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Parallelism Study Guide

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

Parallelism in Paragraphs

Just as parallelism is used within sentences to improve the flow of ideas, parallelism used in paragraphs also improves fluency. In the 6th edition of A Writer's Reference, Diana Hacker states that paragraph parallelism "may also be used to bind together a series of sentences expressing similar information" (33). The following is the example used in Diana Hacker's, 6th edition.

Actually, almost every day, even in the most sophisticated home, something is likely to happen that evokes the memory of some old folk belief. The salt spills. A knife falls to the floor. Your nose tickles. Then perhaps, with a slightly embarrassed smile, the person who spilled the salt tosses a pinch over his left shoulder. Or someone recites the old rhyme, "Knife falls, gentleman calls." Or as you rub your nose you think, That means a letter. I wonder who's writing?
-- Margaret Mead, "New Superstitions for Old"

Hopefully, you noticed some of the parallel structures in this sample paragraph.

"The salt spills." "A knife falls." "Your nose tickles."

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Here is an except from the "I Have a Dream" speech delivered by Martin Luther King, Jr. on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 23, 1963. Considered a model of effective communication, the repetition of the phrase "now is the time" builds momentum and creates a sense of immediacy.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

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Parallelism in Headings

Finally, remember parallel structure when writing headings. You can format your headings as noun, questions, or gerunds (–ing phrases that function as nouns), just make sure you remain consistent.

Nouns as Headings

Questions as Headings

Gerunds as Headings

Plan
Draft
Revise
Edit
Proofread

How Do I Plan an Essay?
How Do I Draft an Essay?
How Do I Revise an Essay?
How Do I Edit an Essay?
How Do I Proofread an Essay?

Planning
Drafting
Revising
Editing
Proofreading

Practice!

Recognizing Parallel Structure

Using Parallel Structure

Purdue Online Writing Lab: Parallel Structure

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