I’m a member of three critique groups, so I spend a lot of time reading other writers’ work. I often find awkward sentences that violate the rules of parallel structure.
Why is it important?
Parallel structure makes your sentences graceful. People may not be able to tell you why your writing is awkward, but they feel it. You may not know how to describe what is wrong with your dance partner’s tango steps, but you feel it when they* step on your foot.
What is it?
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:
Parallel: Mary likes hiking, swimming, and bicycling.
With infinitive phrases:
Parallel: Mary likes to hike, to swim, and to ride a bicycle.
Note: If you want to use “to” just once, it must come before the before the listed items, like this:
Mary likes to hike, swim, and ride a bicycle.
but NOT like this
Mary likes hiking, swimming, and to ride a bicycle.
Make sure you are consistent in your writing; in other words, pick one of the correct ways of doing it and stay consistent.
The sorcerer’s apprentice was asked to trepan the captive quickly, accurately, and in a detailed manner.
The sorcerer’s apprentice was asked to trepan the captive quickly, accurately, and thoroughly.
The sorcerer said that she was a poor apprentice because she waited until the last minute to marinate the eye of newt, completed her transmutations in a careless manner, and her motivation was low.
The sorcerer said that she was a poor apprentice because she waited until the last minute to marinate the eye of newt, completed her transmutations in a careless manner, and lacked motivation.
Tomorrow I’ll write about parallel clauses.
** I follow modern usage, i.e. “they” is a grammatically acceptable gender neutral pronoun.
*** IMAGE CREDIT: Peter Treveris – engraving of Trepanation for Handywarke of surgeri 1525 by Peter Treveris – English Woodcuts 1480-1535 by Edward Hodnett, Oxford University Press, 1973. Peter Treveris engravings no. 2394 and 2395 by the book’s systematic list of all known engravings. Figure 216. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons