Parallel Structure vs. Faulty Parallelism

Jerz > Writing > Grammar and Syntax

Good writing employs parallel grammatical structure.

to explore strange, new worlds; to seek out new life and new civilizations; and so that we can boldly go where no man has gone before.
(This passage exhibits faulty parallelism; the items in the list do not follow the same grammatical pattern.)
to explore strange new worlds; to seek out new life and new civilizations; to boldly go where no man has gone before.
(This example shows parallel structure — but the passage could use attention for a few other reasons, such as the split infinitive and lack of gender-neutral language.)

 

Parallel Lines IllusionA list is more legible (and more useful) when all the items follow the same grammatical pattern.

No I like to run in the park, sleeping late, and it’s also fun to make home videos.
I like running in the park, sleeping late, and making home videos.
It’s fun to run in the park, sleep late, and make home videos.
(Presumably not all at once…. “or” might be a better conjunction.)

 

Parallel structure is extremely important in bulleted lists, such as one finds in resumes.

No
  • Responsible for editing copy
  • Supervised layout
  • Three years experience as a news writer.
(In the above example, the grammar is not parallel.)
Maybe
  • Edited copy
  • Supervised layout
  • Spent three years writing news.
(Now the items in the list are grammatically parallel, but the verbs “edited” and “supervised” are both meaningful words, while the verb “spent” does not tell us anything about the author’s experience.)
Maybe
  • Edited copy
  • Supervised layout
  • Wrote news for three years.
(Better… but now the information is not parallel. Why are we told the number of years for one item, but not for all three?)
Maybe
  • Edited copy (one year)
  • Supervised layout (two years)
  • Wrote news (three years).
(Better, but not perfect. [Cue the Sesame Street "One of these things is not like the other" music.] A person who claims to have editing experience should have spotted the problem already!)
  • Edited copy (one year)
  • Supervised layout (two years)
  • Wrote news (three years)
(This list is not a sentence, so I removed the final period.  Now all the items look the same.)
I have experience

  • editing copy (one year),
  • supervising layout (two years) and
  • writing news (three years).
(Here is another revision option. Note the absence of the colon, and the presence of the comma and the conjunction; this is simply an ordinary sentence, broken up for visibility.)

 

More on parallel structure:

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