Judy Hagey

Nonfiction Editor ~ Freelance Writer

Parallel Structure: Not Just for Railroad Tracks

writingtipsParallel structure is as essential for good writing as it is for railroad tracks. Just as railroad tracks must be level and equally spaced to insure a safe ride, elements within a sentence that are alike in function should also be alike in construction. Failure to do so results in faulty parallelism.

Parallel construction or parallelism is necessary when a sentence contains similar elements. Every part of a parallel element must match the others in both function and grammar. This creates a symmetry, similar to railroad tracks, that insures a clear, smooth read.

Here are five constructions in which parallelism is required:

  1. Elements that are joined by coordinating conjunctions. These can be words, phrases or clauses. (Need a mnemonic to remember the conjunctions for, and, no, but, or, yet? Try FANBOY or Four Apes Nibbled Big Orange Yams.)

Faulty Parallelism: The train left the station and advancing to the next stop. (inconsistent verb tense)

Parallel Construction: The train left the station and advanced to the next stop. (consistent verb tense)

2. Items in a list or series.

Faulty Parallelism: The train, designed for function rather than comfort, had no passenger cars, no sleepers, and it didn’t have a dining car.

Parallel Construction: The train, designed for function rather than comfort, had no passenger cars, no sleepers, and no dining car.

Or: The train, designed for function rather than comfort, had neither passenger cars, sleepers, nor diners.

3. When comparing elements.

Faulty Parallelism: The Burlington Northern’s stock is newer than Amtrak.

Parallel Construction: The Burlington Northern’s stock is newer than Amtrak’s. (possessive indicates comparison of like objects: the stock belonging to the rail line, not the line itself.)

Faulty Parallelism: I like flying better than to take the train.

Parallel Construction: I like to fly better than to take the train.

4. Joining elements with a linking or to be verb.

Faulty Parallelism: Riding the rails is to take a step back in time.

Parallel Construction: Riding the rails is taking a step back in time.

5. Joining elements with a correlative conjunction. Correlative conjunctions are pairs of conjunctions (either-or; neither-nor; both-and; not only-but also) that require equal/parallel structures after each one.

Faulty Parallelism: The owner of the rail line didn’t communicate with the victims nor acknowledge their loss.

Parallel Construction: The owner of the rail line neither communicated with the victims nor acknowledged their loss.

May all your rails run straight and smooth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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