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Parallelism … not as hard as parallel parking

Thursday, 2 September 2010  |  Posted by Brenda Drake

Okay, I’ve had so much coffee that I’m totally writing under the influence today. I did have a wonderful skinny caramel latte when I went to Borders to write (gawked at some hot guy who looked like Jon Hamm, but then he picked his nose and ruined the fantasy for me). That’s enough about my boring escapades.

Parallelism is a similarity of structure in a pair or series of related words, phrases, or clauses. My favorite sentence, and probably most Americans’ favorite, that uses parallelism is John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country”. 

So why am I blogging about parallelism? Well, because it’s a mistake I’ve seen lately while critiquing others’ work. When listing a series of words in a sentence, it’s very important to do it right. Here’s a little quiz  on parallel structures to test yourself.

Question 1:

(A) My mother added ice, lemon, and mixed in two heaping teaspoons of sugar into a glass of water.

(B) My mother added ice and lemon into a glass of water, and then mixed in two heaping teaspoons of sugar.

Question 2:

(A) There’s nothing I like better than finding a good book, sitting by a tree, and spending a couple of hours reading.

(B) There’s nothing I like better than finding a good book, sitting by a tree, and to spend a couple of  hours reading.

Question 3:

(A) Sara’s Coach purse is more expensive than Kali.

(B) Sara’s Coach purse is more expensive than Kali’s.

Question 4:

(A) She wanted three things out of her writing class: to learn a skill, to make good friends, and to learn about life.

(B) She wanted three things out of her writing class: to learn a skill, to make good friends, and learning about life.

Question 5:

(A) She found the book repulsive, offensive, and she thought it was embarrassing.

(B) She found the book repulsive, offensive, and embarrassing.

Question 6:

(A) Sandy kept her bathroom clean, neat, and she made it conveniently arranged.

(B) Sandy kept her bathroom clean, neat, and conveniently arranged.

Answers:

1-B One of these sentences is independent. This is tricky. They both sound okay, but one is more clearer than the other.

2-A Three gerunds are parallel as opposed to two gerunds and an infinitive.

3-B Kali’s not expensive the coach purse is.

4-A The second sentence mixes two infinitives with a participle.

5-B Use three similar adjectives instead of two adjectives and an independent clause.

6-B Modifiers can be added to parallel forms for variety.

When I was just learning, I mistakenly believed that I had to vary the form of my expressions. I worried about echoing words. But I know now that with Parallelism, it’s stronger to repeat words as in President Kennedy’s statement above. 

Listen not with your eyes but with your ears; the eyes cannot see what the ears hear.


That’s it. And stay off the road when I’m parallel parking.
 

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