By Rahaman Onike

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One important stylistic device in the craft of writing is parallelism.  How a writer uses parallelism determines the effectiveness of his or her writing.  When two or more sentence elements represent comparable ideas, putting them in the same grammatical form helps the reader to see the relationship between them and this stylistic device is called parallelism.  When Benjamin Franklin wrote “A penny saved is a penny earned”, he was using parallelism.  The adjective ‘saved’ parallels in content and form with the adjective ‘earned’.  If he had written “A penny saved is a penny that someone has earned”, his sentence would have been out of balance (and would not have been so memorable).

Parallel grammatical structures form many of our most familiar phrases: sink or swim, live and let live, shape up or shape out.  These clichés also demonstrate parallelism, that is, it expresses parallel elements in the same grammatical form.  But parallelism goes far beyond such clichés, and in fact, characterizes some of the most elegant passages in our language.

Parallelism therefore means the use of matching words, phrases, clauses, or sentence structures to express equivalent ideas  in order to add unity, balance, and force to your writing.  Effective parallelism makes sentences easy to follow and it emphasizes relationships among equivalent ideas.  However, faulty parallelism produces awkward sentences that obscure the intended meaning of the writer and confuse readers.

Of course, parallel structure makes the series clear and easy to follow, bringing grace and coherence.  In essence, all items in a series should be in parallel form – all nouns, all prepositional phrases, all adverb clauses, and so on (Lunsford and Connors 2000).

Whenever you present any kind of listing in formal or academic writing, whether it is formalized list such as an outline or just a series of items in a sentence, all of the items should be in the same grammatical form (Hult and Huckin 2008).  To make the parallel clear, repeat a preposition, an article, the to of the infinitive, or the introductory word of a phrase or clause e.g. The reward rests not ‘in’ the task but ‘in’ the pay.  In the sentence, the preposition ‘in’ was repeated.  Let’s look at another parallel structure in which an article is repeated: “Life is ‘a’ mystery and ‘an’ adventure which he shares with all living things”.  Example of parallel structure with the repeat of the to of the infinitive: It is easier ‘to’ love humanity as a whole than ‘to’ love one’s neighbor.

Parallelism in a paragraph means using the same grammatical structure in several sentences to establish coherence.  The repeated use of similar phrasing helps tie the ideas and sentences together (Wyrick 2014).

Parallelism also means the placement of equal ideas in words, phrases or clauses of similar types.  A parallel grammatical structure can be two or more words of the same part of speech, two or more phrases of the same type, and sometimes, for emphasis, two or more sentences of the same type.

Example of sentence with parallel words: The boxer looked strong, fit and agile as be entered the ring.  Let’s look at example of sentence with parallel phrases: The greatest pleasure I knew is to do a good action by stealth, and to have it found out by accident.  We can equally have an example of parallel clause thus: The Professor whom I have met and whom you currently have in class will be on television next week.

Parallelism highlights the correspondence between items in a series, paired items, and elements in lists and outlines.  More specifically, coordinate elements – words, phrases, or clauses – in a series should be presented in parallel form.  Example of the use of parallelism effectively using items in a series: Eat, drink and be merry.  Another relevant example is the sentence that reads thus: I came; I saw; I conquered (Hodges and Whitten 2002).

Sentences with faults in parallel structure can be corrected in more than one way.  For example, “He likes hiking, camping and to climb mountains” is a form of non-parallel sentence.  To revise the sentence, all of the similar parts should be made to be gerunds as in “He likes hiking, camping, and climbing mountains” (Forlini 2000).

Paired items linked by correlative conjunctions (such as not only/but also, both/and, either/or, neither/nor, and whether/or) should be presented in parallel form.  Example of sentence with parallelism using paired items: The design team paid close attention not only ‘to color’ but ‘to texture’.

Parallelism also highlights the contrast between paired elements linked by than or as: Richard Wright and James Anderson chose to live in Paris rather ‘than’ to remain in the United States.  This sentence shows the contrast between paired elements linked by ‘than’.  The second sentence that reads thus: Success is as much a matter of hard work as a matter of luck – shows the contrast between paired elements linked by ‘as’.

Faulty parallelism occurs when equivalent ideas in a sentence are not presented in parallel form.  We can equally say that faulty parallelism occurs when a writer uses unequal grammatical structures to express related ideas.  Of course, faulty parallelism can involve words, phrases and clauses in series or in comparisons.  As a writer, one can revise faulty parallelism by using parallel elements, by repeating key words and by repeating relative pronouns (Kirkzner and Mandell 2005).

Summarily, one way of revising faulty parallelism is by matching nouns with nouns, verbs with verbs, phrases and clauses with similarly constructed phrases and clauses.

What makes parallelism important is that it portrays one as a careful writer and improves the quality of writing.  When a writer ignores parallelism, his work will be seen as inelegant.  Therefore, every writer needs to pay serious attention to rules of parallelism to make ones  writing to be seen as exceptional and memorable.



Forlini G. (2000) Grammar and Composition: New York, Prentice Hall Publishers pp 137-141

Hodges J.C and M.E Whitten (2002) Harbrace College Handbook: London, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers pp 308-310

Hult C.A and T.N Huckin (2008) The New Century Handbook: Boston, Pearson Longman pp 130-132

Kirszner L.G and S.R Mandell (2005) The Concise Wadsworth Handbook: Australia, Wadsworth pp 197-183

Lunsford A. and R. Connors (2000) The St. Martin’s Handbook: New York, St. Martin’s press pp 107-109

Wyrick J. (2014) Steps to writing with Additional Readings: Australia, Wadsworth Cengage Learning pp 568-570

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