We often forget how important the overall structure of a sentence is to its flow, meaning, and tone. And we also take common grammatical practices for granted when we use parallel structure, because we typically use them with ease and without much intentional thought at all. However, when we get parallel structure in writing wrong, it goes really wrong and we typically never even notice it without the help of a reliable editor or proofreader.
What Is Parallel Structure?
Parallel structure in writing is also called “parallelism.” Here’s a definition of “parallel structure” provided by Purdue Online Writing Lab:
Parallel structure means using the same pattern of words to show that two or more ideas have the same level of importance. This can happen at the word, phrase, or clause level. The usual way to join parallel structures is with the use of coordinating conjunctions such as “and” and “or.”
Overall, parallel structure guarantees uniformity and consistency throughout a piece of writing, to ensure its clarity and accuracy. And by making each compared item or idea in a phrase or clause follow the same grammatical pattern, you create a parallel construction.
Why Is Parallel Structure Important?
We need parallel structure because it makes a piece of writing easier to understand. Parallel structure allows us to understand when things are taking place, what is taking place, who or what the subjects and objects of a sentence or clause are, and so on. And when writers follow a parallel structure, they are less prone to making common grammatical errors.
Identifying and Implementing Parallel Structure
Parallel structure should be used when we’re writing:
- Words ending with “-ing”
- Coordinating conjunctions in a sentence
- Multiple clauses in a sentence or paragraph
And we should also use parallel structure to ensure we’re maintaining the appropriate verb tense(s) in a sentence, phrase, or clause, and to ensure we’re consistently using the same voice (active vs. passive voice) in a sentence, phrase, or clause.
Here are some example sentences to consider regarding parallel structure:
Incorrect: Tom enjoys reading books about ancient civilizations, walking in the park, and to drink coffee.
Correct: Tom enjoys reading books about ancient civilizations, walking in the park, and drinking coffee.
Incorrect: The following can be done during the summer: eating ice cream, swimming in a pool, and tennis.
Correct: The following can be done during the summer: eating ice cream, swimming in a pool, and playing tennis.
Incorrect: Mary writes an op-ed article and then published it in an online journal.
Correct: Mary wrote an op-ed article and then published it in an online journal.
Incorrect: My husband took me to dance and then to dinner.
Correct: My husband took me to dance and then to eat dinner.
Incorrect: I will not give a speech, nor debate.
Correct: I will not give a speech, nor will I debate.
Incorrect: We enjoy snowshoeing and like to build snowmen.
Correct: We enjoy snowshoeing and building snowmen.
Incorrect: The new manager expected her employees to log their overtime hours during the holidays and that time-off requests would be submitted in a timely fashion.
Correct: The new manager expected her employees to log their overtime hours during the holidays and submit their time-off requests in a timely fashion.
Tips for Editors and Proofreaders
As we’re reviewing pieces of written work and examining them for parallel construction, here are some things we can do.
- Before we edit anything for parallel construction, we should always verify exactly what is being compared in a sentence or phrase first.
- As we skim a piece of writing, we should pause when we encounter a coordinating conjunction like “and” or “or” in a sentence, so we can verify that parallel structure is being used.
- We should also pause when commas are used in a sentence, so we can verify that parallel structure is being used for every independent and supporting clause.
- If a list is used in a sentence, we can write each item in a vertical column to ensure that they are parallel to one another, especially if adjectives and adverbs are used to describe each item on the list.
- We can make sure that verb tenses match in each sentence and that the voice we use is consistent.
If you have any other information or editing or proofreading tips regarding parallel construction that you’d like to share with us, please leave a comment below.