Parallel structure, or parallelism, is a basic concept that students learn in writing class. Over the years, we may forget the term, but the idea should continue to be applied. Whether you are writing for your personal blog or for a big client, avoiding faulty parallelism can help you get your point across more clearly.
I think parallelism comes naturally to most people. As humans who appreciate beauty and balance, we easily detect if something is off. Take a look at this sentence:
I like to play soccer and swimming.
You don’t need to spend minutes going over that sentence to realize that something does not match! It’s one example of faulty parallelism. Here’s a better way to write the sentence:
I like to play soccer and swim.
I like playing soccer and swimming.
This is a simple example of parallelism: do not mix gerunds (-ing) and infinitives (to do). Choose one and stick with it.
Parallelism should also be followed when it comes to verb phrases. The general rule is to make sure the verbs are conjugated in the same manner.
WRONG: Her boss got mad, called her to his office, and was screaming at her.
RIGHT: Her boss got mad, called her to his office, and screamed at her.
The same thing applies to the use of adverbs.
WRONG: Can you write quickly, concisely, and pay attention to accuracy?
RIGHT: Can you write quickly, concisely, and accurately?
These faulty parallelisms are easy enough to spot, but there is one thing I struggle with – parallelism in using the active and passive voice.
WRONG: The speaker started his presentation well. He told us that he would present the outline first, go over each point thoroughly, and that there would be a question and answer portion at the end.
RIGHT: The speaker started his presentation well. He told us that he would present the outline first, go over each point thoroughly, and set aside enough time for a question and answer portion at the end.
In general, you ought to be extra careful when you are writing lists (x, y, and/or z) and working with conjunctions.
I know it may seem tedious to pay attention to parallelism when writing, but it is way easier than parallel parking, don’t you think?
Photo by richardmasoner
It’s always good to revisit the basics. Good read. =)
Thanks, Victoria. Sometimes we take all these rules for granted that we end up forgetting them.
John Curran says
I think you meant “faulty” parallelisms before the last wrong/right pairing.
Noemi Twigg says
Ugh…thanks for that, John. Goes to show I need to proofread more carefully! 😉