• The SAT/PSAT frequently presents sentences containing problems with parallelism. Often, these sentences are difficult to diagnose as errant because readers understand the writer's point.

    Below, please find an explanation of parallel structure from Purdue University's English Department, followed by a series of examples.

    At the bottom of this page are collected problems from various released SAT/PSAT's involving issues with parallelism.

     


    Parallel Structure

    (Take from: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/623/01/)

    Parallel structure means using the same pattern of words to show that two or more ideas have the same level of importance. This can happen at the word, phrase, or clause level. The usual way to join parallel structures is with the use of coordinating conjunctions such as "and" or "or."

    Words and Phrases

    With the -ing form (gerund) of words:

    Parallel: Mary likes hiking, swimming, and bicycling.

    With infinitive phrases:

    Parallel: Mary likes to hike, to swim, and to ride a bicycle.
    OR
    Mary likes to hike, swim, and ride a bicycle.

    (Note: You can use "to" before all the verbs in a sentence or only before the first one.)

    Do not mix forms.

    Example 1

    Not Parallel:
    Mary likes hiking, swimming, and to ride a bicycle.

    Parallel:
    Mary likes hiking, swimming, and riding a bicycle.

    Example 2

    Not Parallel:
    The production manager was asked to write his report quickly, accurate ly, and in a detailed manner.

    Parallel:
    The production manager was asked to write his report quickly, accurately, and thoroughly.

    Example 3

    Not Parallel:
    The teacher said that he was a poor student because he waited until the last minute to study for the exam, completed his lab problems in a careless manner, and his motivation was low.

    Parallel:
    The teacher said that he was a poor student because he waited until the last minute to study for the exam, completed his lab problems in a careless manner, and lacked motivation.

    Clauses

    A parallel structure that begins with clauses must keep on with clauses. Changing to another pattern or changing the voice of the verb (from active to passive or vice versa) will break the parallelism.

    Example 1

    Not Parallel:
    The coach told the players that they should get a lot of sleep, that they should not eat too much, and to do some warm-up exercises before the game.

    Parallel:
    The coach told the players that they should get a lot of sleep, that they should not eat too much, and that they should do some warm-up exercises before the game.

    — or —

    Parallel:
    The coach told the players that they should get a lot of sleep, not eat too much, and do some warm-up exercises before the game.

    Example 2

    Not Parallel:
    The salesman expected that he would present his product at the meeting, that there would be time for him to show his slide presentation, and that questions would be asked by prospective buyers. (passive)

    Parallel:
    The salesman expected that he would present his product at the meeting, that there would be time for him to show his slide presentation, and that prospective buyers would ask him questions.

    Lists After a Colon

    Be sure to keep all the elements in a list in the same form.

    Example 1

    Not Parallel:
    The dictionary can be used for these purposes: to find word meanings, pronunciations, correct spellings, and looking up irregular verbs.

    Parallel:
    The dictionary can be used for these purposes: to find word meanings, pronunciations, correct spellings, and irregular verbs.

    Proofreading Strategies to Try:

    • Skim your paper, pausing at the words "and" and "or." Check on each side of these words to see whether the items joined are parallel. If not, make them parallel.
    • If you have several items in a list, put them in a column to see if they are parallel.
    • Listen to the sound of the items in a list or the items being compared. Do you hear the same kinds of sounds? For example, is there a series of "-ing" words beginning each item? Or do your hear a rhythm being repeated? If something is breaking that rhythm or repetition of sound, check to see if it needs to be made parallel.


    SAMPLE PROBLEMS INVOLVING PARALLELISM FROM RELEASED SAT/PSAT's:

    (Note: All sentences are given as originally written. The elements that should be made parallel are underlined.)

     

    Social scientists agree that a system for exchanging goods and services is not only present but also of necessity in all societies.

    It is far easier to ride a bicycle than explaining in words exactly how a bicycle is ridden.

    Each time Caroline turns on her computer, she has to enter a company code, then her initials, and then enters a passwords before she can begin working.

    Surface mining is is safer, quicker, and cheaper than deep mining, but the greater is its toll in human misery. (The second sentence should begin with "its toll in human misery....")

    Toni Morrison was honored by Harvard University not only as a great novelist but also she wrote eloquently of the history of African American culture. (The writer contrasts a phrase and a sentence. It should be a phrase to a phrase or a sentence to a sentence.)

    The spirit of the honor code to which each student subscribes requires academic honesty, respectful behavior, and it demands responsibility in action.

    Today the primary role of advertising may be to appeal and persuade rather than what it once did educating and informing. (The latter part should be "to educate and inform.")

    Readers of the novice writer's recent book have said that it is at once frustrating because of its chaotic structure but its originality is still a delight. (Note that the two underlined phrases don't match. Perhaps change the second one to "delightful because of its originality.)