Faulty Parallel Structure

Learning Objective:

  • Identify and correct faulty parallelism in a reading.

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.

For example:

            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..