Parallel Structure in English Grammar: A Complete Guide

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Parallel structure, or parallelism, is a crucial aspect of English grammar that significantly contributes to the balance, clarity, and readability of your writing. However, I find many of my students either less concerned about it or they are not able to use them properly. Therefore, in this comprehensive guide, I will explain parallel structure in detail, using relevant examples.

Parallel structure is the use of similar grammatical forms or patterns in a sentence. By using parallel structure, you ensure that related words, phrases, or clauses have the same structure. This creates a sense of balance, rhythm, and harmony in your writing and makes it easier to comprehend.

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Table of Contents

What Is Parallel Structure?

To better comprehend the parallel structure, it is essential to recognize that English has various grammatical forms, such as nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, gerunds, and infinitives. When creating a list, making a comparison, or presenting ideas of equal importance, you need to ensure that these grammatical forms remain consistent.

For instance, when listing actions, you should use either gerunds (verb + -ing) or infinitives (to + verb) consistently throughout the list. Similarly, when comparing items or ideas, make sure that the structure on both sides of the comparison remains the same.

Parallel structure is not limited to lists and comparisons; it also applies to other parts of your writing. For example, when using coordinating conjunctions like “and,” “or,” or “but,” you should ensure that the words, phrases, or clauses connected by these conjunctions have the same grammatical form.

Parallel structure can be found in various parts of speech, including:

  1. Nouns or noun phrases
  2. Verbs or verb phrases
  3. Adjectives or adjectival phrases
  4. Adverbs or adverbial phrases
  5. Gerunds or gerund phrases
  6. Infinitives or infinitive phrases
  7. Prepositional phrases

By ensuring parallelism in these structures, you create a smoother flow in your writing and make it easier for readers to follow your ideas. This is particularly important when you want to emphasize the relationship between concepts or present information in a logical manner.

Example 1:

Incorrect: She likes swimming, hiking, and to cook.

Correct: She likes swimming, hiking, and cooking.

In this example, the correct sentence uses the same grammatical form (gerund) for all three activities. By maintaining consistency in the form used, the sentence becomes clearer and easier to understand.

Example 2:

Incorrect: The dog was not only hungry but also was tired.

Correct: The dog was not only hungry but also tired.

Here, the correct sentence uses the same structure for both adjectives, creating a sense of balance. Eliminating the unnecessary “was” in the second part of the sentence results in a more coherent expression of the dog’s state.

Why is Parallel Structure Important?

Parallel structure, also known as parallelism, is important in writing and speaking because it helps make your sentences clear, easy to read, and more engaging. It means using the same pattern or structure for similar elements in a sentence, like nouns, verbs, or phrases.

Parallel structure is important for several reasons:

#1 Clarity

It makes your writing or speech easier to understand by organizing ideas in a consistent manner.


Without parallel structure: I like reading, swimming, and to paint.

With parallel structure: I like reading, swimming, and painting.

#2 Balance

It creates a sense of balance and rhythm in your writing, making it more pleasing to read or listen to.


Without parallel structure: She is smart, funny, and knows a lot.

With parallel structure: She is smart, funny, and knowledgeable.

#3 Emphasis

It can help emphasize specific points by presenting them in a parallel way.


Without parallel structure: To succeed, you should work hard, be consistent, and luck plays a role too.

With parallel structure: To succeed, you should work hard, be consistent, and rely on a little luck.

Tips for Maintaining Parallel Structure

In this section, I will provide you with valuable tips to help you maintain parallel structure in your writing and speaking. By following these guidelines, you can enhance the quality of your communication, making it clearer, more engaging, and more enjoyable for your audience. So, let’s dive into these practical tips that will significantly improve your language skills.

#1 Identify Similar Elements

Look for elements in your sentences that serve the same purpose, such as a list of items, a series of actions, or a group of ideas.


Incorrect: I need to buy milk, bread, and going to the bank.

Correct: I need to buy milk, buy bread, and go to the bank.

#2 Use the Same Grammatical Form

Make sure to use the same grammatical form (nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.) for these similar elements.


Incorrect: She loves reading, drawing, and to dance.

Correct: She loves reading, drawing, and dancing.

#3 Coordinate Conjunctions

When using coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, nor, for, so, yet), make sure the elements on both sides of the conjunction are parallel.


Incorrect: He is a skilled painter and loves playing music.

Correct: He is a skilled painter and a music lover.

#4 Comparisons

When making comparisons using “than” or “as,” ensure that the compared elements are parallel.


Incorrect: Mary sings better than to dance.

Correct: Mary sings better than she dances.

#5 Consistent Verb Tense

Maintain the same verb tense for actions that occur at the same time.


Incorrect: She plays the guitar and sang a song.

Correct: She played the guitar and sang a song.

By following these tips, you can improve the clarity and flow of your writing and speaking, making your communication more effective and engaging.

Common Mistakes in Parallel Structure

In this section, let’s discuss some common mistakes that occur when using parallel structure in writing and speaking. By familiarizing yourself with these errors, you can learn to avoid them and improve the overall quality of your communication. Understanding these mistakes will help you create clearer, more engaging, and well-organized content, ensuring a better experience for your audience.

#1 Mixing Verb Forms

Be consistent with verb forms in your lists or comparisons. If you start with an infinitive (to + verb), continue with infinitives. If you start with a gerund (verb + -ing), use gerunds.


Incorrect: He decided to buy groceries, clean the house, and taking a nap.

Correct: He decided to buy groceries, clean the house, and take a nap.

In this example, the incorrect sentence mixes infinitives and gerunds. The correct sentence maintains consistency by using infinitives throughout the list.

#2 Inconsistent prepositions

When using prepositions in a list, make sure they are either consistently used or omitted.


Incorrect: She is skilled at playing the guitar, the piano, and in singing.

Correct: She is skilled at playing the guitar, playing the piano, and singing.

In this example, the incorrect sentence inconsistently applies the preposition “at.” The correct sentence either consistently uses or omits “at” throughout the list.

#3 Unbalanced comparisons

When comparing items, ensure that the structure is the same on both sides of the comparison.


Incorrect: Her cooking is more enjoyable than to eat at a restaurant.

Correct: Eating her cooking is more enjoyable than eating at a restaurant.

In this example, the incorrect sentence compares a gerund with an infinitive. The correct sentence maintains parallelism by using gerunds for both sides of the comparison.

In Conclusion

Parallel structure is a key component of English grammar that greatly contributes to the clarity, readability, and overall quality of your writing. By understanding and applying the principles of parallelism, you can improve your writing skills and make your work more engaging and accessible for your readers.

With practice and attention to detail, you can master parallel structure and elevate your writing to new heights.

Niaj A A Khan is an ESL Instructor with over 8 years of experience in teaching & developing resources at different universities and institutes. Mr. Khan is also a passionate writer working on his first book, "Learn English at Ease."

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