Practicing Parallelism



Parallelism is the use of consistent grammatical structures in a series of two or more items to assist ease of reading and understanding. We touched briefly on this topic in Parallel Construction and Effective Writing. We’ll revisit it here with additional detail.

Let’s start by considering the following sentences:

In October, we plan to build a shed, painting it, and will stock it. The shed will be wood and near the back of the yard. 

We probably get what’s being said, but we can also agree it’s clunkier than it needs to be. Before we adjust it, let’s identify the grammatical parts in the two sentences’ series.

In October, we plan to build a shed [infinitive phrase], painting it [gerund phrase], and will stock it [verb phrase, future tense]. The shed will be wood [noun] and near the back of the yard [adverbial prepositional phrase].

Both series are clearly incongruent. To achieve parallelism, we’ll make the series in the first sentence all infinitive verbs and the one in the second both participial phrases.

In October, we plan to build a shed, paint it, and stock it. The shed will be made of wood and set near the back of the yard. (The words build, paint, and stock are parallel verbs attached to the infinitive-verb marker tomade and set are both participial adjectives modified by a prepositional phrase.)

Our readers can now stride through our writing without getting tripped. With this principle in mind, let’s next look more closely at parallelism in some different categories.

Nouns
Not Parallel: The band needs a singer [noun], a guitar player [noun], and to get booked for gigs [infinitive phrase].
Parallel: The band needs a singer, a guitar player, and a booking agent. [all nouns]

Verbs
Not Parallel: The storm flipped [simple past] the patio table and was taking off [past progressive] with the chairs.
Parallel: The storm flipped the patio table and took off with the chairs. [both simple past]

Adjectives
Not Parallel: The crowd was eager [adj.], alert [adj.], and jumping up and down [verb].
Parallel: The crowd was eager, alert, and excitable. [all adjectives]

Adverbs
Not Parallel: Calmly [adv.] and with steady strokes [prep. phrase], she swam the English Channel.
Parallel: Calmly and steadily, she swam the English Channel. [both adverbs]

Articles
Not Parallel: At the pet store, Lila wants to see the dogs, cats, ferrets, and the guinea pigs. [article only before the nouns dogs and guinea pigs]
Parallel: At the pet store, Lila wants to see the dogs, the cats, the ferrets, and the guinea pigs. [The article the precedes each noun.]
OR
Parallel: At the pet store, Lila wants to see the dogs, cats, ferrets, and guinea pigs. [A single starting article the identifies all of the following nouns.]

Prepositional Phrases
Not Parallel: The park district will build the trail between the forests [prep. phrase] and to wind with the stream [infinitive phrase].
Parallel: The park district will build the trail between the forests and along the stream. [both prep. phrases]

Our prepositional phrases also should be parallel with their standard phrasing:

Not Parallel: Her statements represent her satisfaction and belief in the jury’s verdict.
Parallel: Her statements represent her satisfaction with and belief in the jury’s verdict.

Correlatives (e.g., either…or)
Not Parallel: Either we will climb [future verb] the hill now or wait [present verb] until daybreak.
Parallel: We will either climb the hill now or wait until daybreak. [both verbs modified by the auxiliary verb will]

Applying parallelism in our writing contributes to clearer, smoother communication between us and our readers—and keeps them parallel with us to the end of each thought.

 

Pop Quiz

Using what you’ve learned in this article, identify which sentence in each pair uses parallelism.

1a. Shayna either should practice her backswing or skip this tournament.
1b. Shayna should either practice her backswing or skip this tournament.

2a. Blaine’s attitude remains upbeat, determined, and an inspiration.
2b. Blaine’s attitude remains upbeat, determined, and inspiring.

3a. The stock price surged and made investors record profits.
3b. The stock price surged and has made investors record profits.

4a. The street is over the hill and beside the freeway.
4b. The street is over the hill and following the freeway.

 

 

Pop Quiz Answers

1b. Shayna should either practice her backswing or skip this tournament. (parallel correlative phrase; both verbs modified by should)

2b. Blaine’s attitude remains upbeat, determined, and inspiring. (parallel adjectives)

3a. The stock price surged and made investors record profits. (parallel verbs)

4a. The street is over the hill and beside the freeway. (parallel prep. phrases)

Posted on Tuesday, August 20, 2019, at 11:00 pm

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2 Comments on Practicing Parallelism

2 responses to “Practicing Parallelism”

  1. H Pel says:

    Practicing [in the title of the blog] shoud be Practising

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