Parallelism definition: Parallelism is a grammatical term for arranging words of identical or equivalent syntactical constructions in corresponding clauses, phrases, lists, etc.
What is Parallelism?
What does parallelism mean? Parallelism is a grammatical term for arranging words with syntactically accurate structure. In other words, parallelism refers to making sentences have the same, or parallel, structure.
Parallelism is essential to proper writing (and speaking, for that matter).
Examples of Parallelism:
Here is an example with incorrect parallel structure:
- I like to fish, swimming, and to hike.
In this example, the list series does not use parallel structure. The terms are not parallel. There are two infinitives (to fish, to hike) and one gerund (swimming). This sentence is grammatically incorrect.
Here is an example of parallelism with the correct parallel structure:
- I like fishing, swimming, and hiking.
In this example, the list uses a parallel structure. The terms are parallel—all three are gerunds. This sentence is grammatically correct.
The Function of Parallelism
What is the purpose of parallelism? Parallel structure is paramount in good writing. Without it, writing is awkward.
Parallel structure improves coherence and consistency. Allow the following parallelism examples to illustrate.
- To build a tree house, my dad purchased some nails, lots of wood, and rebar.
- To build a tree house, my dad purchased nails, wood, and rebar.
The difference between the two sentences exists in the adjectives. Is the first sentence able to be understood? Yes. Does the second sentence have better coherence and consistency? Yes.
If a writer uses adjectives in a list to describe a noun, he should use an adjective to describe every noun in the list. Or, like the second example, remove the adjectives altogether.
Parallelism in Grammatical Structures
Here is a list of different parallel example structures.
Parallel Structure in Lists
When creating lists, the items in the list should be parallel. For example, in your list you might have noun, noun, and noun or adjective, adjective, and adjective.
- The fruit salad has pears, peaches, and cherries.
- The movie was thrilling, exciting, and suspenseful.
Here are a few examples of incorrect and corrected parallel structures.
- Incorrect: I attended a conference, weddings, and a bar mitzvah last summer.
- Correct: I attended a conference, three weddings, and a bar mitzvah last summer.
- Incorrect: I taught my dog to speak, sitting, and rolling.
- Correct: I taught my dog to speak, to sit, and to roll.
- Also correct: I taught my dog to speak, sit, and roll.
- Incorrect: “The vessel also has a 1,380-seat theater that will show the Broadway musical Grease, comedy club, jazz club, casino, aquatheater and karaoke bar.” –USA Today
- Correct: The vessel also has a 1,380-seat theater that will show the Broadway musical Grease. The theater also acts as a comedy club, jazz club, casino, aquatheater, and karaoke bar.
Parallel Structure in Phrases and Clauses
Phrases and clauses need to be parallel.
Parallel Examples with Phrases:
- Incorrect: Please place the leftover chicken on the counter or you can put it in the refrigerator.
- Correct: Please place the leftover chicken on the counter or in the refrigerator.
Parallel Examples with Clauses:
- Incorrect: My parents did not approve of my actions or what I said.
- Correct: My parents did not approve of what I did nor what I said.
Parallel Structure in Ideas and Concepts
When constructing sentences, it is important to use similar ideas and concepts. This helps to improve coherence and consistency.
- Incorrect: In my closet I have pants, dresses, and sporting equipment.
- Correct: In my closet I have pants, dresses, and shoes.
- Incorrect: My classmates are jovial, welcoming, and annoying.
- Correct: My classmates are jovial, welcoming, and likeable.
- Incorrect: He is tall, dark, and hungry.
- Correct: He is tall, dark, and handsome.
What is Parallelism in Literature?
Examples of parallelism in literature: One of the most detailed examples of parallel structure in literature exists in the opening paragraph of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.
These lines model antithesis but in order to do so must also use accurate parallelism.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
Beautifully, Dickens models appropriate parallel syntax. Perhaps that is one reason why these opening lines are so well known—their parallel nature makes them easier to recall.
Looking closely, you can see that each antithetical clause has the same number of terms and is the same subject matter.
Dickens utilizes parallel structure here to further his text’s argument regarding the “two cities” that exist together but completely separate.
Summary: Parallelism Literary Definition
Define parallelism in literature: The definition of parallelism in literature is the use of identical or equivalent syntactic constructions in corresponding clauses and phrases.
Parallel structure is essential to accurate grammatical structure, as it improves coherence and consistency. All good writers understand the importance of parallelism and are mindful of it when constructing their sentences.
Parallel Structure Example:
- Incorrect: My roommates enjoy playing basketball, baseball, and cooking.
- Correct: My roommates enjoy playing basketball, playing baseball, and cooking.
- Correct: My roommates enjoy cooking, playing basketball, and playing baseball.
What is parallel structure? The first example is incongruent list. It makes it sound as if my roommates enjoy playing basketball, playing baseball, and playing cooking, which doesn’t make any sense.
The second and third examples make the list parallel.