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Parallel Form

What it is

Parallel form is nothing more than making sure that sentences are written with balance and flow: nouns parallel nouns, verbs parallel verbs, adjectives parallel adjectives, etc.

Parallel form is nothing more than making sure that sentences are written with balance and flow. By definition, parallel form or parallelism is a balance of two or more similar words, phrases or clauses. Parallel form shows that two or more ideas are equally important by stating them in grammatically parallel form: noun lined up with noun, verb with verb, adjective with adjective and clause with clause. 

Noun Scale

Example One

Let’s take a look at an example of a sentence that is not in parallel form: 

Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and a smart person. 

Which part of the sentence does not seem to fit? Does any particular phrase stick out compared with the rest of the sentence? 

Let’s take a look at the same sentence but in a different format. What if the items were put in a bulleted list? There appears to be a pattern or certain flow with the listed items. Can you identify the word or phrase that does not belong or follow the pattern?

Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man:

  • healthy,
  • wealthy, and
  • a smart person.

Scale Adj vs Noun 1

Looking at the sentence in this way, it is clear to see that the phrase a smart person does not match the same format as the other words.  Healthy and wealthy are both adjectives, while a smart person is a noun phrase.  As the scale shows, the sentence is not parallel. In other words, the sentence is not balanced, because it lists adjectives with a noun phrase. Looking at it another way, you are talking about a healthy man, a wealthy man and a smart person man.  That last phrase, a smart person man, just does not quite make sense.  In order for the sentence to follow the same pattern with healthy and wealthy as adjectives, make the noun phrase an adjective. The corrected sentence in parallel form would read:

Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.

Wise is an adjective that replaces the noun phrase a smart person.  In the last part of the sentence, adjectives parallel adjectives: healthy, wealthy and wise.

Example Two

Let’s take a look at another example. What if General Caesar reported the following message to Rome? Look at his message in a bulleted list like the previous example.

  • I came.
  • I saw.
  • I am a conqueror.

Scale verb vs noun

Which of the items listed is not parallel with the rest of the items? If you answered the last phrase, I am a conqueror, you are correct; it is not parallel with the other phrases. The phrase, I am a conqueror, is a sentence with a noun in the predicate. The other phrases start with I and then end with a verb in past tense, came and saw. Parallel form requires that sentences be written with balance and flow. In this case, since the first two sentences start with I and end with a verb, the third sentence should also start with I and end with a verb. Good thing Caesar understood the power of parallel form. His message actually said: I came. I saw. I conquered.  Unfortunately, Caesar’s good writing skills would not save him from the Ides of March!  “Et tu, Brute?”

Example Three

No doubt you are getting the hang of this. Let’s take a look at one more example and see if you can identify the error with parallel form. 

The new course is challenging and an inspiration. 

Perhaps looking at the sentence as a bulleted list will help identify the error in the sentence:

The new course is:

  • challenging and
  • an inspiration.

Scale Adj vs Noun 2

Why is the sentence not in parallel form? What is wrong with challenging and an inspiration? Challenging is an adjective, and inspiration is a noun.  The sentence presents the following thoughts:  a challenging course and an inspiration course.  As you may have noticed, inspiration is not in correct adjective form to describe the course. Therefore, the sentence is not parallel or balanced. Remember that parallel form calls for adjectives to parallel adjectives and nouns to parallel nouns.  In other words, the items listed need to follow the same pattern. Either the items listed need to be both nouns or both adjectives. 

Let’s see how the sentence looks corrected first with adjectives:

The new course is challenging and inspiring.

Both challenging and inspiring are adjectives. The sentence is in parallel form.

Now let’s see how the sentence looks corrected with nouns:

The new course is a challenge and an inspiration.

Both challenge and inspiration are nouns. The sentence is in parallel form.

Now that we have gone over the basics of parallel form and reviewed several examples of incorrect parallel form, let’s practice identifying the pattern in parallel structure. Click Next to move on to the practice exercises.

Before moving on, take note:  Parallel form ensures sentences are written with balance and flow: nouns parallel nouns, verbs parallel verbs, adjectives parallel adjectives, etc.


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