Join Judy Steiner-Williams for an in-depth discussion in this video Making sentences parallel, part of Grammar Fundamentals.
When you think of something being parallel you probably think of going together along the same path or having the same pattern. That's exactly what parallelism means in grammar. Whether it's words, clauses, and phrases, they need to be parallel-- in other words, in the same form or pattern. Why? Mainly because once a certain pattern is used then the reader expects that consistent arrangement and can more easily understand the ideas. Parallel structure usually focuses on gerunds, participles, and infinitives. As a group, these are called verbals, which means they are somehow connected to verbs. Let's look at each of those and then look at resulting potential parallel issues. First, the gerund. The simple way to remember a gerund is that it is a very that ends in I-N-G, but it functions as a noun. If adding the I-N-G turns the original verb into a word that functions as a noun, then it can do all the things a noun can do. It can be a subject. "Sleeping is necessary." Sleep, a verb, plus I-N-G equals a gerund, and "sleeping" is the subject of the sentence. It answers that all-important question that subjects answer, "Who or what is the sentence about?" A noun is also used as an object of a preposition. "Bob received his award for volunteering." I-N-G added to the action verb "to volunteer," the result is a gerund, or verb plus I-N-G. "Volunteering" is the noun object of the preposition "for." Another verbal is the participle. This time the verb form is used as an adjective, and it, too, commonly ends in I-N-G, but also E-D. The participle can do everything an adjective does: modify or further describe nouns and pronouns. "Frustrated, Pete asked for further directions." The original verb "frustrate" plus E-D now describes "Pete", a noun, so it functions as an adjective. "The sparkling decorations were arranged." What kind of decorations? Sparkling. So the I-N-G form of "sparkle", the verb form, is now an adjective describing the noun "decorations". One more verbal. The infinitive is a very plus the word "to", and it can act as a noun, an adjective, or an adverb. "To contribute was my goal." Who or what was my goal? "To contribute", so that's the sentence's subject. The verb "contribute" plus the word "to" acts as a noun. "We must work to achieve." "Work" is a verb. "To achieve", the infinitive, now functions as an adverb, modifying the verb "work", answering the question, "Work to do what?" "I have a report to prepare before tomorrow." This time the "to" plus the verb "prepare" modifies "report", a noun, so it's now an adjective. Now that the verbals have been identified and illustrated, we're ready to focus on the parallelism issue. In its simplest form, whichever the verbals you use, that same verbal form much be used consistently in that sentence. This sentence lacks parallelism. "Jen likes to exercise and then eating at her favorite restaurant." The correct version is "Jen likes to exercise and then to eat at her favorite restaurant." Or equally correct, "Jen likes exercising and the eating at her favorite restaurant." The first corrected version uses two infinitives: "to exercise" and "to eat". The second correct version uses two gerunds: "exercising" and "eating", the verbs plus the I-N-G. Two infinitives, two gerunds, two of the same verbal form in a series are necessary for the sentence wording to be parallel. Lack of parallelism can also occur in other sentence structures. Here's a couple examples. "Air travel is safe, convenient, and it is fast." Safe, convenient, and fast are all adjectives describing air travel. But let's make the wording parallel. "Air travel is safe, convenient, and fast." Here's another example: "Our company offers retirement programs, flexible working hours, and it has an onsite child care center." Notice that, again, the list of benefits does not use parallel wording. The parallel wording would be, "Offers retirement programs, flexible working hours, and an onsite child care center." So, to be sure you've used parallel structure, look at the word prefacing the verbal and at the endings, "to", "I-N-G", "E-D", for example, and then look for a series to see if the same form is used. If not, change the word forms so they will conform to the same pattern.
- Why does grammar matter?
- Diagramming sentences
- Understanding pronouns
- Working with adjectives and adverbs
- Making sentences parallel
- Deciding when to use active and passive voice
- Using commas correctly
- Practicing grammar rules