Parallelism in English grammar (or parallel structure) is used in order to balance the sentences we write. If they are not balanced, they will lose coherency.

Take a look at this example. The problem words are in red.

Incorrect: I like walking, running, and to cycle.

Correct: I like walking, running, and cycling.

The first sentence has two gerunds and then a to infinitive. This does not look or sound right and so it can be made parallel by instead using three gerunds

You should always try to balance the grammatical structures of words, phrases, clauses or sentences in your writing. These structures will be connected with coordinating conjunctions or correlative conjunctions.

In this lesson we'll look at how to do that.

Parallel Words

To achieve parallelism with words, you should always try to balance adjectives with adjectives, nouns with nouns, verbs with verbs, and adverbs with adverbs.

Parallelism in relation to words, particularly when it is a least three words, often relates to items in a list or series, which will be joined by coordinating conjunctions (for, and, but, yet, so, or, nor) and correlative conjunctions (both/and; neither/nor). 

Phrases with Coordinating Conjunctions:

  • At the zoo you can see mammals, reptiles, birds, and insects
    (4 nouns)

  • I'm not sure if cycling or running is the best exercise for me
    (2 gerunds) 

  • You are not allowed to eat or drink at most libraries
    (2 infinitives)

  • Tonight I will study, eat, and then sleep
    (3 infinitives)

  • My house is colourful and bright 
    (2 adjectives)
  • He is tall, slim, and handsome 
    (3 adjectives)

  • She danced energetically and gracefully 
    (2 adverbs)

Phrases with Correlating Conjunctions:

  • Sarah feels neither happy nor sad 
    (2 adjectives)

  • At school I liked both art and history
    (2 nouns)

Parallel Phrases

Phrases also need to be balanced in your writing. These can be prepositional phrases, infinitive phrases, gerund phrases, verb phrases etc. They may be linked with coordinating or correlative conjunctions.

Phrases with Coordinating Conjunctions:

  • Tonight I will eat my dinner and then watch TV
    (2 verb phrases)

  • The boy climbed out the window, down the drainpipe, and onto the car roof 
    (3 prepositional phrases)

  • She decided to quit her job and move abroad
    (2 infinitive phrases)

Phrases with Correlating Conjunctions:

  • First thing in the morning he likes either doing yoga or walking around the park
    (2 gerund phrases)

  • He's not sure whether to buy a new car or to go away on holiday
    (2 infinitive phrases)

  • She is pleased not only by his attitude but also by his intelligence
    (2 prepositional phrases) 

Parallel Clauses

Parallelism also applies to noun, adjective and adverb clauses, which will again be joined with coordinating or correlative conjunctions.

Clauses with Coordinating Conjunctions:

  • I don't mind if he comes at 7pm or if he comes later  
    (2 adverbial clauses)

  • She is the kind of person who cares about others and who will help you out when needed 
    (2 relative)

  • Have you decided to find a new job because you dislike your old job or because you want a new challenge? 
    (2 adverbial clauses)

Clauses with Correlating Conjunctions:

  • She's interested in not where he bought the jacket but how he could afford it 
    (2 noun clauses)

  • They sacked him either because he was always late or because he was often rude to customers 
    (2 adverbial clauses)

  • Tom liked neither what John said nor the way that he said it 
    (2 noun clauses) 

Parallelism and Repetition

It is important to note that structures will still be parallel if some words are missing from the latter parts, as long as they are exactly the same as in the first parts. The parallelism is in effect starting in a different place and getting smaller.

Take a look at these parallel structure examples. The first one is the full parallel structure. In the others that follow, the second part has been reduced. Note that it is only identical words that can be taken out. 

Reducing the Parallel Structure

  • He's not sure whether to buy a new car or to go away on holiday
  • He's not sure whether to buy a new car or go away on holiday 

  • She is pleased not only by his attitude but also by his intelligence
  • She is pleased not only by his attitude but also his intelligence
  • I don't mind if he comes at 7pm or if he comes later. 
  • I don't mind if he comes at 7pm or he comes later
  • I don't mind if he comes at 7pm or comes later
  • I don't mind if he comes at 7pm or later.

  • Have you decided to find a new job because you dislike your old job or because you want a new challenge?
  • Have you decided to find a new job because you dislike your old job or you want a new challenge?
  • Have you decided to find a new job because you dislike your old job or want a new challenge?

Also, we would not include all words each time if it made the sentence too wordy. 

Reducing Wordiness

  • As an artist she enjoys painting beautiful scenery, painting interesting people, and painting ancient buildings (too wordy)

  • As an artist she enjoys painting beautiful scenery, interesting people, and ancient buildings (better)

View more Examples of Parallelism >>

Or test yourself in a Parallel Structure Quiz >>

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