Parallelism Definition and Examples
Parallelism can be best defined as ensuring that each part of the sentence is constructed the same way. For example, “I have a car, truck, and motorcycle.” While this sentence may seem correct, it is not. Because the first item in the list is a car, each item must have an article. So the corrected sentence would be, “I have a car, a truck, and a motorcycle.”
Parallelism means writing with a parallel structure. That means all nouns, verbs, and phrases should have the same structure. Let’s look at some examples to see what that means. Example one: “John runs fast and plays hard.” There, we have multiple verbs, “runs” and “plays”, so they should be parallel. They should have the same structure. Both “runs” and “plays” are simple, third-person, present tense verbs.
They are simple verbs. They don’t have any suffixes. They’re third person. We’re talking about John. You’re not saying that “I” did this, you’re saying that John did this, talking about someone else. It’s present tense. He’s running and playing right now. He runs and plays in the present. They agree. Both “runs” and “plays” are simple, third-person, present tense verbs. They have parallel structure. This one is good.
Let’s look at example 2: “My hobbies are playing the piano, running marathons, and reading books.” We have three phrases there, but they all start with verbs. Let’s look at this: Playing the piano, running marathons, reading books. This sentence also has correct verb structure. “Playing”, “running”, and “reading” are all present tense, and they all have -ing as the suffix for them. If this sentence didn’t have parallel verb structure, it would seem awkward and disjointed.
Think about it if it said, “My hobbies are playing the piano, run marathons, and read books.” It wouldn’t make sense, because you’ve got one with -ing, one that’s present tense, and one that past tense. They all have to agree. They all have to have the same structure. They need to be the same tense, need to have the same suffix, or all not have a suffix.
All these things are important whenever you’re writing a sentence that is more complex than just something with one noun and one verb. If you have multiple nouns, verbs, or phrases, you need to make sure they have parallel structure. Again, this is good, but if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t sound very good. It would sound awkward and disjointed.
Let’s look at example 3: “When we went to the beach, we spent the whole day swimming in the water, building sand castles, and we took walks on the beach.” This one was another one with three verb phrases. “When we went to the beach, we spent the whole day swimming in the water, building sand castles, and we took walks along the beach.” “Swimming” and “building” are both present tense with -ing endings, but “took” is past tense.
It does not have the -ing, and it makes our sentence sound disjointed. This one needs to be revised. Let’s talk about some ways we can do that. We already have “swimming” and “building”, so we could make that last phrase agree with the first one. If we do that, we could say, “We spent the whole day swimming in the water, building sand castles, and taking walks along the beach.” That is one correct way to fix this.
That isn’t the only way. Let’s look at another way. Whenever you’re trying to find parallel structure, you don’t necessarily have to make it all match the first verb that you come to or the first noun that you come to. You just have to make them all have the same structure. If we took them all out and we came up with a different way, we could say, “When we went to the beach-” We’re going to take out even more of it to make this one make sense.
“When we went to the beach, we swam in the water, built sandcastles, and took walks along the beach.” In this one, instead of leaving the first two in the present tense with the -ing suffix, we changed them all to match that last verb, which was past tense. We took out having “we” here, because we already had “we” at the beginning. We didn’t need to keep repeating “we”. We could just make the phrases go after it and have parallel structure so that they made sense.
Another way to fix the sentence was to say, “When we went to the beach, we swam in the water, built sand castles, and took walks along the beach.” We changed them all to past tense and now they match and have a parallel structure. Now we’ve revised it and it’s good. Whenever you’re writing, make sure that your writing has parallelism. You want to make sure that all the nouns, verbs, or phrases have the same structure so that your writing makes sense and doesn’t sound awkward or disjointed.