Parallelism is a type of repetition. A writer presents a series of sentences or sentence elements, all written in a similar style or manner. Sometimes words are repeated, but sometimes the repetition is only a similarity.
Writers often balance similar words, phrases, and clauses to emphasize particular ideas and create pleasing rhythms (e.g., To err is human, to forgive divine). In a balanced sentence, phrases or clauses parallel each other by virtue of their likeness of structure, meaning, or length. Think of a balanced sentence as a see-saw in which equal weights are placed on each end. The problem with many awkward-sounding sentences is that they are NOT balanced. Below, please find several examples of sentences corrected through balancing. Additional models can be viewed via the links at the bottom of this page.
Unbalanced: She doesn’t like washing clothes or housework.
Balanced: She doesn’t like washing clothes or doing housework.
Unbalanced: The British Museum is a wonderful place to see ancient Egyptian art, you can explore African artifacts, and find beautiful textiles from around the world.
Balanced: The British Museum is a wonderful place where you can find ancient Egyptian art, explore African artifacts, and discover beautiful textiles from around the world.
Unbalanced: The Writing Center needs tutors who are ambitious, motivate themselves, and exhibit dedication.
Balanced: The Writing Center needs tutors who are ambitious, who are self-motivated, and who are dedicated.
Unbalanced: Janet researches cell membranes and walls.
Balanced: Janet researches cell membranes and cell walls.
Unbalanced: Boy Scouts at the camp can learn cooking, canoeing, swimming, or how to make ropes.
Balanced: Boy Scouts at the camp can learn cooking, canoeing, swimming, or rope-making.
Unbalanced: The hurricane not only destroyed the fishing fleet but also the homes of the fishermen.
Balanced: The hurricane destroyed not only the fishing fleet but also the homes of the fishermen.
Unbalanced: He said that he would meet you at the soccer field and not to be late.
Balanced: He said that he would meet you at the soccer field and that you should not be late.
Unbalanced: Dominic does not have enough time to play soccer, join the debating team, and band.
Balanced: Dominic does not have enough time to play soccer, to join the debating team, and to participate in band.
To create balanced sentences, writers must use parallelism. In math, parallel lines contain the same angle and slope. In composition, parallel elements are written in a similar manner or style.
You can achieve parallelism by repeating sentence structures or by beginning related phrases and clauses with words that have the same grammatical form. For example:
I lingered round them, under that benign sky: watched the moths fluttering among the heath and harebells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quite earth. –Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights [note how that subject “I” does four things, all of similar grammatical structures: lingered…, watched…, listened…., wondered….]
In the past we have had a light which flickered, in the present we have a light which flames, and in the future there will be a light which shines over the land and the sea. –Sir Winston Churchill [Note how the writer addresses time in a similar, or parallel, manner. "In the past...in the present...in the future...." Each element begins with a parallel prepositional phrase.]
His unbrushed, curly, red hair blowing in the wind, Preston, the captain of the debate squad and President of the Science Club, walked in to the biggest party of the year, situating his glasses on his freckled face, pulling up his trousers, snapping his suspenders, making all the girls swoon. [Note how the sentence ends with a participial phrases.]
Her out of style shoes clicking on the hardwood floor, Brandy, the most popular senior in the class, who was happy it was the weekend, was up in her room, putting on her thick rimmed black glasses, heading towards her high quality microscope, examining the stem cells, following the pattern of her usual weekend activities. [Behold! Another series of parallel participial phrases to end a sentence.]
Racing through the aisles looking for the toy the that her daughter desired, the frantic mother, a woman eager to please her child, rushed to satisfy her daughter, who shouted at the top of her lungs, who was making a scene in a public place, who knew her mother would give in soon, who always got what she wanted. [This sentence ends with a series of parallel adjective clauses.]
Writers often use a series of parallel elements in their sentences. They may use parallel participial phrases, parallel adjective clauses, parallel absolute phrases, parallel appositive phrases, or parallel adverb clauses, among other tools.
A series of sentences can also be parallel:
I came. I saw. I conquered.
We need a leader with moxie. We need a leader with intelligence. We need a leader with courage.
For AP analysis: Why might a writer use parallelism?
Consider first the rhythmic flow of the above examples. Next, consider the repetition of structures, which draws attention to certain figures or elements. Lastly, note how the unusual construction creates a standout sentence--something the reader will notice. Parallel elements attract attention. It is like putting a spotlight on a sentence or a series of sentences. The intentional repetition sticks in the minds of readers or listeners, aiding recall later. In short, parallelism helps the writer make a portion of his or her work stand out from the rest of the page.
Public speakers frequently use parallelism because its rythmic qualities greatly affect listeners. President-elect Barack Obama is a master of parallelism. Consider the following examples taken from recent speeches:
But I also know this: You're trying to pay your bills every week and stay above the water - you can't ignore it. You're worrying about whether your job will be there a month from now - you can't ignore it. You're worrying about whether you can pay your mortgage and stay in your house - you can't turn the page. In 30 days you are going to elect the next president, and you need and deserve a president who is going to wake up every day and fight for you, and fight for the middle class, and fight to create jobs and grow our economy again -- not another president who doesn't get it. Not another President who ignores our problems. Not more of the same..."
Remarks of Senator Barack Obama (Asheville, NC) http://www.barackobama.com/2008/10/05/remarks_of_senator_barack_obam_128.php
This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don't have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.
This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn't look like you might take your job; it's that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.
This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should've been authorized and never should've been waged, and we want to talk about how we'll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.
Obama, Barack. "Obama Race Speech." 18 March 2008. The Huffington Post. 13 Oct 2008 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/03/18/obama-race-speech-read-t_n_92077.html.
"...But in the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope. For when we have faced down impossible odds; when we’ve been told that we’re not ready, or that we shouldn’t try, or that we can’t, generations of Americans have responded with a simple creed that sums up the spirit of a people.
Yes we can.
It was a creed written into the founding documents that declared the destiny of a nation.
Yes we can.
It was whispered by slaves and abolitionists as they blazed a trail toward freedom through the darkest of nights.
Yes we can.
It was sung by immigrants as they struck out from distant shores and pioneers who pushed westward against an unforgiving wilderness.
Yes we can.
It was the call of workers who organized; women who reached for the ballot; a President who chose the moon as our new frontier; and a King who took us to the mountaintop and pointed the way to the Promised Land.
Yes we can to justice and equality. Yes we can to opportunity and prosperity. Yes we can heal this nation. Yes we can repair this world. Yes we can..."
Remarks of Senator Barack Obama(Nashua, NH) http://www.barackobama.com/2008/01/08/remarks_of_senator_barack_obam_82.php
We all made this journey for a reason. It's humbling, but in my heart I know you didn't come here just for me, you came here because you believe in what this country can be. In the face of war, you believe there can be peace. In the face of despair, you believe there can be hope. In the face of a politics that's shut you out, that's told you to settle, that's divided us for too long, you believe we can be one people, reaching for what's possible, building that more perfect union.
Our Past, Future & Vision for America February 10, 2007 Obama Presidential Announcement Springfield, Illinois