What is Parallel Construction?
By Vie Herlocker
collect antique and vintage English grammar books, and I find it fun to compare
the older text with today’s guides. So, let’s check out the definition of
In 1922, Ginn and Company published the textbook Composition and Rhetoric, written by William M. Tanner, an instructor at Boston University. Tanner wrote, “Ideas that are parallel in thought should be parallel in grammatical expression.”
One of my favorite contemporary definitions comes from the online writing center at Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA:
Parallel structure is the repetition of a chosen grammatical form within a sentence. By making each compared item or idea in your sentence follow the same grammatical pattern, you create a parallel construction.
Well, it looks like the issue of parallel constructions has been around and has meant the same thing for more than one hundred years.
Why use parallel construction?
The Evergreen text says:
Parallel structure adds both clout and clarity to your writing. When you use parallel structure, you increase the readability of your writing by creating word patterns that readers can follow easily.
In her 2017 book, Write with Excellence 201, Joyce Ellis says:
Using parallelism puts words, phrases, and other elements in parallel form. Doing so delights readers. It brings structure, cohesiveness, and rhythm to our writing.
Let’s look at structures that call for parallelism and check out a few examples:
1. Comparison Words (than, as)
Not Parallel: I would rather pay cash for my groceries than my credit card.
Parallel: I would rather pay cash for my groceries than use my credit card.
By dissecting the sentence, we can find the error: “I would rather” is the carrier phrase in this example, so both compared items must make sense with the phrase. “I would rather than credit card” is not grammatically correct, but “I would rather use my credit card” is.
2. Coordinating Conjunctions (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so)
Grammatical forms must be consistent throughout a sentence with coordinating conjunctions. With infinitives, it is okay to drop the to on subsequent items in the list.
Not Parallel: Mary’s goals are studying more, making better grades, and graduate.
Parallel: Mary’s goals are studying more, making better grades, and graduating.
Or: Mary’s goals are to study more, to make better grades, and to graduate.
Or: Mary’s goals are to study more, make better grades, and graduate.
Not Parallel: John likes golf, soccer, and reading books.
Parallel: John likes playing golf, watching soccer, and reading books.
Or: John likes to play golf, to watch soccer, and to read books.
Or: John like to play golf, watch soccer, and read books.
3. Correlative Conjunctions (not only/but also, either/or, neither/nor, if/then)
The words following each element of these paired conjunctions must be parallel.
Not Parallel: Fred not only dislikes escargot but also going to restaurants.
Parallel: Fred not only dislikes eating escargot but also dislikes going to restaurants.
Or: Fred dislikes not only eating escargot but also going to restaurants.
Not Parallel: Either we can eat inside the restaurant or at the park.
Parallel: Either we can eat inside the restaurant or we can eat at the park.
Or: We can eat either inside the restaurant or at the part.
4. Lists (both run-in and vertical format)
List items are parallel when they begin with the same part of speech or grammatical construction.
Not Parallel: I use the Chicago Manual of Style to check hyphenation, capitalization, and confirm word usage.
Parallel: I use the Chicago Manual of Style to check hyphenation, verify capitalization, and look up word usage.
Or: I use the Chicago Manual of Style for looking up hyphenation, capitalization, and word usage.
Not Parallel: My job responsibilities include:
o making coffee
o answering the phone
o bank deposits
o typing reports
Parallel: My job responsibilities include:
o making coffee
o answering the phone
o preparing bank deposits
o typing reports
Parallel errors slip into even experienced writers’ prose—but being aware of the constructions can help any writer avoid or find and fix these blips.
Remember that Joyce Ellis said using parallelism “delights readers,” and the Evergreen Writing Center noted that doing so “adds both clout and clarity to your writing.” Wow. Those are worthy goals for any writer.
(Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net and Serge Bertasius Photography.)
Evergreen Writing Center https://www.evergreen.edu/writingcenter/writing-center
Joyce Ellis: https://www.amazon.com/Write-Excellence-201-lighthearted-well/dp/1625860692/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2G094QAHMJUYV&keywords=Joyce+Ellis+Write+with+Excellence&qid=1659366428&sprefix=joyce+ellis+write+with+excellence%2Caps%2C110&sr=8-1
Chicago Manual of Style: https://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/home.html
Purdue Online Writing Lab: https://owl.purdue.edu/
Vie Herlocker provides freelance book editing services
through Cornerstone-Ink. She also edits Surry Living Magazine, a regional
lifestyle magazine for the Mt. Airy (Mayberry), NC area. Her mission is to
encourage and mentor writers as they develop the skills needed to answer their
call to write. While Vie’s heart is in editing, she has been published in the Guideposts
family of magazines, The Christian Communicator, and several
compilation books. She’s also cowritten a book for the educational field and
ghostwritten a memoir. She and her husband live in Nashville, TN.