ECHO: Parallel Construction
Parallel construction (parallelism) is the use of similar grammatical elements within sentences. Elements sharing the same function within a sentence should also share the same grammatical form. Just as the top and bottom lines in an = sign share the same form and function, so too should closely related elements in your writing.
Effective use of parallelism can add unity, force, clarity and balance to your writing. Be aware, however, that all words, phrases and clauses used in parallel structure must share the same grammatical form.
|INCORRECT (FAULTY) PARALLELISM||CORRECT PARALLEL STRUCTURE|
|Jogging, a well-balanced diet, and exercise all contribute toward a healthy body.||Jogging, eating a well-balanced diet, and exercising all contribute toward a healthy body.|
|The victims of the disease have sore throats, a fever and their head aches.||The victims of the disease have sore throats, fevers, and head aches.|
|NON-PARALLEL FORM||PARALLEL FORM|
|Return to your homes in Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, and the northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.||Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettoes of the northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. --M.L. King, Jr. "I Have A Dream"|
|Do not ask what your country can do for you; ask yourself what can you do for your country.||Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country. --John F. Kennedy|
Notice how much stronger and more vibrant the language becomes with proper, effective use of parallelism.
Effective use of parallelism
- Use the rhythm of parallel phrases and clauses for impact. The deliberate use of word forms, word groups, and sounds can create a rhythm underlining the message the sentence delivers. Look again at the excerpt from M.L. King, Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech. The deliberate use of "go back to" within each phrase creates a rhythm, drawing the reader's (or listener's) attention forward.
- Arrange parallel elements from least to most important. Elements arranged in order from the least to the most important are arranged in climactic order--the order builds to a climax. "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time" (Abraham Lincoln). This quote builds, one thought upon another, from the use of the phrases "some . . . all" and "all . . . some" to "all . . . all."
- Use parallel forms in balanced sentences. Balanced sentences use parallel structure to enhance the message of compared or contrasted ideas. Look again at the quote by J.F.K. Notice how—like a set of scales—the sentence is balanced equally to either side of the comma; the same or similar words (your country can do . . . you can do . . .) are used to express compared ideas.
- Repeat key words to begin parallel elements. Sometimes it is possible to enhance the effect of parallelism or make parallel structures clearly stand out through the repetition of certain words used to begin parallel phrases. Such words include (but are not limited to) prepositions, articles (a, an, the) and the to form of the verb (infinitive). Look at M.L. King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech to see how he made use of repetition.
|instead of this
I like to run, sing and dance.
I like to run, to sing, and to dance.
, keep in mind that continual use of repetition can create dull prose. If this technique is to work, the repetition must be mixed with a variety of word choices and sentence patterns. **