Published: 15th April 2017
Parallelism in sentences
Are you aware of the rules of parallelism? Read on to find out how to use this technique
Recently, while editing a research article, I came across many sentences which were not parallel in structure. Though the sentences were grammatically correct, due to lack of parallelism they sounded awkward. Parallelism, also known as the parallel structure or parallel construction, is a balance of two or more similar words, phrases and clauses within one or more sentences.
Here are examples:
He came, he saw, he conquered.
– Julius Caesar
Crafty men condemn studies, simple men admire them, and wise men use them.
– Francis Bacon
Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future and renders the present inaccessible.
– Maya Angelou
The quotes above have a balance of similar verbs (example 1) and phrases (examples 2&3). It is easy to remember the quotes because of parallelism. Those who use parallel constructions effectively in their writings and speeches are said to think logically and clearly. Speech writers use this stylistic aspect to make their speech effective and memorable. In many songs too, this technique is used. Look at these examples:
“No matter who you are, no matter what you did, no matter where you've come from, you can always change, become a better version of yourself.”
“Maybe we'll live and learn/Maybe we'll crash and burn/Maybe you'll stay/Maybe you'll leave/Maybe you'll return/Maybe another fight...”
- John Legend
How to achieve parallelism in sentences? Here are simple rules:
1. Parallel structure is required in sentences with coordinating conjunctions (and, but, for, nor, or, so, yet). Examples:
She is poor but generous. (adjectives)
The four major language skills are listening, speaking, reading and writing. (nouns)
2. Parallel structure is required in correlative pairs (not only...but also, either...or, neither...nor, both... and). Examples:
Not only the students but also the teachers are on leave today.
They are neither smart nor hard-working.
We can either call him this afternoon or meet him this evening.
3. Parallel structure is required in any series, list or outline:
I run three kilometres, walk two kilometres and cycle ten kilometres every day.
I go to the gym at 6 o’clock, take bath at 8 o’clock, have breakfast at 9 o’clock, ...
My hobbies are listening to music, watching television and reading novels.
4. When coordinating conjunctions occur in sentences like patterned words must be used.
The twins are quite intelligent (adverb-adjective) and extremely sharp (adverb-adjective).
His funny look (adjective-noun) and radiant smile (adjective-noun) made me fall in love with him.
5. In sentences that require parallel structure, infinitives should not be combined with gerunds.
She enjoys talking to her brother, watching movies with him, and to accompany him to school. (not parallel)
She enjoys talking to her brother, watching movies with him and accompanying him to school. (not parallel)
6. Parallel structures are required when expressions of comparison (more than, less than) and contrast (instead of, rather than) are used in sentences:
Even more than watching movies, I would like to read novels. (not parallel)
Even more than watching movies, I would like reading novels. (parallel)
I would rather contact him over phone than be sending him an email. (not parallel)
I would rather contact him over phone than send him an email. (parallel)
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” – Charles Dickens