One of the marks of a skilled writer is the ability to use parallel construction in a sentence. This skill is useful, easy to learn, and…rare. (That previous sentence is an example of parallelism.)
Even professional writers regularly go astray when they try to write sentences that feature parallelism. Or perhaps the problem is that they don’t try.
Here’s a sentence in which the parallelism is correct:
But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. CORRECT
(BTW: Did Abraham Lincoln really start a sentence with but? Yes, he did – as good writers often do.)
Here’s another parallel sentence:
Give me liberty, or give me death. CORRECT
Imagine, if you will, Abraham Lincoln saying “we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, and the ground can’t be hallowed.” Painful to your ears, isn’t it? And here’s Patrick Henry, saying “Give me liberty, or you can kill me.” Not quite the same effect.
So what do you need to know about parallelism?
1. All the parts need to match.
2. If you’re writing a sentence with three elements, the third one will be the problem. Guaranteed.
3. A useful trick is to write the sentence in question like a little poem. Make sure all three parts match a word near the beginning.
4. An easy solution to parallelism problems is to break the sentence into two shorter ones.
Sound complicated? It really isn’t. Let’s try one.
For his birthday we’re treating George to dinner, giving him a gift certificate, and he’s taking the day off from work. SAMPLE
Here’s the same sentence, written like a little poem:
For his birthday we’re
-treating George to dinner
-giving him a gift certificate, and
-he’s taking the day off from work.
“He’s taking the day off from work” doesn’t go with we’re. So the sentence needs to be fixed. Usually the easiest solution is to make two sentences, like this:
For his birthday we’re treating George to dinner and giving him a gift certificate. He’s taking the day off from work. CORRECT
Parallelism is pretty easy once you get the hang of it. Look for examples (they’re everywhere!) and practice fixing them. Soon you’ll be an expert.