When you write, you want readers to understand what you are saying. If you are making lists or comparing items in a sentence, parallel structure must be used, otherwise, you will confuse your reader.
This lesson will define and give many examples of parallel sentences.
When a train from the U.S. passes into Canada, something incredible happens: the tracks in Canada are the same width (gauge) as the train tracks in the U.S. Obviously, this makes sense, since Canada is the United States’ biggest trading partner. If both countries didn’t have the same gauge, goods would have to be moved to another train at the border, slowing everything down.
Like train tracks being the same gauge makes transporting goods easier, listing or comparing items in a sentence is easier to understand when those items have parallel structure, meaning the words must be formed in the same way or must use the same grammatical structure. This repetition of word form makes the sentence flow correctly and adds clarity for the reader or listener. Let’s look a little closer at the rules for parallel structure.
Parallel Structure ; Lists
When making lists, many times you will use one of the seven coordinating conjunctions which join words of equal rank together.
Easily remembered by saying FANBOYS.
- I like to run, eating, and jump. (Not parallel).
The list in this sentence is run, eating, and jump. This sentence is not parallel because the grammatical formation of the things you like to do are not the same. We need to make the structure of the words agree with each other.
- I like to run, to eat, and to jump.
- I like to run, eat, and jump. (Parallel). The first infinitive to works or carries over for all the verbs in the list.
This sentence could also be corrected by making all of the objects in the list into gerunds (a verb that acts as a noun by adding ‘ing’).
- I like running, eating, and jumping. (Parallel).
In this sentence, we have a list of how the students are expected to do their homework.
- All students are expected to do their homework good, quickly, and efficient. (Not parallel).
Good and efficient are adjectives describing something. Quickly is an adverb talking about the action of doing their homework.
- All students are expected to do their homework well, quickly, and efficiently. (Parallel).
Since this sentence was about how the students were to perform an action, adverbs needed to be used because they modify our action words, or verbs, in other words.
Parallel Structure ; Clauses
Clauses are a group of words with a subject and verb.
- To stay in good shape, it’s important that you eat vegetables, to drink lots of water, and exercising. (Not parallel).
The activities mentioned in this clause do not share the same grammatical form. Let’s fix this:
- To stay in good shape, it is important that you eat vegetables, that you drink lots of water, and that you exercise. (Parallel).
Now your list reads: ‘that you eat,’ ‘that you drink,’ and ‘that you exercise.
‘ They now share the same structure, so they’re now parallel. Another way to correct this sentence would be:
- To stay in good shape, it is important that you eat vegetables, drink lots of water, and exercise. (Parallel).
Similar to our infinitive ‘to’ earlier in the lesson, ‘that you’ is working for all three verbs (eat, drink, and exercise).
Parallel Structure & Conjunctions
Correlative conjunctions are pairs of words that balance clauses, etc.
Examples are: ‘neither. . .
nor,’ ‘either. . .
or,’ and ‘not only. . . but also.’ These pairs must always be used together.
- Either you must do your homework or receive a bad grade. (Not parallel).
Although this may look correct, if you actually read it, it’s saying that you must either perform the action of ‘do your homework’ or perform the action of ‘receive a bad grade.’ Since you can’t actually perform an action of ‘receive a bad grade,’ this sentence is not parallel. Let’s fix it.
- Either you must do your homework or you will receive a bad grade. (Parallel).
Now, we have ‘you must do’ and ‘you will receive.
‘ These are the same grammatical structure and form a proper parallel sentence.
Parallel Structure ; Comparisons
Finally, parallel structure can be used with comparisons. This might seem self evident, since comparisons involve two subjects, but here are some examples.
- My house is smaller than my brother. (Not parallel).
This sounds like your house is smaller than your actual brother!
- My house is smaller than my brother’s house. (Correct).
As you can see, there are many ways that sentences are used to compare things and to list things, so let’s take a few moments to review what we’ve learned about parallel sentences. When writing these kinds of sentences, you will want to use parallel structure, which is when a grammatical form is repeated in a sentence. Using this repetition will make your sentences easier to understand and your writing more enjoyable to read.
You typically use parallel structure when making comparisons, correlative conjunctions, clauses, and lists.