As 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.
On my recent bike trip, I packed only the essentials: bike shorts, water bottle, Kindle.
On vacation, I biked, ate and slept.
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!
Deborah Lee Luskin is a novelist, essayist and educator. She lives in southern Vermont.