Sentence Sense: Parallel Structure

Human_Pyramid-0As promised in A Sentence is a Complete Thought, today’s post is devoted to Parallel Structure.

Parallel structure aids coherence by balancing nouns with nouns, prepositional phrases with prepositional phrases, and main clauses with main clauses. It might help to visual a see-saw with two similar elements on either side keeping the sentence level. With more than two elements, visualize one of those human pyramids from the circus, where everyone spreads the weight equally to maintain the configuration. Once you can recognize parts of speech and parts of a sentence, you can string them together in clear, euphonious, parallel structure that helps your reader follow your thoughts.

Here are some examples; the parallel elements are underlined.

Balanced nouns.

On my recent bike trip, I packed only the essentials: bike shorts, water bottle, Kindle.

Balanced verbs.

On vacation, I biked, ate and slept.

Balanced clauses.

It was a great vacation: I biked, I ate, I slept.

Francophone Quebec combines French haut cuisine with North American portions.

Balanced clauses, each containing an independent and dependent clause.

My vacation started in Burlington where I stayed with my daughter, continued to Mont-Laurier where I picked up the bike trail, and ended in Montreal where I visited museums.

While in Canada, I biked through lovely scenery, ate four-course dinners, and slept soundly every night.


Balanced clauses (with repetition).

While in Canada, I biked through lovely scenery, I ate four-course dinners, and I slept soundly every night.

By repeating the subject I, I’ve changed the previous sentence from a list to a series of balanced independent clauses.

It sometimes helps to repeat a preposition, an article, the to of the infinitive or the introductory word or phrase to maintain clarity in parallel structure.

On the bike trip, I wasn’t just outdoors all day, I was also unplugged.

The rail trail not only cuts through beautiful scenery; it has neither car traffic nor steep hills.

All in all, I had a great vacation that combined visiting friends and family, getting lots of exercise, eating delicious meals, and returning home refreshed.

Please let me know if you find this post useful. Thanks!

M. Shafer, Photo

M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin is a novelist, essayist and educator. She lives in southern Vermont.








12 thoughts on “Sentence Sense: Parallel Structure

  1. Love, Love, Love this post! Sometimes we forget why we do things the way we do. It’s nice to be reminded and thus more mindful while writing. My high school Language Arts teacher is smiling from above on this one!

  2. I am participating in WP’s Blogging U. Your post inspired me to re-write a part of this sentence in the Weekly Challenge (

    I grip the steering wheel at ten and two, I flick my eyes towards the rear-view mirror to make sure that I am indeed the only vehicle on the road, I shallow my breath and I pick a not-straight line up the road designed, I hope, to avoid this thing in my lanes ahead.

    Thank you! I’m glad to have found this site.

  3. Hi. I’m thinking about starting my new story with the phrase “It was a great vacation.” (I noticed you used it above . . . “It was a great vacation: I biked, I ate, I slept.” Perhaps the simple past is acceptable here due to the fact that the “great vacation” refers to a specific vacation. Would you concur? Also, I found the sentence “On my recent bike trip, I packed only the essentials: bike shorts, water bottle, Kindle.” disturbing. I would have written: “On my recent bike trip, I packed only the essentials: bike shorts, a water bottle, and a Kindle”. Your thoughts? Thanks!

    • Hi Gary, Thanks for your comment. It gives me a chance to emphasize the importance of voice – and how each writer has their own. (The use of the plural possessive pronoun is deliberate, to be inclusive.) You’re absolutely correct: the simple past refers to a specific vacation, which I go on to describe in detail. And I’m glad my sentence made you uncomfortable. By leaving out the conjunction “and” I intentionally made my prose mimic the meaning of my sentence. I didn’t take anything extra, not even an “and”. Those are my thoughts. Thanks for asking. ~Deborah.

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