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What Is Parallel Structure in Writing?

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Parallel structure refers to words, phrases, or clauses in a sentence that are similar in grammatical form. Parallel structure improves readability, so it’s a good idea to include it in your writing.

White text over purple background reads "parallel structure." (Parallel structure definition)
Using parallel structure in your writing can improve readability.

Parallel structure in writing refers to using words, phrases, or clauses that are similar or identical in form, structure, or sound. Not only does it improve readability, but also shows that two or more ideas are equal in importance.

Parallel: I love singing, dancing, and painting.

Not parallel: I love singing, dancing, and to paint.

The human brain appreciates patterns. In fact, it craves it. That’s why including parallel structures in your writing significantly enhances your text. You may be wondering what exactly is a parallel structure, and how can you include it in your writing? Below, we’ll provide answers and examples.


What Is Parallel Structure?

Parallel structure—also known as parallelism or parallel construction—refers to a balance (or pattern) within elements of a sentence, like part of speech and verb tense. In other words, when writing a sentence, particularly one with some sort of list, the words, phrases, or clauses should be similar to one another. Parallel structures make your sentence easier to read, and also shows that every listed word or idea is equally important.

When writing parallel structures, the rule of thumb is that nouns should be listed with other nouns, verbs with other verbs, and so on and so forth. Let’s review the following example:

We were instructed to enter the exam room swiftly, quietly, and in a careful manner.

The sentence above is not parallel because the phrase “in a careful manner” is preceded by two adverbs. To make it parallel, you would just have to convert the last element of the list into an adverb.

We were instructed to enter the room swiftly, quietly, and carefully.

Similarly, if a parallel construction begins with a clause, it must only include similar clauses.

My guidance counselor suggested that I should get some rest, that I should eat well, and to do some breathing exercises before the exam.

In the sentence above, “to do some breathing exercises” breaks the previously set pattern.

My guidance counselor suggested that I should get some rest, that I should eat well, and that I should do some breathing exercises before the exam.

My guidance counselor suggested that I get enough rest, eat well, and do some breathing exercises before the exam.

Additionally, if you start a parallel structure with an active voice, do not switch to the passive voice.

Lawrence asked if the students will attend the event, if they will have to buy tickets, and if transportation would be provided to the students.

Lawrence asked if the students will attend the event, if they will have to buy tickets, and if there will be any transportation.


Parallel Structure Examples

Parallel structures are often used as a rhetorical device. It’s just one of the many writing hacks you can use to strengthen your text. Below you’ll find famous examples of sayings and proverbs that employ parallel structure:

Easy come, easy go.
No pain, no gain.
You win some, you lose some.

The patterns in these sayings are easy to detect. Take the last example; it wouldn’t roll off the tongue as easily if it read “you win some, sometimes you lose.


Parallel Structure in Writing

Remember, when using parallel structures in writing, consistency is key. Once you start a list, stick to the same elements. This makes your text cohesive, and therefore easy to process and understand. Here’s one last example of parallel structure in writing:

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