What exactly is parallel structure? It’s simply the practice of using the same format for similar items. Parallel structure can be applied to a single sentence, a paragraph, or even multiple paragraphs. Compare the two following sentences:
- Yara loves running, to swim, and biking.
- Yara loves 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 readability, 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:
Lacking parallelism: “She likes cooking, jogging, and to read.”
- Parallel: “She likes cooking, jogging, and reading.”
- Parallel: “She likes to cook, jog, and read.”
Lacking 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.”
For additional examples and explanations of parallelism, view the following video.
Look at the following items. Identify and address any issues with parallelism.
- Low self-esteem can manifest itself in various behaviors. Some individuals may become paralyzed at the prospect of making a decision. Other individuals may bend their wills to others’ in order to keep the peace. Yet another symptom is the retreat from society as a whole—to become isolated.
- The influence of genetics on human behavior has been shown through studies of twins who were separated at birth. Not only do these sets of individuals share many physical characteristics, but they also tend to have the same sort of interests and biases and utilize similar mental processes.
- Nocturne in Black and Gold (The Falling Rocket) by James Abbott McNeil Whistler is very emblematic of the impressionist movement: its dark colors, contrast, and lack of definite form reflect the attitudes of the day.
Rhetoric and Parallelism
Parallelism can also involve repeated words or repeated phrases. These uses are part of “rhetoric” (a field that focuses on persuading readers) Here are a few examples of repetition:
- “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.” —Winston Churchill
- “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
- “And that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” —Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address
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—and more inspiring. This use of parallelism can be especially useful in writing conclusions of academic papers or in persuasive writing.