Parallel Structures

Is there anything wrong with the following sentence?

Martin felt the movie was boring, silly, and was too long.

Yes, there is something wrong.  Did you find the problem?  Well, if you didn’t find the problem, keep reading, and we’ll tell you later.

Did you ever pick up a book and read something like this:

Taking out repetitive words and combining similar sentences and ideas is called parallel structure, parallel construction, and parallelism.   In parallel structure, it is important to group similar ideas and items together.  For example, in the three sentences above, the words Carol picked up her…repeat.  Additionally, the words that do NOT repeat are all nouns: bookspens, and jacket.  Since bookspens, and jacket are all nouns, they can be grouped together.  Thus, we can correctly write the following:

Carol picked up her books, pens, and jacket.
The items in the list must be all nounsall infinitives, all prepositional phrasesall gerunds, or all clauses.

Take a look at this sentence:

Paula went to work, a restaurant, and to the movies.

If the preposition or article (a, an, the) is the same for all items in the list, the writer can decide to include them in all of the items or write it just in the first.  Therefore, the above sentence is incorrect.   The items in the list are worka restaurant, and the movies.  However, the writer used the preposition to with the first and third items only.

INCORRECT Paula went to work, a restaurant, and to the movies.
CORRECT Paula went to work, a restaurant, and the movies.
CORRECT Paula went to work, to a restaurant, and to the movies.

Here is another example:

There are trains leaving the station in the morning and noon.

The preposition is in.  When proofreading, ask yourself, “Is this the correct word for each item?”

In the morning?  YES!
In noon?  NO!

The correct preposition for noon is at.  Therefore, we must write

There are trains leaving the station in the morning and at noon.

Some words and verbs use prepositions as well.   Look at this example:

The cancer researcher is interested and excited about the new advances in medical technology.

What are the words in the parallel structure?  They are interested and excited.  When the writer wrote excited, she also correctly wrote about.  How about interested?  Do you use about withinterested?  Let’s do the proofreading test that we learned above.

excited about the advances…?  YES!
interested about the advances…?  NO!

The correct preposition used with interested is in.  Therefore, the above sentence is INCORRECT.   The correct preposition must be used in each item of the parallel structure.  The following is correct:

The cancer researcher is interested in and excited about the new advances in medical technology.

For a list of common verbs with prepositions, click here.

There are a number of situations which require you to use parallel structure.  They are

Both X and Y . . .
Not X but Y
Not only X but also Y . . .
Neither X nor Y . . .
Either X or Y . . .

Remember the rule of parallel structure: the words in the list must be the same grammatical form.  In this situation, the X and Y must be the same grammatical form.  Many common problems with parallel structure can be easily corrected.  Look at the chart of examples below.

INCORRECT CORRECT
In counseling, I think both talkingand to listen are important In counseling, I think both talkingand listening are important.
We are not for war but peace We are not for war but for peace.
This car is not only fast but also it is safe to drive. This car is not only fast but alsosafe.
The trip to the city is neither a long one nor expensive. The trip to the city is neither long norexpensive.
Either you must stay home or go with us. You must either stay home or go with us.

When using the above constructions, the X and Y must be the same grammatical forms:  both nouns, both infinitives, both prepositional phrases, both gerunds, or both clauses.

So what’s the problem with the first sentence in this lesson?

Martin felt the movie was boring, silly, and was too long.

The words in the list of items are not the same: boring and silly are adjectives; however, was too long begins with a verb.

note: the second exercise is tough. The ones in the exam will be a lot easier.

Study the following examples then answer the questions below:


Faulty Parallelism Corrected Version
The French, the Italians, Spanish, and Portuguese The French, the Italians, the Spanish, and the Portuguese
In spring, summer, or in winter In spring, summer, or winter (In spring, in summer, or in winter)

Correlative expressions (both, and; not, but; not only, but also; either, or; first, second, third; and the like) should be followed by the same grammatical construction. Many violations of this rule can be corrected by rearranging the sentence.

Faulty Parallelism Corrected Version
It was both a long ceremony and very tedious. The ceremony was both long and tedious.
A time not for words, but action A time not for words, but for action
Either you must grant his request or incur his ill will. You must either grant his request or incur his ill will.
My objections are, first, the injustice of the measure; second, that it is unconstitutional. My objections are, first, that the measure is unjust; second, that it is unconstitutional.

When making comparisons, the things you compare should be couched in parallel structures whenever that is possible and appropriate.

Faulty Parallelism Corrected Version
My income is smaller than my wife. My income is smaller than my wife’s.

Parallel Structures

Select the sentence that illustrates the use of proper parallel construction

1.

Phuong Tran has wit, charm, and she has an extremely pleasant personality.
Phuong Tran has wit, charm, and a pleasing personality.

2.
In English class, Tashonda learned to read poems critically and to appreciate good prose.
In English class, Tashonda learned to read poems critically and she appreciated good prose.

3.
Raoul’s QPA is higher than Ralph.
Raoul’s QPA is higher than Ralph’s.

4.
He wanted three things out of college: to learn a skill, to make good friends, and to learn about life.
He wanted three things out of college: to learn a skill, to make good friends, and learning about life.

5.
Coach Espinoza was a brilliant strategist, a caring mentor, and a wise friend.
Coach Espinoza was a brilliant strategist, a caring mentor, and friend.

6.
We found the film repulsive, offensive, and we thought it was embarrassing.
We found the film repulsive, offensive, and embarrassing.

7.
Mr. Nguyen kept his store clean, neat, and he made it conveniently arranged.
Mr. Nguyen kept his store clean, neat, and conveniently arranged.

8.
Professor Ali rewarded his students for working hard on the final project and going beyond the call of duty.
Professor Ali rewarded his students for their hard work on the final project and going beyond the call of duty.

9.
There’s nothing I like better than finding a good trout stream, setting up camp, and spending a couple of days fishing.
There’s nothing I like better than finding a good trout stream, setting up camp, and to spend a couple of days fishing.

Second Exercise in Parallelism

Directions: The following sentences could be improved with the use of proper parallel constructions.

There is, however, no single right answer to these rewrites.


1. Espinoza’s style was remarkable for its dexterity, grace, and she could play any position.


2. Raoul’s motivation to succeed in this program seems to be greater than his sister.


3. Three of the great Indian nations in the Central Plains are the Cherokee, the Choctaw, and Comanche.


4. Either you will begin to study now or risk failing the exam.


5. The college has space for a new computer lab but not a faculty lounge.


6. Her conditions for signing the contract are, first, the commissioner has to approve the terms; second, that the other players must sign as well.


7. Carlos wasted his first year at college by not studying enough and spending too much time at parties.


8. We have no doubt about her care and interest in the proposal.


9. The students prepared for their exams at home, they spent extra hours with their tutors, they did the necessary research in the library, and asked questions in their classrooms.

QUESTION 3

Directions: Read the following sentences.  If the sentence is correct, don’t change anything.  If the sentence is incorrect, find the parallel structure problem and fix it.

1. The factory workers were ready, able, and were quite determined to do a great job.

2. The computer network is safer, stronger, and more secure.

3.  We cannot be worried or terrified of difficulties in life.

4.  The actor taught his student how to read, how to stand, how to cry, and to talk with fans.

5.  The requirements for a chemistry degree are not as strict as a medical degree.

6.  Either you can join the army or the navy.

7.  The reorganization of the company is neither simple nor it will be cheap.

8.  When I was in high school, I learned piano and how to play the guitar.

9.  Fred supports the idea because, first, its simplicity; second, it is unique.

10.  They are either our friends or they are not.

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