Parallel Structure (Grammar)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Aerial view of parallel spans of the Benicia-Martinez Bridge, crossing Carquinez Strait in northern California.
"Like parallel lines, parallel structures in writing are aligned, meaning that words, phrases, and sentences are grammatically similar" (Technical Writing for Success, 2011). (Chris Saulit/Getty Images

In English grammar, parallel structure involves two or more words, phrases, or clauses that are similar in length and grammatical form. Also called parallelism.

By convention, items in a series appear in parallel grammatical form: a noun is listed with other nouns, an -ing form with other -ing forms, and so on. "The use of parallel structures," says Ann Raimes, "helps produce cohesion and coherence in a text" (Keys for Writers, 2014).

 In traditional grammar, the failure to express such items in similar grammatical form is called faulty parallelism.

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Examples and Observations

  • Parallel Structures in Proverbs
    - Easy come, easy go.
    - No pain, no gain.
    - Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.
    - One man's trash is another man's treasure.
    - A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
     
  • "Never hurry and never worry!"
    (Charlotte's advice to Wilbur in Charlotte's Web by E.B. White, 1952)
     
  • "It is by logic we prove, but by intuition we discover."
    (Leonardo da Vinci)
     
  • "We spend our youth attempting to change the future, and the rest of our lives trying to preserve the past."
    (Arthur Bryant in Seventy-Seven Clocks by Christopher Fowler. Bantam, 2005) 
     
  • "Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible, and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and immature."
    (Tom Robbins, Still Life with Woodpecker, 1980)
     
  • "When success happens to an English writer, he acquires a new typewriter. When success happens to an American writer, he acquires a new life."
    (Martin Amis, "Kurt Vonnegut: After the Slaughterhouse." The Moronic Inferno. Jonathan Cape, 1986)
     
  • "A good ad should be like a good sermon; it must not only comfort the afflicted—it also must afflict the comfortable."
    (Bernice Fitz-Gibbon, Macy's, Gimbels, and Me: How to Earn $90,000 a Year in Retail Advertising. Simon and Schuster, 1967)
  • "If you are idle, be not solitary; if you are solitary, be not idle."
    (Samuel Johnson, quoted by James Boswell in The Life of Samuel Johnson, 1791)
     
  • "Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider."
    (Francis Bacon, "Of Studies," 1625)
     
  • "Those who write clearly have readers; those who write obscurely have commentators."
    (Attributed to Albert Camus)
     
  • "I had been short, and now I was tall. I had been skinny and quiet and religious, and now I was good-looking and muscular. It was Sally Baldwin who brought me along, told me what to wear and do and think and say. She was never wrong; she never lost her patience. She created me, and when she was done we broke up in a formal sense, but she kept calling me."
    (Jane Smiley, Good Faith. Alfred A. Knopf, 2003)
     
  • "The wheels wheeled, the chairs spun, the cotton candy tinted the faces of children, the bright leaves tinted the woods and hills. A cluster of amplifiers spread the theme of love over everything and everybody; the mild breeze spread the dust over everything and everybody. Next morning, in the Lafayette Hotel in Portland, I went down to breakfast and found May Craig looking solemn at one of the tables and Mr. Murray, the auctioneer, looking cheerful at another."
    (E.B. White, "Goodbye to Forty-Eighth Street." Essays of E.B. White. Harper, 1977)
     
  • Guidelines for Creating Parallel Structures
    Adjectives should be paralleled by adjectives, nouns by nouns, dependent clauses by dependent clauses, and so on.
    WRONG: Your new training program was stimulating and a challenge. (Adjective and noun.)
    RIGHT: Your new training program was stimulating and challenging. (Two adjectives.) . . .

    NOTE: Parallelism is especially important in displayed enumerations:
    POOR: This article will discuss:
    1. How to deal with corporate politics.
    2. Coping with stressful situations.
    3. What the role of the manager should be in the community.
    BETTER: This article will discuss:
    1. Ways to deal with corporate politics.
    2. Techniques of coping with stressful situations.
    3. The​ role of the manager in the community.
    OR: This article will tell managers how to:
    1. Deal with corporate politics.
    2. Cope with stressful situations.
    3. Function in the community.
    (William A. Sabin, The Gregg Reference Manual, 10th ed. McGraw-Hill, 2005)


    - "When you write a sentence with a series of clauses, make sure that they start and end the same way. If you don't, you destroy the rhythm you've tried to establish. More important, if you use parallel structures your readers will have a more enjoyable time absorbing and understanding your facts, ideas, and concepts."
    (Robert M. Knight, A Journalistic Approach to Good Writing. Wiley, 2003)