Tag Archives: parallelism

Good Writing…or Bad?

I just came across an amazing paragraph from Eduardo Galeano’s The Book of Embraces. His topic is “nobodies” – working-class people who live on the edge of poverty:

Who don’t speak languages, but dialects. Who don’t have religions, but superstitions. Who don’t create art, but handicrafts. Who don’t have culture, but folklore. Who are not human beings, but human resources. Who do not have faces, but arms. Who do not have names, but numbers. Who do not appear in the history of the world, but in the crime reports of the local paper.

Many English teachers would avoid showing this selection to their students: it repeatedly breaks the almost sacred prohibition against sentence fragments. But look at the elegant parallelism, and look at the new meaning that ordinary words like handicrafts and folklore take on: Suddenly we see the cultural bias behind them.

If only we could all write so elegantly and powerfully!

folk dancers

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Parallelism in Sentences

Very few writers use parallelism correctly. Here’s an example from a Dear Abby letter published today. This sentence isn’t parallel and needs to be fixed:

He is intelligent, financially stable, and loves me and my son.  NOT PARALLEL

Writing the sentence as if it were a poem can help you see where the problem lies:

He is

intelligent

financially stable

loves me and my son

“He is” doesn’t match “loves me and my son.”

A better sentence would have been:

He is

intelligent

financially stable

loving to me and my son

(He is intelligent, financially stable, and loving to me and my son.)

Or the sentence could have been written this way:

He is intelligent and financially stable, and he loves me and my sonCORRECT

The problems always arise with the third item in the list. Make sure it matches the other two – or make it a new sentence.

Here’s another non-parallel sentence. Can you see how to fix it? I’ll add a correction at the end.

We need to mop the floors, wash the windows, and the bathroom needs scrubbing.

We need to

mop the floors

wash the windows

the bathroom needs scrubbing

Correct version: We need to mop the floors, wash the windows, and scrub the bathroom.

OR: We need to mop the floors and wash the windows, and the bathroom needs scrubbing.  CORRECT

Parallelism is impressive, important, and easy to learn.

"Dear Abby" - Pauline Phillips

“Dear Abby” – Pauline Phillips

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