Posted On November 20, 2017 by Print This Post

Parallel Structure and Parallelism by Nan Reinhardt

Read through this great post by Nan Reinhardt – it will make all the difference in your writing AND your reading from here on out!

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Editor Nan here and today we’re going to talk about parallel structure, which isn’t nearly as daunting as it sounds. However, there is a difference between grammatical parallel structure and literary parallelism. So grab your beverage of choice and we’ll get started.

First, let’s talk about grammatical parallel structure. Parallel structure is making compared ideas or items in a sentence follow the same grammatical pattern. We’ve all seen sentences like this one:

Pete enjoys swimming, riding his bike, and a gourmet meal.

So what’s wrong with that sentence? We learned several things that Pete likes, right? Nope, we learned two things that Pete likes to do and one thing that Pete likes. So what’s the diff? Why is that a problem? Well, it’s not a problem like nuclear war or a tsunami, but it is grammatically not parallel and that’s a problem if you want your writing to be taken seriously by editors and savvy readers. One word will fix this sentence. Can you guess what that word is?

If you said “eating,” you’re absolutely right. So now the sentence reads:

Pete enjoys swimming, riding his bike, and eating a gourmet meal.

Want to try another one? Let’s do. How about:

My husband went shopping and to the track.

So, we get it—we know what happened here. But grammatically, this sentence is not parallel in structure. How do we fix it? Like this:

               My husband went to the store and to the track.

Or we could say:

               My husband went shopping and gambling.

One more. This one’s kinda fun:

In a kitchen, you find the following things: a sink, a refrigerator, and cooking at a stove.

Can you fix it? Go on, give it a try:

In a kitchen, you find the following things: a sink, a refrigerator, and a stove.

See? Not so scary. Just remember to look for “or” or “and” in your writing and make sure that the elements in your sentence are in the same form. Try checking for the sounds of the words you’re listing or comparing. For example, in the first sample sentence, Pete’s list of hobbies sounds discordant because they don’t all end in “ing.” And hey, if you’re comparing or listing a series of three or more items, please remember that Oxford comma—it’s critical.

Okay, warm up your coffee or tea and then we’ll tackle literary parallelism. It’s not all that intimidating really because you already get the concept of parallel structure.

You’re back? Great. So, parallelism is a literary device in which sentences or even just phrases are similar in construction. It works really effectively to add balance and rhythm to your writing. Examples of parallelism can be found all over the place in literature. Consider Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, where he repeated “I have a dream” each time he spoke of what he wanted for the future for his children. That was parallelism.

A quick-and-dirty example might be, “I came, I saw, I conquered.”

Parallelism. Cool, huh?

The first paragraph of Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities: is a great example of a form of literary parallelism called antithesis—when two opposite ideas are put together to make a point:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”

Poets use parallelism a lot. Take Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem “How Do I Love Thee?”:

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height

My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight

For the ends of being and ideal grace.

I love thee to the level of every day’s

Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.

Beginning each thought with “I love thee” answers the question “How do I love thee?” very effectively, don’t you think?

See? Two cups of coffee and you’ve totally got a handle on parallel structure and literary parallelism. I promise, from now on, when you read, you’ll be looking for it.

***

OK, RU Writers – how do you use parallelism and parallel structure? Or have you learned something new today?

***

Bio: Nan Reinhardt has been a copyeditor and proofreader for over 25 years, and currently works on romantic fiction titles for a variety of clients, including Avon Books, St. Martin’s Press, Kensington Books, Tule Publishing, and Entangled Publishing, as well as for many indie authors.

Nan is also writer of romantic fiction for women in their prime. Yeah, women still fall in love and have sex, even after 45! Imagine! She is a wife, a mom, a mother-in-law, and a grandmother. She’s been an antiques dealer, a bank teller, a stay-at-home mom, a secretary, and for the last 21 years, she’s earned her living as a freelance copyeditor and proofreader.

But writing is Nan’s first and most enduring passion. She can’t remember a time in her life when she wasn’t writing—she wrote her first romance novel at the age of ten, a love story between the most sophisticated person she knew at the time, her older sister (who was in high school and had a driver’s license!), and a member of Herman’s Hermits. If you remember who they are, you are Nan’s audience! She’s still writing romance, but now from the viewpoint of a wiser, slightly rumpled, menopausal woman who believes that love never ages, women only grow more interesting, and everybody needs a little sexy romance.

Visit Nan’s website at www.nanreinhardt.com, where you’ll find links to all her books as well as blogs about writing, being a Baby Boomer, and aging gracefully…mostly. Nan also blogs every Tuesday at Word Wranglers, sharing the spotlight with four other romance authors.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authornanreinhardt

Twitter: @NanReinhardt

Talk to Nan at: nan@nanreinhardt.com

The Women of Willow Bay:

Carrie, whose life is turned upside down when the man she never got over suddenly reappears.

Julie, a widow who is learning to rebuild her life with the help of a sexy younger man.

Sophie, a freelance editor who discovers that friends also make great lovers…

And coming September 26, 2017:

Sarah, a victim of domestic abuse, who finds a safe haven in the arms of Willow Bay’s deputy sheriff.

Talk to Nan at: nan@nanreinhardt.com

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10 Responses to “Parallel Structure and Parallelism by Nan Reinhardt”

  1. This was interesting because even though I use it, I didn’t know what it was! 🙂

    Posted by Liz Flaherty | November 20, 2017, 8:11 am
  2. Morning Nan..

    I agree with Liz…I use it unconsciously (and sometimes incorrectly I see now!) but I didn’t know what it was.

    Thanks for clearing up why sometimes it just didn’t work!

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Peters | November 20, 2017, 8:28 am
  3. I really appreciate this post. As a writer, I love using literary parallelism. As an editor, I’m often fixing parallel structure. It’s nice to see both explained here.

    Posted by Staci Troilo | November 20, 2017, 9:50 am
    • Thanks, Staci–yes, as editors, we do get to fix this often, so I’m hoping this really basic explanation will help writers get the idea. Literary parallelism was fun to research because there are some stellar examples out there.

      Posted by Nan | November 20, 2017, 2:09 pm
  4. I have a doubt, in the second example you said that it could be fixed by saying “My husband went to the store and to the track.”, but as far as I understand that is wrong, since in the original sentence, it is stated that he went to the store to BUY something (shopping), which is not the same thing as simply going to the store, to which I can go but NOT necessarily buy something; same is true to going to the track; I can go but not necessarily gamble.

    Is it possible for you to clarify this for me, please?

    Posted by Enrique Morineau | November 20, 2017, 3:53 pm
    • Interesting take on this, Enrique. I’d say that perhaps it doesn’t matter to the parallel structure what the motivation is behind going to the store or the track. The point is making the sentence parallel by saying either that he is going to the store and to the track, or that he’s going to be shopping and gambling. Either way, we’re parallel and that’s the point of the exercise. Make sense?

      Posted by Nan | November 21, 2017, 11:33 am
  5. Great post. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I see it now. And I also see where I’ve made some mistakes. Thank you!

    Posted by Mercy | November 21, 2017, 7:31 am

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