Today we’re tackling one of the tougher topics in grammar: parallelism.
Google defines parallelism as “the use of successive verbal constructions in poetry or prose that correspond in grammatical structure, sound, meter, meaning, etc.” Basically what this means, is that parallelism ensures a certain amount of consistency in your sentence structure. If used correctly, it should help you maintain a clear tone and voice and make it easier for readers to read more quickly with a better understanding, because it keeps them from having to piece anything together.
While the rules of parallelism are often not technically rules of grammar, they do affect the way a reader sees your work, and the ease with which they can read it.
Below are 5 rules to ensure that your work maintains parallelism:
1. Check Your Tense
As we all know, verbs can be past, present, or future tense. To ensure parallelism, this tense should stay the same not only through a sentence, but through entire paragraphs and even entire works, unless otherwise called for.
2. Consistent Prepositions
If your listed words are preceded by the same preposition (ie. ‘my cat sits on the table, the couch, and the chair,) you do not need to list the preposition more than once. If your listed words use different prepositions, you need to illustrate this before each one (ie. she sits on the table, under the chair, and in between the couch cushions.)
3. Nouns & Amounts
When using multiple subjects where one is singular and one is plural, make sure to use the proper language to distinguish them from one another. A singular subject will have a different sentence structure than a plural subject, and they should not be lumped together. Bad example: Pets such as dogs or a cat should not be left alone without water. Correct example: Pets such as dogs or cats should not be left alone. / A pet such as a dog or a cat should not be left alone.
4. Rewriting is Your Friend
If you find yourself questioning your structure, it helps to break down a sentence into its smallest parts. Do they still use the same verb tense and prepositions? If not, you’ll need to rethink your structure.
5. TRIPLE CHECK
Parallelism is hard. Particularly when we are drafting, we tend to write in a more stream-of-consciousness style and even the most experienced writers can catch themselves changing tense mid-paragraph. No matter how confident you are, ALWAYS double check, even triple check your work! Even though nonparallel structures do not always break “rules” of grammar, they can definitely ruin the tone and sound of a piece.
Do you have any other tips on this topic? What other elements of grammar would you like a cheat sheet for?