What is parallel structure? It’s the practice of using the same form for similar items. Parallel structure can be applied to a single sentence, a paragraph, or even multiple paragraphs. Compare the two following sentences:
- Walid enjoys running, to swim, and biking.
- Walid enjoys running, swimming, and biking.
Was the second sentence a smoother read than the first? The second sentence uses parallelism — all three verbs are in the same -ing form — whereas in the first sentence two use –ing form and one does not. Parallelism improves writing style, and it makes sentences easier to read and understand. Parallelism is like running in the same direction. It would be disruptive to see a runner running the wrong way in a race.
Compare the following examples:
- Without parallelism: She likes cooking, jogging, and to read.
- Parallel: She likes cooking, jogging, and reading.
- Parallel: She likes to cook, jog, and read.
- Without parallelism: The dog ran across the yard and jumped over the fence, and down the alley he sprinted.
- Parallel: The dog ran across the yard, jumped over the fence, and sprinted down the alley
Parallelism can also involve repeated words or repeated phrases. For example:
- “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.” —Winston Churchill
Notice above how the first independent clause and second independent clause mirror each other. In other words, they use the same sentence structure.
- “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” —John F. Kennedy
Notice above how the speaker uses verbs-and-objects: pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe
- “And that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” —Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address
Notice the prepositional phrases: of the people, by the people, for the people
When used this way, parallelism makes your writing or speaking much stronger. These repeated phrases seem to bind the work together and make it more powerful. This use of parallelism can be especially useful in writing conclusions of academic papers or in persuasive writing.
Watch this short video to learn more about parallel structure:
Now practice with this exercise; it is not graded, and you may repeat it as many times as you wish:
Optional: Where to get more information
If you want more instruction and examples about parallel structure, try these links:
Some text was adapted from “Parallel Structure | College Writing.” Courses.lumenlearning.com, courses.lumenlearning.com/suny-esc-wm-englishcomposition1/chapter/text-parallel-structure/. Accessed 30 Dec. 2021.
Video from: Smrt English. “Parallel Structure or Parallelism.” www.youtube.com, 15 Nov. 2012, www.youtube.com/watch?v=qvDNvS2M3QA. Accessed 30 Dec. 2021.