Parallel structure (also known as parallelism) is an efficient way to organize a series (a list) in a sentence. Common patterns of parallel structure include listing adjectives with other adjectives, nouns with nouns, or verb phrases in a certain form with phrases in the same form. Here are some examples:
- Alan is intelligent, patient, and experienced. [series of adjectives]
- Alan has intelligence, patience, and experience. [series of nouns]
- Alan is good at calculating figures, formatting documents, and identifying errors. [series of verbs starting with a gerund]
Parallel structure is especially important in academic writing. It makes sentences more concise, and thereby efficient. Compare the below examples:
- The speech was clear, funny, and it taught the audience a lot. [not parallel or concise]
- The speech was clear, funny, and educational. [parallel - series of adjectives]
- Exercising can give you more energy, improve your appearance, and people who exercise often live longer. [not parallel]
- Exercising can give you more energy, improve your appearance, and increase your lifespan. [parallel - series of verb phrases]
The parallel sentences above are shorter and easier to read in general. [parallel - two verbs in infinite (base) form]
Writing in parallel structure can be difficult at times. The challenge is finding what parts of the sentence can be linked. Here's an example of how a series can be linked by sharing parts of a sentence.
- She likes reading books and she likes spending time outside. [Not efficient - nothing is linked/shared between clauses.]
- She likes reading books and likes spending time outside. [A little better - the subject 'She' is being shared]
- She likes reading books and spending time outside. [Perfect - "She likes" is shared and then followed by the gerund form of the verb. This sentence, with only eight words, is now very efficient.
Note: Neither/Either/Both/Not Only
Parallelism is also important when you use the phrases neither... nor / either ... or / both / not only ... but also.
- He was both happy or confused.
- You can either join us or stay home.
- It's important not only to study, but also to get a good grade.
Let's do some exercises. Teachers, you can download the exercises as a worksheet here: parallel-structure-worksheet.pdf.
Exercise Group 1: Identifying Faulty Parallelism
Which item in the series is not parallel with the others? Select it from the dropdown list.
- 'swimming' is a verb, not an adjective like the others.
- 'pack' is present tense, not past like the others
- 'many mistakes' is a noun phrase, not an adjective like the others
- 'patience' is a noun, not an adjective like the others
- 'dress professionally' is a verb phrase, not a noun phrase like the others
Exercise Group 2: Parallel Structure
Rewrite the below sentences in parallel structure. Be sure to add a period where required or the sentence will be marked as incorrect.
- I dislike cleaning and
- I searched in my bag, on the table, and
- Surfing, skateboarding and require good balance.
- He was both angry and
- She wants to get a job, make some money, and
- A good employee should be reliable, , and respectful.
Exercise Group 3: Parallel Structure
Rewrite the below sentences in parallel structure. Again, be sure to add a period or the sentence will be marked as incorrect. Note: Use the Oxford Comma in your answers (keep a comma between the last two items of the series.)
- She learned the value of patience, being committed, and loyalty.
- They visited the zoo, they ate at restaurants, and stayed in a nice hotel.
- His story was neither confusing nor did it bore me.
- You can either come with us or staying home is also an option.
- William is known for his good looks, sense of humor, and he's also wealthy.
Exercise Group 4: Efficient Sentences
Fix the faulty parallelism in the below sentences. Use the Oxford Comma between the last two items of the series.
- I was asked for my name, address, and how old I was.
- The students were told to pick a topic. Then they should do some research, and write an outline.
- The new analyst is polite, knowledgeable, and he always arrives on time.
- At the circus, clowns told jokes, musicians played instruments, and tricks were performed by animals.
- I don't know who you are, what you want, or the reason you are here.
Bonus Exercises: Parallelism & Writing Concisely
Make these sentences more concise by adding parallel structures. Again, use the Oxford Comma between the last two items of the series.
- The new boss aimed to raise employee morale and to increase productivity.
- To succeed in life, work hard. Listening to others is also a good idea. Honesty is also important.
- The car is advertised as compact, affordable, and it doesn't use much fuel.
- Parents are responsible for clothing their children, they must feed their children, and it's important that they educate their children as well.
- My qualifications include two years of work experience, an undergraduate degree, and I speak English fluently.
Did you find a mistake? Do you have a question? Leave a comment below.
-- Written by Matthew Barton of Englishcurrent.com (copyright)