Faulty Parallel Structure
Writers use parallel structureUsing the same pattern of words to describe ideas in order to create balance in a writing. Parallel structure can be at the word-, phrase-, clause-, sentence-, and even paragraph-level. to balance items in their sentencesA group of words, phrases, or clauses that expresses a complete thought. A complete sentence has these characteristics: a capitalized first word, a subject and a predicate, and end punctuation, such as a period (.), question mark (?), or exclamation mark (!).. What does it mean to have "balance" in a sentence? Balance means that you use similar grammatical structuresThe parts of sentences, such as phrases and clauses, that make up language. to describe similar ideas. Parallel structure is often best demonstrated with an example, because you can usually see or hear when something has good or faulty (no) parallel structure.
The group must decide whether to take the train, ride the bus, or drive the car.
This sentence shows good parallel structure, and you can see this in the underlined phrasesA set of words that express an idea. A phrase may or may not form a complete sentence.: take the train, ride the bus, and drive the car. All three groups of words are the same type of phrase—in this case, they are verbal phrasesA verbal and any of its modifiers, objects, or compliments. (A verbal is a verb in the sentence acting like a noun or adjective. Example: Running is a great form of exercise has the verbal Running.) An example of a verbal phrase: In the sentence Running to the store was one of his least favorite activities, the verbal phrase is Running to the store. —and have the same function in the sentence.
Now, see how this sentence would look if it showed faulty parallel structure:
The group must decide whether to take the train, on the bus, or finding someone to drive the car.
This version of the sentence is more difficult to read because each word grouping in the series is written differently. In fact, each one is a different type of phrase. A good way to check for good parallel structure is to make sure that each phrase in a series flows with the rest of the sentence on its own.
The group must decide whether to take the train…
The group must decide whether to ride the bus …
The group must decide whether to drive the car …
Writing sentences that have good parallel structure means that you use the same grammatical structure for all the parts in the sentence. There are a number of ways to use parallel structure when writing, but some of the most common uses are when you are listing items in a series (list), joining clausesA group of words in a sentence that contains a subject and a predicate. or phrases, or comparingTo draw similarities between people, objects, or concepts. and contrastingTo identify what is different between people, objects, or concepts..+ PRACTICAL APPLICATION
Understanding how to use parallel structure allows you to use complex and sophisticated sentences in your writing. Often, you will be asked to clearly list ideas and concepts talked about in a lecture as part of an exam for a college class. Additionally, the way you write on a job application or cover letterA letter that is sent along with a resume that provides context and more information for the reader. gives a potential employer a first impression of who you are, and using parallel structure when listing items in a series will inspire confidence in your ability to communicate well and do a good job.
Review the following sentences that have faulty parallelism and see how they can be corrected.
This sentence does not show parallel structure in the list of skills. It can be corrected by revising it so the skills listed are presented in the same way.
Correct: Dental assisting is a job that requires certain skills, such as communicating clearly, keeping records, and working with patients
This sentence does not show parallel structure in the three phrases it uses to describe the students. Although the elements are all verb phrases, mixing past, present, and future tenses is not logical parallel structure.
Correct: Students who graduate from an accredited program, receive training, and complete internships will be the first to find jobs in their field.
This sentence is trying to show that students who become dental assistants will achieve two things; however, because the sentence is not using parallel structure, it can be more difficult to read and understand those two things.
Correct: They will not only make a good living, but they will also find much satisfaction in their work.
Identify and correct the faulty parallelism in each of the following sentences.
Whether they are wealthy, have no money, or fall somewhere in between, all students can find many ways to live cost-effectively if they try.
Ways to live cost-effectively include the following: finding a job on campus, not driving all around town wasting gas, and eating in and not going out to eat.
Students who find jobs, practice frugality, and save their money may have less stress.
Another way to be thrifty in college is for students to go out less, spend less money on clothes, and not buy expensive items like games.
Perhaps the best advice to give college students when it comes to money is to tell them to pay cash for all items, to not use credit cards, and to pay all bills on time.
How can faulty parallel structure negatively affect the reader?
If a writer does not use parallel structure, the reader will probably sense something incorrect about the sentence. Hearing faulty parallel structure may also make it difficult for the reader to understand the writer's meaning.
How can you, as a writer, check your writing for faulty parallel structure?
I can check for this by reading my writing aloud to myself and to another person. I can also ask someone else to read my writing, either quietly on their own to check or aloud to me or another person.
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