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. Failure to express such items in similar grammatical form is called faulty parallelism.
Linguist Katy Carlson points to several studies that demonstrate how parallelism is helpful to readers "in that the second conjunct is easier to process if it is parallel to the first in some way" (Parallelism and Prosody in the Processing of Ellipsis Sentences, 2002). See Examples and Observations, below.
- Editing Exercise: Faulty Parallelism
- Sentence Completion Exercise: Parallelism
- Balanced Sentence
- Correlative Conjunction
- Dirimens Copulatio
- Paired Construction
- The Inaugural Address of John F. Kennedy
- "Of Studies," by Francis Bacon
- "On Studies," by Samuel Johnson
Etymology:From the Greek, "beside one another"
Examples and Observations:
- "When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative."
(Martin Luther King, Jr., Why We Can't Wait. Signet, 1964)
- "Buy a bucket of chicken and have a barrel of fun."
(slogan of Kentucky Fried Chicken)
- "We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us."
(Henry David Thoreau, Walden, 1854)
- "The loss we felt was not the loss of ham but the loss of pig."
(E. B. White, "Death of a Pig." The Atlantic, January 1948)
- "Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal."
(T.S. Eliot, "Philip Massinger," 1920)
- "It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailer as well; to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you; to teach that reconciliation is not a matter of ignoring a cruel past, but a means of confronting it with inclusion and generosity and truth. He changed laws, but he also changed hearts."
(President Barack Obama, speech at the memorial service for former South African president Nelson Mandela, December 10, 2013)
- "After a few miles, we drove off a cliff.
"It wasn’t a big cliff. It was only about four feet high. But it was enough to blow out the front tire, knock off the back bumper, break Dad’s glasses, make Aunt Edythe spit out her false teeth, spill a jug of Kool-Aid, bump Missy’s head, spread the Auto Bingo pieces all over, and make Mark do number two."
(John Hughes, "Vacation '58." National Lampoon, 1980)
- "New roads; new ruts."
(attributed to G. K. Chesterton. New Society, 1986)
- "He's quite a man with the girls. They say he's closed the eyes of many a man and opened the eyes of many a woman."
(Telegraph operator to Penny Worth in Angel and the Badman, 1947)
- "They are laughing at me, not with me."
(Bart Simpson, The Simpsons)
- "Voltaire could both lick boots and put the boot in. He was at once opportunist and courageous, cunning and sincere. He managed, with disconcerting ease, to reconcile love of freedom with love of hours."
(attributed to Dominique Eddé, source unknown)
- "Truth is not a diet but a condiment."
(attributed to Christopher Morley, source unknown)
- "Some of the people said that the elephant had gone in one direction, some said that he had gone in another, some professed not even to have heard of any elephant."
(George Orwell, "Shooting An Elephant." New Writing, 1936)
- "Our transportation crisis will be solved by a bigger plane or a wider road, mental illness with a pill, poverty with a law, slums with a bulldozer, urban conflict with a gas, racism with a goodwill gesture."
(Philip Slater, The Pursuit of Loneliness. Houghton Mifflin, 1971)
- "Unlike novelists and playwrights, who lurk behind the scenes while distracting our attention with the puppet show of imaginary characters, unlike scholars and journalists, who quote the opinions of others and shelter behind the hedges of neutrality, the essayist has nowhere to hide."
(Scott Russell Sanders, "The Singular First Person." The Sewanee Review, Fall 1998)
- "O well for the fisherman's boy,
That he shouts with his sister at play!
O well for the sailor lad,
That he sings in his boat on the bay!"
(Alfred Lord Tennyson, "Break, Break, Break," 1842)
- "[Today's students] can put dope in their veins or hope in their brains. . . . If they can conceive it and believe it, they can achieve it. They must know it is not their aptitude but their attitude that will determine their altitude."
(Rev. Jesse Jackson, quoted by Ashton Applewhite et al. in And I Quote, rev. ed. Thomas Dunne, 2003)
- Effects Created by Parallelism
"[T]he value of parallel structure goes beyond aesthetics. . . . It points up the structure of the sentence, showing readers what goes with what and keeping them on the right track."
(Claire K. Cook, Line by Line. Houghton Mifflin, 1985)
"Parallelism has the potential to create rhythm, emphasis and drama as it clearly presents ideas or action. Consider this long, graceful (and witty) sentence that begins a magazine article on sneakers:
A long time ago--before sneaker companies had the marketing clout to spend millions of dollars sponsoring telecasts of the Super Bowl; before street gangs identified themselves by the color of their Adidas; before North Carolina State's basketball players found they could raise a little extra cash by selling the freebie Nikes off their feet; and before a sneaker's very sole had been gelatinized, Energaired, Hexalited, torsioned and injected with pressurized gas--sneakers were, well, sneakers.First note the obvious parallelism of four clauses beginning with the word before and proceeding with similar grammatical patterns. Then note the parallel list of sneaker attributes: gelatinized, Energaired and so on. This is writing with pizzazz. It moves. It almost makes you interested in sneakers! Of course you noticed the nice bit of word play--the sneaker's very sole."
[E.M. Swift, "Farewell, My Lovely." Sports Illustrated, February 19, 1990]
(Lauren Kessler and Duncan McDonald, When Words Collide: A Media Writer's Guide to Grammar and Style, 7th ed. Thomson Learning, 2008)