Welcome to another Grammar Time post. Today’s topic is parallelism. We’ll be referencing Chicago rules. If you have CMOS 17, you can refer to 5.242–5.245. Note that if you follow a different style guide, there may be different guidelines to follow to maintain consistency.
Parallel Construction in a Sentence
In general, parallel constructions are a series of like sentence elements. And as you likely already know, every element in a series or list should match in function (word, phrase, clause, or sentence) and should serve the same grammatical function in the sentence (noun, verb, adjective, adverb, etc.).
Check out this example:
Not Parallel: The roofing company is locally owned, licensed, and their contractors come on time to appointments.
This construction doesn’t make sense because each item in the list should fit grammatically with “The roofing company is”
“The roofing company is locally owned.”
“The roofing company is licensed.”
“The roofing company is their contractors come on time to appointments.”
You can fix these by tweaking all the parts so they match grammatically. There are two ways to fix this particular sentence:
Parallel: The roofing company is locally owned, licensed, and punctual.
Parallel: The roofing company is locally owned and licensed, and their contractors come on time to appointments.
In our blogs, we count parallelism issues as minor errors because a lack of parallelism tends to make a sentence clunky but not incomprehensible.
Parallel Bullet Lists
You can also strengthen your writing by ensuring bulleted lists are parallel. They’re basically the same construction just set up differently visually. Here’s an example:
Not Parallel: Plumbers can generally fix
- All your leaky pipes
- Fix frozen pipes
While the reader can get the gist of this list, the lack of parallelism could affect the flow. Some readers might have to read this another time to catch the full meaning.
Parallel: Plumbers can generally fix
- Leaky pipes
- Frozen pipes
- Clogged toilets
This list is parallel because each item has matching/parallel adjectives followed by their nouns.
Parallel Auxiliary Verbs
If you’re using an auxiliary verb before a few verb phrases, that verb should match the phrases to ensure the sentence is clear. Here’s an example.
Not Parallel: “Lawyers can streamline the legal process, speed up court decisions, and have proved to help people receive adequate compensation.”
Parallel: “Lawyers can streamline the legal process, speed up court decisions, and help people receive adequate compensation.”
Parallel: “Lawyers can streamline the legal process and speed up court decisions. They can also help their clients receive adequate compensation.”
Keeping Other Constructions Parallel
Sentence elements like correlative conjunctions (either/or, neither/nor, both/and, not only/but also) and adverb pairs (where/there, as/so, and if/then) should join parallel elements as well.
Not Parallel: “Our kids not only ate all the chicken nuggets and fries but also some mac and cheese.”
Parallel: “Our kids ate not only all the chicken nuggets and fries but also some mac and cheese.”
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