When train tracks or skis are parallel, one of them doesn’t veer off. They stay the same distance apart. When writing, you want your prose to be parallel as well. When it isn’t, your readers will be jarred by the parts that veer off on their own. Here’s an example:
The most frequent causes of snowmobile accidents are mechanical failure, the driver is careless, and the weather conditions might be dangerous.
It’s easy to rewrite this sentence in parallel form, seeing that all the pieces are of the same grammatical form:
The most frequent causes of snowmobile accidents are mechanical failure, careless drivers, and dangerous weather conditions.
Here’s one more:
Roger is overworked and not paid adequately.
This is very easily fixed:
Roger is overworked and underpaid.
When you proofread what you’ve written, check to see that lists are in parallel form. If something grates on your ear, you’ll know how to fix it.
When you write items in a series, you want to use the same grammatical form for each item. Otherwise, your writing will be grating both on the eye and in the ear. Here are some sentences that are not parallel. Fix them; this should be easy for you. I’ll put the correct answers below.
1. To be a good soccer player you need to have strategy, skill and be agile.
2. My doctor told me to take the proverbial two aspirin and that I should call her in the morning.
3. To end a school paper, you can give a summary of the main points, posit a question or you could quote someone.
4. My English teacher gives us three hours of homework every night and we’re also expected to write a five-page essay every weekend.
5. Spoiled as a child, Alex grew up to be well groomed, talented and an obnoxious person.
1. strategy, skill and agility
2. take two aspirin and call her in the morning
3. give a summary, posit a question or use a quotation
4. three hours of homework every night and a five-page essay each weekend
5. well groomed, talented and obnoxious
When you write items in a series, keep them all in the same form (parallel construction). It’s easy.
Incorrect: Edgar is thoughtful, considerate and likes to help.
Correct: Edgar is thoughtful, considerate and helpful.
Incorrect: A good secretary is efficient, knowledgeable and can be relied on.
Correct: A good secretary is efficient, knowledgeable and reliable.