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Parallelism in Writing

Parallel sentence elements in grammar are like parallel lines in geometry: they go the same direction but never meet. More accurately, in grammar, it’s less about meeting and more about the balance. In grammar, Parallelism is defined as two or more phrases or clauses in the same sentence with the same grammatical structure.

Why Use Parallelism?

A sentence with parallel construction styles your writing successfully, makes it classy, and is sure to impress anyone who reads your writing.

How To Use Parallelism?

Here’s a helpful trick for testing parallelism: rewrite the sentence for each element that should be parallel. For instance:

A sentence with parallel composition makes your writing compelling. A sentence with a parallel structure makes your writing classy. A sentence with parallel composition makes your writing sure to impress anyone who reads your writing.

Compelling, classy, and sure are all adjectives. Even though “sure to impress anyone who reads your writing” is a mouthful compared to the two others, each sentence element is the same part of speech. This makes the sentence balanced, and therefore, parallel.

What to Look For

Lack of parallelism can happen in many ways, but the mistake is normally clear enough to make you grimace when you hear it. Keep reading for the most frequent parallelism problems you’ll encounter—and how to steer clear of them.

Verb Forms

Example      Professional athletes usually like practicing, competing, and to eat ice cream sundaes.

In the above sentence, practicing and competing are gerunds (verbs that function as nouns), and “to eat” is an infinitive. It sounds very awkward—just like being a professional athlete with a sweet tooth.


CORRECT:      Professional athletes usually like practicing, competing, and eating ice cream sundaes.


CORRECT:      Professional athletes usually like to practice, compete, and eat ice cream sundaes.

Notice that you don’t need to repeat the “to” in each instance of the infinitive form of the verb. As long as the verb condition is the same in all three cases, you’re good to go.

Nouns vs. Verbs

Example      For dinner we like pork chops and to fry Brussels sprouts.

Pork chops is a noun. Brussels sprouts is a noun too, but to fry is a verb. Tsk tsk.

CORRECT      For dinner, we like pork chops and Brussels sprouts.


CORRECT      For dinner we like to grill pork chops and fry Brussels sprouts.


Noun Number

Example      Public transit such as a train or buses can help reduce air pollution.

Multiple buses, one train? That’s not going to solve any environmental issue. Here is a better solution:

CORRECT      Public transit such as trains buses can help reduce air pollution.

More Mismatched Parts of Speech

Example      The detective cleverly and with pizzazz outlined how the crime had been committed.

What’s the adverb of “pizzazz”? Great question. Both cleverly (adverb) and with pizzazz (a prepositional phrase) need to be the same part of speech for this particular sentence to be properly parallel. And if there is no such word as “pizzazzilly”, that means that two nouns are required.

CORRECT      With cleverness and pizzazz, the detective outlined how the crime had been committed.

Subject Matter

Example      He decided to cover the gown in beads and had lasagna for supper.

Huh? Unless being a sensational designer is a recipe for lasagna, these two actions don’t seem to have too much in common. Parallelism in subject matter means everything that is discussed in a sentence should at least have some amount of clarity and relatedness.

CORRECT       He decided to cover the gown in beads, and to celebrate, he had lasagna for supper.


CORRECT       He was hungry once he covered the gown in beads, so he had lasagna for supper.

The possible connections are boundless, but for proper parallelism, the connection needs to be clear to the reader.

Parallelism in Rhetoric

In rhetoric—in the world of literature and speeches, or anytime you’d like to sound extra posh—parallelism involves one or more sentences with similar compositions to produce a pattern of repetition and balance.

”Easy come, easy go.

—Common saying

“Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.”

—Mother Theresa

“That’s one step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

—Neil Armstrong

Parallelism helps to make your writing as neat as a geometry equation. Particularly, one with parallel lines. In order to keep your writing lined up straight, don’t forget to watch out for these elements:

Matching parts of speech, Subject matter, Noun number, and Rhetoric

You know what they always say: you win some, you lose some. But if you use parallelism correctly in your writing and speech, you’re that much more likely to say instead: I came, I saw, I conquered. 


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By Connie Fisher

Connie Fisher is a freelance writer and editor specializing in business writing and marketing. She holds a bachelor's degree in media and journalism and has contributed to a slew of printed and online media, including Contra Costa Times, Daily American, the The Tri-Town News,, and many more.

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