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Parallel construction

Parallel construction

Author: Dan Reade

    Introduce parallel construction and in what common situations it is preferred. 


    Explain how to repeat function words (e.g. prepositions, subordinators, etc.) between parallel structures.


    Explain how to present lists with parallel construction and how to avoid missing forms (e.g. prepositional phrases with noun phrases, infinitives with gerunds, etc.)


    Explain how to present paired ideas in a similar grammatical form for effect.


This packet should help a learner seeking to understand English writing style and who is confused about how to use parallel construction. It will explain when parallel construction is preferred and common errors with parallel construction.

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What is Parallel Structure?

Parallel structure is the use of identical forms of words, phrases, and clauses when linking or listing together various sets of terms or items. The goals of parallel structure are to give each part of a sentence equal weight (i.e. to show that each part of is of equal importance) and to make the sentence in question flow smoothly.

Examples of parallel structures through use of:

  • WordsI went to the store and the mall.
  • PhrasesI went to the store and by the mall.
  • Clauses: I went to the store, stopped by the carwash, and ate at the mall.

Note that in the sentences above, each part of the speaker's activity seems equal in importance, or holds equal weight. The sentences, for example, do not imply that going to the mall was any more or any less important than heading to the store or stopping by the carwash. Every part is equal.

Moreover, the sentences above read smoothly. If a sentence (such as the one below) does not consistently use the chosen structure (words, phrases, or clauses), then the sentence sounds strange.

  • I went to the store, stopped at the carwash, and by the mall

Parallel structure is used in a variety of instances and situations. Some of those include:

  • Comparisons: I like both milk and cheese. I enjoy neither soda nor chocolate.
  • Lists: I bought milk, cheese, and bread.
  • Activities: I ran on the treadmill, lifted weights, and went to an aerobics class.
  • Thesis statements: Video games can have a positive effect on teenager's self-esteem, motor skills, and problem-solving abilities.

There are, of course, many more. The important thing to remember when using parallel structure is that whatever form is chosen (words, phrases, or clauses) must be used consistently throughout the entire list.

Source: Dan Reade

Building Parallel Structure

Parallel structure is a simple idea but it can often trip up writers. The video below shows the basics of how to build sentences using parallel structure through the repetition of function words.

Source: Online Writing Lab at Purdue University; Dan Reade

Building Lists Using Parallel Structure

Building lists is one of the most common ways in which parallel construction is used. This video goes over the basics of composing lists that follow parallel structure. It also provides a simple test to help writers catch poorly developed lists.

Source: Online Writing Lab at Purdue University; Dan Reade

Paired Ideas and Parallel Structure

Often in English, a writer will want to pair two basic ideas to show their relationship. The video below shows how to use parallel structure to most effectively present such paired ideas.

Source: Capital Community College Foundation; Dan Reade