Using Parallelism in Writing

A tutorial on how to use parallelism in you writing effectively and how to revise faulty parallelism

Using parallelism means using matching words, phrases or clauses or sentences to express equivalent ideas. The reason for using parallelism is that it adds unity, balance and force to your writing.  On the contrary, when your writing lacks parallel structures, your writing style may seem awkward, which, in turn, could obscure the meaning of what you are trying to express. In other words, lack of parallelism could create confusion.

Using Parallelism Effectively

Parallelism emphasizes the relationships between equivalent ideas because it highlights the correspondence between:

  • Items in a series
  • Paired items
  • Elements in lists and outlines

Items in a series

When presenting items in a series, you should present them in parallel form. Like in these examples:

Baby food consumption, toy production, and school construction are likely to decline as the population of the Netherlands grows older.

Three factors influenced his decision to seek new employment: his desire to relocate, his need for greater responsibility, and his dissatisfaction with his current job.

Paired Items

Paired points or ideas should also be presented in parallel form because it emphasizes their equivalence and connects the two ideas. Here are two examples:

Roosevelt represented the United States, and Churchill represented Great Britain.

Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.

Items linked by correlating conjunctions (such as not only/but also, both/and, either/or and neither/nor should also be parallel.

The design team paid close attention not only to color, but also to texture.

Thirdly, parallelism highlights the contrast between paired elements linked by than or as, like here:

Success is as much a matter of hard work as a matter of luck.

Items in a list

You should also  present Items in a list in parallel form, like in this example:

The Irish potato famine had four major causes:

  1. The establishment of the landlord-tenant system
  2. The failure of the potato crop
  3. The inadequate financial support by England
  4. The passage of the corn laws

Revising Faulty parallelism

Faulty parallelism occurs when equivalent ideas in a sentence are not presented in parallel form, like in for instance:

Many people in developing countries suffer because the countries lack sufficient housing to accommodate them, sufficient food to feed them, and their healthcare facilities are inadequate.

After revision, this sentence could look like this:

Many people in developing countries suffer because the countries lack sufficient housing to accommodate them, sufficient food to feed them, and sufficient health-care facilities to serve them.

Faulty parallelism when pairing items can be revised by making sure you use matching elements. This means that you have to pair nouns with nouns, verbs with verbs, and phrases and clauses with similarly constructed phrases and clauses.

The following is a sentence with paired elements that should be revised:

Faulty:

Popular exercises for men and women include spinning, weight lifters, and jogging.

Revised:

Popular exercises for men and women include spinning, weight lifting, andjogging.

Sentences are often clearer and more emphatic if you repeat certain keywords (articles, prepositions, and the to in infinitives, for example) in each element of a pair or series, as illustrated here:

Faulty:

Computerization has helped industry by not allowing labor costs to skyrocket, increasing the speed of production, and improving efficiency.

Revised:

Computerization has helped industry by not allowing labor costs to skyrocket, by increasing the speed of production, and by improving efficiency.

When repeating relative pronouns, the relative pronoun constructions who(m) … and who(m), and which … and which are always paired and always introduce parallel clauses. When you revise, check to be sure a relative pronoun introduces each clause. To illustrate, let’s look at this example:

Faulty:

The Thing, directed by Howard Hawks, and which was released in 1951, featured James Arness as the monster.

Revised:

The Thing, which was directed by Howard Hawks and which was released in 1951, featured James Arness as the monster.

Revising Faulty Predication

Faulty predication occurs when the predicate in a sentence or a clause does not explain what the subject of a sentence is or does.

A predicate in a sentence (or clause) tells you what the subject does or is. You could also say that the predicate is everything that is not the subject. So, to give you an example, in the sentence ‘The email contained many interesting details’, ‘The email’, is the subject, and ‘contained many interesting details.’ is the predicate.

In the sentence ‘The applicants for the job were skilled programmers.’, ‘The applicants for the job’ is the subject, and ‘were skilled programmers’ is the predicate.

What faulty predication means is that a sentence’s predicate doesn’t logically complete its subject, and there are three causes for it:

  1. Incorrect use of the verb Be
  2. Incorrect use of ‘Is when’ and ‘is where’
  3. Use of: ‘The Reason … Is Because’

Incorrect use of ‘Be

Faulty predication often occurs in sentences with a linking verb – a form of to be, for example. – in combination with a subject complementlll, like in this example:

Political corruption and Economic decline were the downfall of the Roman Empire.

What the writer says here is that ‘Political corruption and economic decline’ were the downfall of the roman empire, as if ‘the downfall of the Roman empire’ described or identified the subject ‘Political corruption and Economic decline’, while in fact what the writer meant to say was that they were reasons for the downfall.

What the sentence should have been is:

Political corruption and Economic decline caused the downfall of the Roman Empire.

Incorrect use of ‘Is when’ and ‘Is Where’

This type of faulty predication often occurs when the writer presents a definition that includes a construction with one of is when or is where, like here:

Arachnophobia is when a person has a fear of spiders and other arachnids.

When defining something is must be preceded and followed by nouns or noun phrases, which is not the case here so the sentence could be rewritten like this:

Arachnophobia is the fear of spiders and other arachnids.

Now ‘the fear of spiders and other arachnids’ defines ‘arachnophobia’.

The reason …’ in combination with ‘ … Is because

Using The reason in combination with Is because leads to a similar problem as you can see in this sentence:

The reason they overeat is because they are bored.

When the phrase the reason is precedes because., like in the example, the word because means for the reason that, so the writer is saying the same thing twice. This is why because should be deleted and the sentence would look like this:

The reason they overeat is that they are bored.