balanced sentence (grammar and prose style)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Balanced Sentence
Kirszner and Mandell point out that a "balanced sentence is neatly divided between two parallel structures—for example, two independent clauses in a compound sentence. The symmetrical structure of a balanced sentence adds emphasis by highlighting similarities or differences between the ideas in the two clauses" (The Brief Cengage Handbook, 2017). (artpartner-images/Getty Images)

Definition

A balanced sentence is a sentence made up of two parts that are roughly equal in length, importance, and grammatical structure, as in the advertising slogan for KFC: "Buy a bucket of chicken and have a barrel of fun." Contrast with loose sentence.

A balanced sentence is a paired construction on the level of the clause. A balanced sentence that makes a contrast is called antithesis.

"Balance and parallelism do not communicate meaning by themselves," says Thomas S.

Kane. "But balanced and parallel constructions do reinforce and enrich meaning" (The New Oxford Guide to Writing).

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Examples and Observations

  • "If you’ve got the time, we’ve got the beer."
    (advertising slogan for Miller beer)
     
  • "Timex—it takes a licking and keeps on ticking."
    (advertising slogan for Timex watches)
     
  • "Sleeping on a Seely is like sleeping on a cloud." 
    (advertising slogan for Seely mattresses)
     
  • "Light is faster, but we are safer."
    (advertising slogan for Global Jet Airlines)
     
  • "Vision without action is daydream; action without vision is nightmare."
    (Japanese proverb)
     
  • "Life is a comedy to those who think, a tragedy to those who feel."
    (Horace Walpole)
     
  • "On days when warmth is the most important need of the human heart, the kitchen is the place you can find it; it dries the wet socks, it cools the hot little brain."
    (E.B. White, "Coon Tree." Essays of E.B. White. Harper, 1977)
     
  • "To err is human, to forgive, divine."
    (Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism, 1709)
     
  • "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth, and every other man has a right to knock him down for it."
    (Samuel Johnson, quoted by James Boswell in The Life of Samuel Johnson, 1791)
     
  • "And the more I thought over what I had got to say, the less I found I could say it, without some reference to this intangible or intractable question. It made all the difference, in asserting any principle of war, whether one assumed that a discharge of artillery would merely knead down a certain quantity of once living clay into a level line, as in a brickfield; or whether, out of every separately Christian-named portion of the ruinous heap, there went out, into the smoke and dead-fallen air of battle, some astonished condition of soul, unwillingly released. It made all the difference, in speaking of the possible range of commerce, whether one assumed that all bargains related only to visible property—or whether property, for the present invisible, but nevertheless real, was elsewhere purchasable on other terms. It made all the difference, in addressing a body of men subject to considerable hardship, and having to find some way out of it—whether one could confidently say to them, 'My friends—you have only to die, and all will be right'; or whether one had any secret misgiving that such advice was more blessed to him that gave than to him that took it."
    (John Ruskin, The Crown of Wild Olive, 1866)
     
  • How Balanced Sentences Reinforce Meaning
    - "Beyond highlighting specific words and ideas, balance has a deeper significance. It expresses a way of looking at the world . . .. Implicit in the balanced style is a sense of objectivity, control, and proportion. In the following passage about Lord Chesterfield, the critic F.L. Lucas reinforces his argument by the reasonableness of his balanced sentences. The very style seems to confirm the fairness and lack of dogmatism suggested by such phrases as 'seem to me' and 'I think':
    In fine, there are things about Chesterfield that seem to me rather repellant; things that it is an offense in critics to defend. He is typical of one side of the 18th century--of what still seems to many its most typical side. But it does not seem to me the really good side of that century; and Chesterfield remains, I think, less an example of things to pursue in life than of things to avoid.
    " . . . Balance and parallelism do not communicate meaning by themselves. The primary units of meaning, of course, are words. But balanced and parallel constructions do reinforce and enrich meaning."
    (Thomas S. Kane, The New Oxford Guide to Writing. Oxford University Press, 1988)

    - "The point about balanced sentences is their symmetry and neatness of structure, features that lend an air of being carefully thought out and weighed. For this reason, balanced sentences are favoured by politicians and speech writers who want to make an emphatic but seemingly reasonable statement. They are, it has to be said, fairly rare in academic work, but you might spot one in your reading."
    (John Peck and Martin Coyle, The Student's Guide to Writing: Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar, 3rd ed. Palgrave Macmillan, 2012) 
     
  • The Balanced Sentence in Rhetorical Theory
    - "[T]he balanced sentence can be either cumulative or periodic. The balanced sentence is a later development in rhetorical theory. Though the Greeks used it, it does not appear clearly in classical rhetoric, and then after it does appear, it is confused for a while with antithesis. . . .. Alexander Bain stated in 1866 that 'when the different clauses of a compound sentence are made similar in form, they are said to be Balanced' (English Composition and Rhetoric, 302). John Genung made the definition slightly more precise: 'When the different elements of a compound sentence are made to answer to each other and set each other off by similarity of form, the sentence is said to be balanced' (Practical Elements, 91)"
    (Robert J. Connors, Composition-Rhetoric: Backgrounds, Theory, and Pedagogy. University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997)

    - "Later masters of style hardly use the balance at all except in a simple way. It is really rather an artificial form, and the writers of the present are generally aiming at a natural style. It has its advantages; like parallel construction it is an aid to clearness, and in itself it gives a sort of pleasure. But it has its drawbacks too; it is apt to become merely conventional, unless used with caution it is monotonous, and it offers many temptations to wander from the path of absolute sincerity."
    (Edward Everett Hale, Jr., Constructive Rhetoric. Henry Holt, 1896)

    - "Balanced sentences are also a kind of rhetorical device, and also unnatural to the ear. They are often used to impress, to suggest 'wisdom' or 'polish,' because they contain two contrasting or 'balanced' elements. Like this:
    The city dweller knows lots of things; the peasant knows one big thing.
    You can even (if you're Oscar Wilde) 'balance' three ideas:
    Children begin by loving their parents; after a time they judge them; rarely, if ever, do they forgive them.
    The above information may come in handy . . .."
    (Malcolm Peet and David Robinson, Leading Questions. Thomas Nelson, 1992)