Parallel lines are lines that are side by side—they balance each other in form. Parallel form in writing means that expressions that are of similar function or content should balance each other also. They should have the same pattern of words or form to show that they have equal importance. Using parallel form or construction lets your reader see the connection between those words, phrases, and clauses. It also gives a pleasing rhythm to your writing and marks you as one who knows how to use the language to your advantage. Readers may not know that you are using parallel construction, but they will know that your sentences just seem “right.”
- Andrew washed the dishes, swept the floor, and cleaning the refrigerator.
In this sentence, the first two tasks in the series are in the past tense (washed, swept), but the last task there is a different form of verb. The sentence should read: Andrew washed the dishes, swept the floor, and cleaned the refrigerator.
- In class, CC taught us how to pronounce words, idioms, corrected our spelling, and informal usage.
Notice the series of things CC taught: “how to pronounce” is an infinitive, “idioms and usage” are nouns, and “corrected” is a past-tense verb. This sentence is not a parallel construction! In order to correct it, you should have all items in the series in the same form.
Infinitives: In class, CC taught us how to pronounce words, how to recognize idioms, how to spell correctly, and how to speak using informal usage. (It is perfectly correct to omit the words how to after the first example. Just remember, that these words are then "understood" by the reader or listener. Use the how to in front of just the first thing in the series, or in front of all of them. Don't skip around.) Or you might be able to change the infinitives to nouns as shown below:
Nouns: In class, CC taught us pronunciation, idioms, spelling, and informal usage.
· Hank’s website is noticeable because it is colorful, full of information, and he added many elements to it.
A series is not parallel when it contains dissimilar elements. This sentence joins two complements--colorful and full of information--and an independent clause. The items in this series must match—be parallel.
· Hank’s website is noticeable because it is colorful, informational, and varied. (We changed all the elements to complements.)
· Hank's website is noticeable because of its use of color, amount of information, and variety of elements. (We put all the elements in prepositional phrases.)
· His reasons for refusing are: first, the salary is too low; second, that the hours are too long; third, the work is too hard.
Did you see the that in the second reason? The "that clause" should be used consistently with the items in this series. Remember, a series can be made with phrases or clauses, not just individual words. Also notice that a semicolon is used to separate the items in the series. This is because the phrases each contain a comma already; using another comma to separate the clauses would be too confusing.
· His reasons for refusing are: first, that the salary is too low; second, that the hours are too long; and third, that the work is too hard.
Or you may do it this way:
· His reasons for refusing are: first, the salary is too low; second, the hours are too long; and third, the work is too hard.