Examples of parallel structure abound in good writing. Why? Because it’s easier to understand a sentence that doesn’t “change course” midstream.
But first, a definition. The term parallel structure (also known as parallelism) refers to the use of identical grammatical forms in succession. For example, in a series, you might use three adjectives in a row:
- The federal government is made up of three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial.
The same sentence without a parallel structure, though, doesn’t work as well. Consider the following: The federal government is made up of three branches: legislative, executive, and the judiciary.
When I see items in a series (or in a list) that are not parallel, I die a little bit inside. Take the text that I saw on the back of a U-Haul truck the other day:
- EASY TO DRIVE
- FUEL EFFICIENT
- LOADS EASILY
Had I been playing Grammar Police, I would have fixed the third bullet with a giant black marker. (Of course, then I might have been arrested by the real police for vandalism.)
The problem is that the first two bullets are predicate adjectives.
In fact, they follow the invisible, unstated subject of the sentence and a linking verb (This truck is…): This truck is easy to drive. This truck is fuel-efficient. (Yes, I added the hyphen in my grammatically motivated vandalism fantasy.)
But “loads easily”? If we apply the unstated subject and linking verb to the third bullet, then we get “This truck is loads easily,” which is no good.
Here’s how we could make the list parallel:
- EASY TO DRIVE
- FUEL EFFICIENT
- EASY TO LOAD
(U-Haul, I fully expect a kickback if you use the above.)
7 Examples of Parallel Structure
Nouns and Noun Phrases
Below are a few examples of parallel structure. These sentences involve nouns and noun phrases.
- The veteran attorneys at Hart have the training, credentials, and experience to successfully mediate disputes.
- Despite the client’s initial reticence and pointed skepticism, the ad firm was able to move ahead with the new campaign.
- The founders objected to the strategy, citing crippling debt and potential litigation. The same sentence without a parallel structure might look like this: The founders objected to the strategy, citing crippling debt; in addition, they didn’t want to risk being litigated. (This sentence is not incorrect, by the way. It simply omits the parallel structure of the previous sentence.)
Verbs and Verb Phrases
Here are a few examples of parallel structure involving verbs and verb phrases.
- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (a great slogan uses parallel structure because it’s catchy)
- All animals in the study had to be caught, tagged, and monitored.
- As the oil is heating, wash, peel, and dice the veggies.
- Wendell, Inc. is in the service business. We research opportunities, gauge the strength of potential markets, and produce actionable data for our clients.
The above examples of parallel structure show what parallelisms are. But remembering to use them isn’t always easy.
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