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WHAT IS PARALLELISM?

 

Parallelism is the use of matching grammatical elements--words, phrases, clauses--or sentence structures to express equivalent ideas. Effective parallelism adds unity, balance and force to your writing. (Krizner and Mandell, The Brief Holt Handbook).

 

Parallelism contributes to ease in reading by making ideas that are parallel in meaning parallel in structure. Parallel elements appear in lists or series, in compounds, in comparisons, and in contrasting elements. (Horner, Webb, Miller, Harbrace College Handbook).

 

The basic principle of parallelism is to express coordinate ideas in similar form. This principle requires that expressions of similar content and function should be outwardly similar. The likeness of form enables the reader to recognize more readily the likeness of content and function.

 

Unskillful writers often violate this principle, from the mistaken belief that they should constantly vary the form of their expressions. It is true that in repeating a statement in order to emphasize it, writers may have need to vary its form. But apart from this, writers should follow carefully the principle of parallel construction.

 

When Do I Use Parallelism?

 

1. Use parallel structures in a series

Examples

The quarter horse skipped, pranced, and absolutely sashayed onto the track.

 

Three subjects guaranteed to cause a fight are politics, religion, and money.

 

A cloud of critics, of compilers, of commentators, darkened the face of learning, and the decline of genius was soon followed by the corruption of taste. (from Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire).

 

2. Use parallel structures in lists

Example

1. Coffee to be made only by library staff.

2. Coffee service to be closed at 4 P.M.

3. Doughnuts to be kept in cabinet.

4. Coffee materials not to be handled by faculty members.

 

Note: A formal outline should also be parallel in form.

 

3. Use parallel structures with pairs

Examples

Two ideas being compared or contrasted

History became popular, and historians became alarmed. (Will Durant)

It's easier to drive a new pickup truck than an old luxury car.

 

Balancing clauses in sentences

Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind. (John F. Kennedy)

There is much in your book that is original and valuable--but what is original is not valuable, and what is valuable is not original. (Samuel Johnson)

 

4. Use parallel structures with coordinating conjunctions and, but, or, nor, for, so

Examples

The group performed whenever anyone would listen and wherever anyone would pay.

Medical surveys suggest that Americans are dieting more but are still consuming too much fat.

 

5. Use parallel structures with correlative conjunctions either/or, both/and, neither/nor, not only/but also

Examples

We must either follow the drummer or beat our own drum.

Both the secretaries and the assistants demanded a raise.

The children had neither decent housing nor secure family ties.

I wanted not only to go away to school but also to live in Utah.

 

6. Use parallel structures to link ideas together in a paragraph

Examples

The world of work into which Jacinto and the other seventeen-year-olds were apprenticed was within sight and sound of the pueblo. It was work under blazing suns, in rainstorms, in pitch-black nights. It was work that you were always walking to or walking from, work without wages and work without end. It was work that gave you a bone-tired feeling at the end of the day, so you learned to swing the machete, to tighten a cinch, and to walk without lost motion. Between seven and twelve you learned all this, each lesson driven home when your jefe said with a scowl: "Asi` no, hombre; asi`." And he showed you how. (Ernesto Galarza, Barrio Boy)

 

 

Faulty Parallelism and How to Revise It

 

FAULTY: I remember the sticky, humid afternoons with the air as heavy as a mother's suitcase, my body dripping with sweat, how my sandy mouth yearned for an ice-cold glass of water.

REVISED: I remember the sticky, humid afternoons with the air as heavy as a mother's suitcase, my body dripping with sweat, my mouth yearning for an ice-cold glass of water.

 

 

FAULTY: Most readers begin reading with an implicit faith in the coherence of the text and that the writer will convey meaning clearly.

REVISED:  Most readers begin reading with an implicit faith that the text will be coherent and that the writer will convey meaning clearly.

 

 

FAULTY: It was a question of either reducing their staff, or they had to somehow find new customers for their baked potatoes.

REVISED: It was a question of either reducing their staff or somehow finding new customers for their baked potatoes.

 

 

FAULTY: To need a new pair of shoes and not being able to afford them is enough to make anybody sensitive.

REVISED: Needing a new pair of shoes and not being able to afford them is enough to make anybody sensitive.

 

 

FAULTY: I'll never forget the good times we had--skiing, the swims, and especially that you taught me how to handle a windsurfer.

REVISED: I'll never forget the good times we had--the skiing, the swimming, and especially the windsurfing.

 

 

FAULTY: Too many students come to college only for fun, to  find a husband or wife, or for putting off having to go to work.

REVISED: Too many students come to college to have fun, to find a husband or wife, or to put off having to go to work.

 

 

FAULTY: We can improve the cafeteria by doing several things: less noise, not leaving trays around, and we should leave the tables clean.

REVISED: We can improve the cafeteria by doing several things: making less noise, returning the trays, and cleaning the tables.

 

 

FAULTY: Her job was to show new products, help Mr. Greer with sales, and an opportunity was given to be part of advertising.

REVISED: Her job was to show new products, to help Mr. Greer with sales, and to participate in advertising.

 

 

FAULTY: Stress can result in low self-esteem, total frustration, inability to sleep, nervous breakdown, or eventually resulting in suicide.

REVISED: Stress can result in low self-esteem, total frustration, sleeplessness, nervousness, or eventually suicide.