I don’t know about you, but I was glued to the Olympics this year. And I’m not embarrassed to announce that I watched many hours of gymnastics, synchronized diving and synchronized swimming. You have to admire the athletes’ amazing precision, excellent balancing and graceful landings.
If only writers were as precise, balanced and graceful as these medal winners. If they were, readers could happily wend their way down a logical, parallel path, enjoying elegant sentences whose parts match each other. Parallel elements have the same weight and are often the same part of speech. Noun, noun, noun. Check. Adjective, adjective, adjective. Yep. Verb, verb, verb. Parallelism is all about equality; parallelism creates a nice rhythm in your sentence; unparallelism, bad. Adjective, adjective, verb. Yikes. Noun, adjective, adjective. Insert sour-faced judge here.
Learning to make sentences parallel is a difficult skill, perhaps as hard as learning to dive off a 10-meter platform without killing yourself. Making sure sentence elements are parallel is like making sure a subject agrees with a verb—only harder. Subject-verb agreement involves matching only one subject with one verb; parallelism can involve multiple elements.
To become powerhouses of perfection, writers must study and practice their manuevers. What better way to encourage balanced sentence elements than to organize a new Olympic event: Synchronized Sentences. Writers will now care about
parts of speech.
Before writers can compete in this event, they must undergo a tough four-step training regimen. Step 1 is to identify sentences that contain like elements and then to practice identifying them until the author gets writer’s cramp. A simple sentence like this won’t concern our writers in training because it doesn’t contain elements that need to be parallel: “The swimmers were beautifully synchronized.” On the other hand, complex sentences that contain more than one like element must be parallel: “The swimmers had to jump into the water, swim upside down and point their toes.” They had to verb, verb, verb.
Moving on to Step 2, writers will learn about what I call the base word, which changes with each sentence. Looking back at the swimmers sentence, trainees will notice that the elements “jump,” “swim” and “point” all fit nicely with the word “to.” It’s tricky to notice a potential parallelism problem, so our contestants-to-be will spend hours identifying base words in sentences. Then they will repeat—as in, actually write down repeatedly—the base word in each sentence. This exercise might not yield pretty sentences, but it is an intermediary step that will lead writers toward the gold. Writers will practice repeating themselves in sentences like this: “The synchronized swimmers enjoy jumping into the water, enjoy being upside down
and enjoy pointing their toes.” Quick, identify the base word.
In Step 3, competition hopefuls will make sure the elements that all go with the base word are parallel, meaning at the same level, equal. For example, this sentence is not parallel: “The swimmers decided to get out of the pool and that they needed a bite to eat.” Although the infinitive “to get” and the “that” clause both go with “decided,” these two elements don’t match each other. You need two infinitives or two “that” clauses, not one of each. If you want to try out for the event, pick a way and reword this sentence now. Then go back to sentences you examined in earlier steps and make sure the elements are parallel with each other. Be sure to identify their parts of speech.
The final training step will test our writers’ parallelism skills by having them write normal, complex sentences. Then contestants will ensure that the sentences are parallel in both ways: elements are parallel with the base word and elements are parallel with each other. The catch is that this time our writers won’t repeat the base word. No soft pad under the parallel bars for them. They must stick the landing.
When writers get to Step 4, they’ve had so much practice matching base words to elements and matching elements with elements that they can easily spot an unparallel sentence: “The synchronized swimmers were agile, precise and eventually got used to their nose pinchers.” What? (Negative buzz sound.) Not parallel: adjective (“agile”), adjective (“precise”), adverb-verb (“eventually got”). The end of this sentence resembles a crash landing on the mat, not our goal: a graceful dismount. Rewrite it now. One way: “The synchronized swimmers, who were agile and precise, eventually got used to their nose pinchers.”
The U.S. Olympic Committee will soon begin screenings for the Synchronized Sentences event, so practice the four steps diligently. And rest assured: If you make the team, we won’t make you wear that pinched-nose thingy.
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Parallel constructions comprise similar word or phrase patterns.
e.g The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires. (William A. Ward) .
We see that the word "teacher" is repeated in every sentence. Besides, the verbs are used in the same tense form (Present Simple). These two factors (word repetition and tense coordination) make up for parallel structure / construction.
Efficient parallelism adds up rhythm and symmetry into the sentences as well as fills your writing with vigour. Parallel structures stress the similarity between several ideas.
Good parallel sentences are assets of any writing. Poor parallel sentences on the other hand only confuse your reader and inhibit understanding of your ideas. To make up a good parallel sentences observe the main rule of parallelism - grammatical elements of parallel construction must match. In faulty parallel sentences verb forms vary.
Compare: We can either stay here for a night or we're taking the first train to New York (poor parallel sentence, as the verb changes)
We can either stay here for a night or take the first train to New York. (Good - the verb tenses are coordinated).
Parallel sentences are especially efficient in thesis sentences. They allow you to integrate cohesively all the ideas of your argument:
"Because it humiliates children, it violates children's rights, and it causes children's violence, corporal punishment should not be used in schools."
The parallel construction makes your thesis clear and well-organized and it also shows the path to the three paragraphs you will be writing to back up your thesis.
You can use parallel structures with:
- Things in succession: We are bound by ideals that move us beyond our backgrounds, lift us above our interest, and teach us what it means to be citizens
- Paired items: Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.
- Balanced Sentences: The mistakes of the fool are known to the world, but not to himself. The mistakes of the wise man are known to himself, but not to the world.