Text: Parallel Structure

What exactly is parallel structure? It’s simply the practice of using the same structures or forms multiple times: making sure the parts are parallel to each other. Parallel structure can be applied to a single sentence, a paragraph, or even multiple paragraphs. Compare the two following sentences:

  • Yara loves running, to swim, and biking.
  • Yara loves running, swimming, and biking.

Was the second sentence easier to comprehend than the first? The second sentence uses parallelism—all three verbs are gerunds, whereas in the first sentence two are gerunds and one is an infinitive. While the first sentence is technically correct, it’s easy to trip up over the mismatching items. The application of parallelism improves writing style and readability, and it makes sentences easier to process.

Compare the following examples:

  • Lacking parallelism: “She likes cooking, jogging, and to read.”
    • Parallel: “She likes cooking, jogging, and reading.”
    • Parallel: “She likes to cook, jog, and read.”
  • Lacking parallelism: “He likes to swim and running.”
    • Parallel: “He likes to swim and to run.”
    • Parallel: “He likes swimming and running.”

Once again, the examples above combine gerunds and infinitives. To make them parallel, the sentences should be rewritten with just gerunds or just infinitives. Note that the first nonparallel example, while inelegantly worded, is grammatically correct: “cooking,” “jogging,” and “to read” are all grammatically valid conclusions to “She likes.”

  • Lacking parallelism: “The dog ran across the yard, jumped over the fence, and down the alley sprinted.”
  • Grammatical but not employing parallelism: “The dog ran across the yard and jumped over the fence, and down the alley he sprinted.”
  • Parallel: “The dog ran across the yard, jumped over the fence, and sprinted down the alley.”

The nonparallel example above is not grammatically correct: “down the alley sprinted” is not a grammatically valid conclusion to “The dog.” The second example, which does not attempt to employ parallelism in its conclusion, is grammatically valid; “down the alley he sprinted” is an entirely separate clause.


Which of the following sentences correctly employ parallelism?

  1. Kya is really good at writing poems and a good dancer.
  2. Don’t forget to let the dog out or to feed the cats.
  3. Whenever he drives, Reza pays attention to what he’s doing and is watching the drivers around him.

Rhetoric and Parallelism

Parallelism can also involve repeated words or repeated phrases. These uses are part of “rhetoric” (a field that focuses on persuading readers) Here are a few examples of repetition:

  • The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.” —Winston Churchill
  • “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” —John F. Kennedy
  • “And that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” —Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address

When used this way, parallelism makes your writing or speaking much stronger. These repeated phrases seem to bind the work together and make it more powerful—and more inspiring.