Writing with Parallel Structure
Teaching ESL students how to write English sentences with parallel structure can improve sentence clarity, style and impact not to mention good grammar. As the level of writing progresses, ESL students may find that sentences with parallel structure can serve many purposes, such as a thesis sentence in an essay or the concluding sentence of a paragraph.
What is Parallel Structure?
It is a writing style that repeats the same grammatical form in a sentence, usually two or three times.
Here is an example of a sentence that does not have parallel structure.
- Mary likes cooking, skating and to ride a motorcycle.
This sentence lists three things that Mary likes to do. The list has two gerunds and one infinitive. That is not parallel and in English, that doesn’t read well or easily. Here are two better options:
- Mary likes cooking, skating and riding a motorcycle. (all gerunds)
- Mary likes to cook, skateand ride a motorcycle. (all infinitives)
Here is a sentence with good parallel structure.
- I asked middle school students about their hobbies. Most girls said they enjoy eating ice cream, shopping for new pencils and chatting on the internet.
Downloads and Worksheets
- The text version of the parallel structure rules here.
- Parallel structure writing practice here.
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This handout describes and provides examples of parallel structure (similar patterns of words).
Contributors:Dana Lynn Driscoll
Last Edited: 2017-07-25 04:53:09
Parallel structure means using the same pattern of words to show that two or more ideas have the same level of importance. This can happen at the word, phrase, or clause level. The usual way to join parallel structures is with the use of coordinating conjunctions such as "and" or "or."
Words and Phrases
With the -ing form (gerund) of words:
Mary likes hiking, swimming, and bicycling.
With infinitive phrases:
Mary likes to hike, to swim, and to ride a bicycle.
Mary likes to hike, swim, and ride a bicycle.
(Note: You can use "to" before all the verbs in a sentence or only before the first one.)
Do not mix forms.
Mary likes hiking, swimming, and to ride a bicycle.
Mary likes hiking, swimming, and riding a bicycle.
The production manager was asked to write his report quickly, accurately, and in a detailed manner.
The production manager was asked to write his report quickly, accurately, and thoroughly.
The teacher said that he was a poor student because he waited until the last minute to study for the exam, completed his lab problems in a careless manner, and his motivation was low.
The teacher said that he was a poor student because he waited until the last minute to study for the exam, completed his lab problems in a careless manner, and lacked motivation.
A parallel structure that begins with clauses must keep on with clauses. Changing to another pattern or changing the voice of the verb (from active to passive or vice versa) will break the parallelism.
The coach told the players that they should get a lot of sleep, that they should not eat too much, and to do some warm-up exercises before the game.
The coach told the players that they should get a lot of sleep, that they should not eat too much, and that they should do some warm-up exercises before the game.
The coach told the players that they should get a lot of sleep, not eat too much, and do some warm-up exercises before the game.
The salesman expected that he would present his product at the meeting, that there would be time for him to show his slide presentation, and that questions would be asked by prospective buyers. (passive)
The salesman expected that he would present his product at the meeting, that there would be time for him to show his slide presentation, and that prospective buyers would ask him questions.
Lists After a Colon
Be sure to keep all the elements in a list in the same form.
The dictionary can be used to find these: word meanings, pronunciations, correct spellings, and looking up irregular verbs.
The dictionary can be used to find these: word meanings, pronunciations, correct spellings, and irregular verbs.
Proofreading Strategies to Try:
- Skim your paper, pausing at the words "and" and "or." Check on each side of these words to see whether the items joined are parallel. If not, make them parallel.
- If you have several items in a list, put them in a column to see if they are parallel.
- Listen to the sound of the items in a list or the items being compared. Do you hear the same kinds of sounds? For example, is there a series of "-ing" words beginning each item? Or do your hear a rhythm being repeated? If something is breaking that rhythm or repetition of sound, check to see if it needs to be made parallel.