Parallel Structure in Writing: an Ultimate Guide

Errors in parallelism are grave because they hamper communication and…

Errors in parallelism are grave because they hamper communication and leave readers bewildered. When writers, lecturers, and knowledge workers fail to employ parallel structure, chaos and confusion ensue. Atrophy occurs.

As readers scroll through phrases, their implicit grasp of English syntax and mechanics allows them to anticipate what should come next. When a writer begins to list a series, the reader expects the list to continue.

When different sentence forms come in without concluding the series, readers become confused, and miscommunication occurs.

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What Is Parallel Structure?

Parallelism, also known as Parallel Structure or Parallel Construction, means sentence structure in English. The usage of similar structures in related words, sentences, or phrases is parallelism. It imparts a sense of rhythm and equilibrium to a statement.

As readers, we intuitively correct incorrect parallelism, or the absence of parallel structure, because an imbalanced phrase sounds unnatural and poorly written.

What Is the Importance of Parallel Structure?

Parallel structure is essential because it is a fundamental building block of the English sentence, whether spoken or written.

Parallelism is an effective device for authors, lecturers, and information workers. The use of parallelism can create rhythm and focus. Here are some of the importance of parallel structure:

Parallelism can assist writers in achieving brevity and simplicity. For instance, using participle phrases can help organize a variety of distinct elements around a single topic, allowing the author to avoid subject repetition. 

For Example: 

(Correct): “I enjoy cooking, napping, and fish hunting.”

(Wrong): “I like to cook, sleeping, and to go to fish hunting.”

Parallelism improves reading comprehension by allowing readers to group information — sentence pieces (e.g., words, phrases, sentences) — as equivalent and related. It also enables authors to incorporate symmetry, effectiveness, and balance into their writing.

A lack of parallel structure can cause a sentence to be grammatically imbalanced by disrupting its rhythm. The alignment of related ideas facilitates readability and clarity.

How to Rewrite the Sentences That Lack Parallel Structure

A sentence employs parallelism when two or more elements are grammatically similar or same in structure, sound, meaning, or meter. Here are some ways to rewrite the sentences that lack parallel structure in English Language.

Coordinating Conjunction Sentences

When you use a coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, or so) to link two clauses, ensure that the grammar on both sides of the conjunction is the same. 

Wrong parallelism: When I mow the lawn, I like to listen to podcasts and talking to friends on the phone.

Right parallelism: When I mow the lawn, I like listening to podcasts and talking to friends on the phone.

In the first sentence, the verbs “to listen” and “talking” are used differently. In the second sentence, both sides of the conjunction “and” have the same grammatical structure, making it a parallel sentence.

Use the Same Method to Link Together Items or Lists in a Series.

Wrong parallelism: This employee needs to decide whether the company should reduce its staff strength, cut production, or lowering workers’ renumeration.

Right parallelism: This employee needs to decide whether the company should reduce its staff strength, cut production, or lower workers’ remuneration.

The first sentence has two words that use the same verb form (reduce and cut) and one word that uses a different form (lowering). All three parts of the second sentence use the same verb form, creating a parallel structure.

Than Vs. As Sentences

When you compare something to something else, the two things you are comparing should have the same structure. When you compare two things without parallel structure, it can be hard to tell what you are comparing. 

The words than or as are often used when making comparisons, and the phrases on each side of should have a similar structure. 

Check out these examples:

Wrong parallelism: Playing in the mud is much tougher than on grass.

Right parallelism: Playing in the mud is much tougher than playing on grass.

In the first sentence, the parts that come before the comparison word (than) are not the same as those that come after it. It looks like the writer is comparing a verb (playing) to a noun (a place) (grass). 

The writer uses the same grammatical structure in the second sentence to create a parallel structure. This makes it clear that a thing is being compared to something else.

Some problems with parallelism can be fixed by adding or removing words from a sentence.

Wrong parallelism: A slow jog is as beneficial to your health as going for a marathon race.

Right parallelism: Going for a slow jog is as beneficial to your health as running a marathon.

In this case, the verb phrase “going for” needs to be added to the sentence to clarify that jogging is being compared to racing.

Correlating Conjunction Sentences

A correlative conjunction is a pair of conjunctions that show the relationship between two equal parts of a sentence. Some common correlative conjunctions are rather…than, neither…nor, either…or etc.

To make a parallel sentence, correlative conjunctions should follow the same grammar rules. Look at the following example:

Wrong parallelism: We can neither wait for Peter to come home nor can we take preventive measures.

Correct parallelism: We can neither wait for Peter to come home nor take preventive measures.

When you use correlative conjunction, the words, phrases, or clauses after each part of the sentence should be the same. 

In the first sentence, the second part of the sentence doesn’t match the way the first part is put together. 

In the second sentence, a parallel structure is made by leaving out words that aren’t needed and using the same verb constructions. Parallelism can sometimes be fixed by rearranging a sentence.

To Wrap Up

The absence of a parallel structure is, most times, unacceptable. This is because a parallelism error would disrupt the rhythm of a sentence, leaving the reader bewildered but unsure of why. 

These types of errors may not always impede comprehension. But, they could influence your writing style, placing an undue weight on the reader as they attempt to decipher your objective. 

Use parallel organization in your writing unless you are attempting to make a specific point and want to throw the reader off.

Parallel Structure in Writing: an Ultimate Guide

Pam is an expert grammarian with years of experience teaching English, writing and ESL Grammar courses at the university level. She is enamored with all things language and fascinated with how we use words to shape our world.

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