elements of meaning within a sentence or among sentences.

If two or more ideas are parallel, they should be expressed in parallel grammatical form. Single words should be balanced with single words, phrases with phrases, clauses with clauses. Parallelism makes form follow meaning.

Rule

Balance parallel ideas in a series

Description

Readers expect items in a series to appear in parallel grammatical form. When one or more of the items violates readers’ expectations, a sentence will be needlessly awkward.

Example

Not Parallel:

  • Abused children commonly exhibit one or more of the following symptoms: withdrawal, rebelliousness, restlessness, and they are depressed.

Parallel:

  • Abused children commonly exhibit one or more of the following symptoms: withdrawal, rebelliousness, restlessness, and depression.

Not Parallel:

  • Sam is responsible for stocking merchandise, writing orders for delivery, and sales of computers.

Parallel:

  • Sam is responsible for stocking merchandise, writing orders for delivery, and selling computers.

Rule

Balance parallel ideas presented in pairs

Description

When pairing ideas, underscore their connection by expressing them in similar grammatical form. Paired ideas are usually connected in one of three ways:

  1. With a coordinating conjunction such as and, but, or, nor, yet
  2. With a pair of correlative conjunctions such as either . . . or or not only . . . but also
  3. With a word introducing a comparison, usually than or as

Example

Not Parallel:

  • At Lincoln High School, vandalism can result in suspension or even being expelled from school.

Parallel:

  • At Lincoln High School, vandalism can result in suspension or even expulsion from school.

Not Parallel:

  • Mother could not persuade me that giving is as much a joy as to receive.

Parallel:

  • Mother could not persuade me that giving is as much a joy as receiving.

Rule

Use Parallelism with lists, headings, and outlines

Description

The items in a list or outline are coordinate and should be parallel. Parallelism is essential in the headings that divide a paper into sections and in a formal topic outline.

Example

Not Parallel:

  • Changes in Renaissance England
  • Extension of trade routes
  • Merchant class became more powerful
  • The death of feudalism
  • Up surging of the arts
  • Religious quarrels began

Parallel:

  • Changes in Renaissance England
  • Extension of trade routes
  • Increased power of the merchant class
  • Death of feudalism
  • Upsurge of the arts
  • Rise of religious quarrels

The information on this page was adapted from A Writer’s Reference by Diana Hacker and The Little, Brown Compact Handbook by Jane E. Aaron. 

This information was compiled by Katie Bailey.

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