The UVic Writer's Guide


The ability to write a good parallel sentence is invaluable in essay work. Faulty parallelism, on the other hand, produces an effect in your reader similar to changing gears without using the clutch. A successful parallel sentence reads smoothly, while a faulty parallel sentence lurches awkwardly.

The previous sentence is an example of good parallelism because it obeys the technique's central rule: The grammatical elements of parallel clauses must match. The following sentence is an example of poor parallelism because the verb form changes:

This is a debate begun in Greece and which continues into modern times.

Begun is a participial adjective while continues is an active verb. The sentence should read:

This debate began in Greece and continues into modern times.

The rule applies not only to verbs but also to nouns, adjectives, adverbs and other parts of speech. In the following sentence, for example, a noun has been mixed with a pair of verbal nouns (gerunds):

I acquired my considerable fortune by investing carefully, hard work and marrying a rich woman.

The sentence should read:

I acquired my considerable fortune by investing carefully, working hard and marrying a rich woman.

Watch for grammatical signposts that point to the need for careful parallel constructions.

Parallelism is especially effective for thesis sentences, because you can incorporate all the sections of your argument in a unified manner:

"Because they are dangerous for children, they stick to carpets, and they are expensive to produce, Slime Balls should be banned from toy stores."

The parallel structure provides a clarity and balance which sharpens your thesis; in this instance the parallels also point the way to the three paragraphs you will be writing to support the thesis.

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Copyright, The Department of English, University of Victoria, 1995
This page updated September 21, 1995