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Parallel Construction

Parallel Construction

Author: Rebecca Oberg

This learning packet should review:
-What is parallel construction and why use it?
-How to present paired ideas in a similar grammatical form
-Repeating function words (e.g. prepositions, subordinators, etc.) between parallel structures
-How to link ideas with parallel structure
-How to avoid mixing forms (e.g. infinitives with gerunds, prepositional phrases with noun phrases, etc.)
-Parallel construction with lists
-How to fix language that is not parallel

This learning packet offers learners of all ages and expertise a thorough look at parallelism in writing. By using slide show presentations, multimedia video clips, and concise, straightforward text from noted online grammar guru Grammar Girl, this packet allows learners to explore the concept of parallel structure in their own way and at their own pace.

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Parallel Structure: A Grammatical Approach

This slide show presentation gives learners some basic rules and examples for parallel construction. For clarification of some of these grammatical terms, feel free to consult other Sophia learning packets.

Source:, modified by Rebecca Oberg

Parallel Structure: A Quick Look

In this brief video, a qualified private tutor offers a quick lesson on the basics of parallel structure, explaining the concept in an easily understandable way. This is a great place to start for students.

Source: YouTube

Opportunities to Practice Parallelism: Try It!

This slide show presentation gives learners the chance to practice their parallism. Look at the examples (parallel and non-parallel in structure) and see which one you would have chosen in a classroom or test setting. This is also a chance for learners to reflect on the use of parallelism in their own writing.

Source:, modified by Rebecca Oberg

Parallelism in Test Prep: A Few Key Ideas

Though this video is originally intended for test prep, the explanations and definitions are explained in a remarkably clear way and are relevant to all students. Use this video to find useful examples and helpful tips. Note that the terms parallelism, parallel structure, and parallel construction are synonyms (meaning that they mean the same thing and can be used in place of one another).

Source: YouTube

A Parallel Construction Problem: the False Series

A common problem in writing today is the false series. It happens when a writer combines three or more seemingly related elements in a series, but the syntax is wrong. When you get the sentence right, you're said to be using parallel construction.


OK, here’s an example: “Today I will tidy up the bedroom, the living room, and wallpaper the cat.”

Sounds like a series of three things to accomplish. And yet, there’s something off. The construction doesn’t quite work. It’s as simple to detect as Sesame Street’s “One of these things is not like the other.”

Let’s break it down to see how and why. 

A Proper Series

In a series, we list three (or more) things that serve a common purpose within a sentence: “I’m going out to buy an anvil, a lava lamp, and three dozen kumquats.” Each of the elements, despite their being disparate items, performs the same function, that of the object of the verb form “will buy.” I will buy an anvil. I will buy a lava lamp. I will buy three dozen kumquats. You could bullet-point them, if you so chose.

Similarly, in the sentence, “A koala, a giraffe, and a llama walk into a bar,” each of the three serves as the subject of the verb “walk.” (The punch line, if you care is, “The bartender says, ‘What is this? A joke?’” But we digress.)

 A False Series

In the original example, “Today I will tidy up the bedroom, the living room, and wallpaper the cat,” such is not the case; there's a disconnect.

Today I will tidy up:

(a)    the bedroom

(b)   the living room

(c)    wallpaper the cat.

Today I will tidy up wallpaper the cat? Hmmm. Unless the cat’s name is Wallpaper and she needs some grooming, it doesn’t work.

Nor does the following:

Today I will:

(a)    tidy up the bedroom

(b)   the living room

(c)    wallpaper the cat.

In this case, you’d end up with the following: I will the living room. Wow. That feels kind of like hitting the floor thinking there’s one extra step as you descend a staircase.

The Fix

So here’s this week’s quick and dirty tip for handling a series, and it’s a common theme when dealing with multiple elements: break down the components, and make sure they work individually before combining them.

This is how the corrected sentence might read: Today I will tidy up the bedroom, neaten the living room, and wallpaper the cat.

Adding the verb “neaten” before “the living room” makes the construction parallel after “I will.”

Every bit as clear and a bit more concise would be to eliminate the series altogether: Today I will tidy up the bedroom and the living room and wallpaper the cat. The words “the bedroom” and “the living room” become the objects of the verb “tidy, and then “wallpaper” becomes the second verb in the sentence, and “the cat” is its object: today I will tidy up the bedroom and the living room and wallpaper the cat.

Source:, modified by Rebecca Oberg