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Error 9: Lack of Parallel Structure (//)

Parallelism means that items that form a pair (two items) or items that form a series (more than two items) have the same grammatical form (are worded the same way).

Lack of parallel structure occurs when parts of a sentence should be in parallel grammatical form (should be worded the same way) but are not.

  • Not parallel: Of all the sports I’ve played, I prefer golf, baseball, and playing tennis. (Golf and baseball are nouns, but playing tennis is a phrase, so the items are not parallel.)
  • Parallel: Of all the sports I’ve played, I prefer golf, baseball, and tennis. (The three words golf, baseball, and tennis are nouns, so they are parallel.)
  • Not parallel: She is an excellent choice for supervisor because she works hard, she keeps calm, and is respected. (She works hard and she keeps calm are sentences, but is respected is not a sentence.)
  • Parallel: She is an excellent choice for supervisor because she works hard, she keeps calm, and she is respected. (The three items in the list are parallel because they are all sentences.)
  • Not parallel: Three ways to meet new people are to take a class, join a club, and to play a sport. (To is used before the first and third phrases but is not used before the second phrase.)
  • Parallel: Three ways to meet new people are to take a class, to join a club, and to play a sport. (To is repeated in each phrase.)
  • Parallel: Three ways to meet new people are to take a class, join a club, and play a sport. (To is used only before the first phrase.)

Checking for Lack of Parallel Structure

Here are some situations in which parallelism should be observed:

1. Use parallelism for elements linked by coordinating conjunctions. In the examples below, the parallel elements are italicized, and the coordinating conjunctions are boldfaced.

  • The industrial base was shifting and shrinking.
  • Politicians rarely acknowledged problems or proposed alternatives.
  • Industrial workers were understandably upset that they were losing their jobs but that no one seemed to care.
  • The four-hour flight was successful because the pilot was very fit, he flew straight over the water, and he kept the aircraft near the water’s surface.

2. Use parallelism for elements linked by (two-word) correlative conjunctions.

In the following example, the parallel elements are italicized, and the correlative conjunctions are boldfaced.

  • This is not only difficult to do but also difficult to say.
  • Either give me liberty or give me death.

3. Use parallelism for elements being compared or contrasted.

  • It is better to live rich than to die rich.
  • Pedal power rather than horsepower propelled the plane.

Exercise

Please print this exercise, mark the correct answers, and check your work against the version with answers.

Exercise on Parallel Structure

Exercise on Parallel Structure with Answers

 

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