Faulty Parallelism

Learn the definition and examples of this grammatical faux pas

Faulty Parallelism
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Faulty parallelism is one of the major grammatical sins in the English Language. When you come across faulty parallelism, it clangs off the ear, it destroys written sentences, and it muddies any intention the author may have had. (That's an example of correct parallelism, but more on that below.) Read on to learn what faulty parallelism is, how to avoid it, and how to correct it.

Faulty Parallelism 

Faulty parallelism occurs when you have two or more words or phrases that are not the same, or unequal.

Think of faulty parallelism as a house raised on uneven stilts. If you look at the house, you aren't able to appreciate its beauty or anything about it. All you see is an uneven house that is ready to crash down at any second because it lacks proper support from its uneven stilts. 

By contrast, proper parallelism "is the placement of equal ideas in words, phrases, or clauses of similar types," notes  Prentice Hall, an education materials and textbook publisher. You want to craft sentences where you match nouns with nouns, verbs with verbs, and phrases or clauses with similarly constructed phrases or clauses. This will ensure that your sentences read smoothly and that the reader hones in on your meaning and is not distracted by inequal parts.

Faulty Parallelism Example

The best way to learn what faulty parallelism is—and how to correct it—is to focus on an example. The sentence below is an example of faulty parallelism:

The company offers special college training to help hourly employees move into professional careers like engineering management, software development, service technicians, and sales trainees.

Notice the faulty comparison of occupations—"engineering management" and "software development"—to people—"service technicians" and "sales trainees." To avoid faulty parallelism, make certain that each element in a series is similar in form and structure to all others in the same series, as this corrected sentence demonstrates:

The company offers special college training to help hourly employees move into professional careers like engineering management, software development, technical services, and sales.

Note that all of the items in the series—engineering management, software development, technical services, and sales—are now all the same: They all are examples of occupations.

Faulty Parallelism in Lists

You can also find faulty parallelism in lists. Just as in a series in a sentence, all items in a list must be alike. The list below is an example of faulty parallelism. Read it and see if you can determine what is incorrect about the way the list is constructed.

  1. We defined our purpose.
  2. Who is our audience?
  3. What should we do?
  4. Discuss findings.
  5. Our conclusions.
  6. Finally, recommendations.

Ouch. That hurts the ears. Notice that in this list, some items are full sentences starting with a subject—"We" for item No. 1 and "Who" for No. 2. Two items, Nos. 2 and 4, are questions, while one item, No. 4, is a sentence fragment beginning with a verb, and so on.

Now take a look at the next example, which shows the same list but with correct parallel structure:

  1. Define purpose.
  2. Analyze audience.
  3. Determine methodology.
  4. Discuss findings.
  1. Draw conclusions.
  2. Make recommendations.

Notice that in this corrected example, each item begins with a verb—"Define," "Analyze," and Determine"—followed by an object—"purpose," audience," and "methodology." This makes the list much easier to read because it is comparing like things using equivalent grammatical structure and punctuation: noun, verb, and period.

Proper Parallel Structure

In the example in the opening paragraph of this article, the second sentence employs parallel structure correctly. If it had not, the sentence might have read:

When you come across faulty parallelism, it clangs off the ear, it destroys written sentences, and it is unclear what the author meant.

In this sentence, the first two items in the series of phrases are essentially mini sentences with the same grammatical structure: a subject (it), and an object or predicate (clangs off the ear and destroys written sentences).

The third item, however, is interrupted by a different kind of verb, is, which is a to be verb.

You can correct this by rewriting the sentence as it is listed in the opening paragraph, or you can reconstruct it so that "it" serves as the subject for all three phases as in:

When you come across faulty parallelism, it clangs off the ear, destroys written sentences, and muddies any intention the author may have had.

You now have equivalent parts in this series: "clangs off the ear," "destroys written sentences," and "muddies any intention"—verb object, verb object, and verb object. By using parallel structure, you are building your sentence with equal stilts: The sentence is balanced, displays perfect harmony, and serves as music to the reader's ear.

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Faulty Parallelism." ThoughtCo, Jan. 14, 2018, thoughtco.com/faulty-parallelism-grammar-1690788. Nordquist, Richard. (2018, January 14). Faulty Parallelism. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/faulty-parallelism-grammar-1690788 Nordquist, Richard. "Faulty Parallelism." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/faulty-parallelism-grammar-1690788 (accessed January 20, 2018).