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What is Parallelism? Definition, Examples of Parallel Structure in English

What is Parallelism? Definition, Examples of Parallel Structure in English

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Parallelism is a cornerstone of effective writing that ensures clarity and harmony in our sentences. It’s the practice of using similar patterns of words to show that ideas have the same level of importance. Often, we find it instinctively pleasing because it creates a rhythm in writing that mirrors patterns found in nature, like the symmetry of a butterfly’s wings or the repetitive waves on a beach.

Understanding Parallelism

What is Parallelism? Definition, Examples of Parallel Structure in English

Parallelism Definition (Parallel Structure)

  • In English grammar, parallelism, also known as parallel structure or parallel construction.
  • It means that coordinate parts of a sentence, such as items in a series or list, have the same grammatical form. Items in a series must be all nouns, all verbs, or all participles, and so on.

Types of Parallel Structure

There are several types of parallel structures that we often employ in writing:

  • Words and Phrases: A simple list or a series, such as “We came, we saw, we conquered.”
  • Clauses: Connecting clauses with coordinating conjunctions, like “She is talented and she is humble.”
  • Comparisons: Using ‘than’ or ‘as’, for example, “She sings as loudly as she speaks.”
  • Correlative Conjunctions: These are used in pairs, like “not only… but also,” “either… or,” and “neither… nor.”

Why to Use Parallel Structure?

1. It’s easier for readers to read and process than those that do not.


  • I love playing games, cooking and listening to the music.

Without parallel structure:

  • I love playing games, I also love cooking and I love listening to the music, too. (?!)

2. It helps writers avoid grammatically incorrect sentences. 

  • She can play the piano and singing at the same time.

In this sentence, we can separate into two sides of sentence:

  • She can play the piano.
  • She can singing. (this one is incorrect)

3. It makes your writing effective, classy, and certain to impress anyone who reads your stuff.

Rules & Parallelism Examples

1. Use parallel structure with elements in lists or in a series. (nouns go with nouns, verbs go with verbs, etc.)

  • Incorrect: Tonight, I will do my homework and watching TV.
  • Correct: Tonight, I will do my homework and watch TV.

2. Use parallel structure with elements joined by coordinating conjunctions.

  • Incorrect: Your company and what its partner is are excellent.
  • Correct: Your company and its partner are excellent.

3. Use parallel structure with elements joined by a correlative conjunction.

  • Incorrect: She not only is a novelist but also a poet.
  • Correct: She is not only a novelist but also a poet.
  • Correct: She not only is a novelist but also is a poet.

4. Use parallel structure with elements being compared. (A is more than / better than B)

  • Incorrect: I love singing more than to draw.
  • Correct: I love singing more than drawing.

5. Use parallel structure with elements joined by a linking verb or a verb of being.

  • Incorrect: To love is losing control.
  • Correct: To love is to lose control.

Common Uses of Parallelism

In our writing, we employ parallelism to enhance clarity, rhythm, and flow. It’s a powerful tool that can make our ideas more impactful and memorable. Here’s how we use it across different formats:

Rhetorical Devices

We often use parallelism as a rhetorical device to persuade or influence our audience. An example of this is in speeches and essays, where we construct sentences to echo a particular structure for emphasis. For instance:

  • Anaphora: Repetition of a word at the beginning of successive clauses.
    • Example: “We have fought for freedom. We have fought for justice. We have fought for peace.”

Writing Prose

In prose, parallelism helps us create sentences that are cohesive and easy to follow. We apply parallel structures when listing items or actions to maintain a consistent pattern, which aids understanding. Bullet points are an effective way to display parallelism in prose:

  • Incorrect: I enjoy reading, to play soccer, and cooking.
  • Correct: I enjoy reading, playing soccer, and cooking.

Poetry and Lyrics

In poetry and songwriting, parallelism contributes to the rhythm and musicality of the verse. It’s a stylistic element we use to evoke emotions and create patterns that resonate with the reader or listener. Here’s a simple use of parallelism in poetry:

  • “Under the stars, under the moon,
    We danced to the tune, of our hearts in bloom.”

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I identify parallel structure in sentences?

To identify parallel structure, look for elements in the sentence that have the same grammatical form. If you’re listing items, they should all be in the same format, such as all nouns, adjectives, or verb forms.

What are some common exercises to practice parallel structure?

A useful exercise for practicing parallel structure is to revise sentences to make them parallel. Start with sentences that have lists or series and adjust them so each item or action is presented in the same grammatical form.

Are there tools available for checking parallelism in my writing?

Yes, there are grammar-checking tools that can assist you in identifying parallelism issues in your writing. These tools often highlight sentences where the structure may be inconsistent and suggest corrections.

Can you explain the different types of parallel structures?

Parallel structures can be of various types, including words, phrases, or clauses. We have coordinate parallelism where elements are joined by coordinating conjunctions, correlative parallelism that involves pairs like ‘neither/nor’, and comparative parallelism found in comparisons like ‘as… as’.

What are the essential rules to keep in mind when creating parallel structures?

When creating parallel structures, ensure that the parts of speech match for all elements in a series, use the same verb tense for verbs, and keep the sentence structure consistent for clarity and flow.

In what ways does parallel construction enhance the clarity of writing?

Parallel construction helps by making the text more readable and well-organized. It also adds rhythm to writing, which makes your message more memorable and persuasive.