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Which train track would you like to see ahead of you as you coast through the countryside? Dumb question, right? I know. I know. But would you say the same thing if I showed you two sentences and asked you to decide which ‘track’ is parallel?
Which would you rather do: fly like a bird in the skies or be swimming in the seas like a fish? or Which would you rather do: fly like a bird in the skies or swim like a fish in the seas?
If you chose the first sentence, your paragraph just careened off the ‘tracks’ into a granite gorge. Just as train tracks need to be perfectly parallel east to west, your words, phrases, and sentences need to be perfectly parallel beginning to end.
By using parallelism, you can emphasize an idea with greater force; you can improve the rhythm and style of your sentences; you can make your ideas more memorable; and you can make it easier for your readers to process the information on the screen or page.
Parallelism is all about consistency. It requires similar ideas to have a similar form and structure. This applies to comparisons, sentences with lists, simple sentences with linking verbs, and collections of sentences.
Parallelism in phrases and clauses can apply to the repetition of a collection of words at the beginning or at the end of those phrases and clauses. Word order plays an important role in parallelism too. In the previous sentence, I used “phrases and clauses” twice, and both times these words stayed in the same order. It would be disarming if the first time I wrote “phrases and clauses,” and the second time I wrote “clauses and phrases.”
HOW TO CORRECT
Depending on the situation, you will have a couple ways to revise faulty parallelism. On the test, you will not have much flexibility with how to correct the sentence, but when you are writing, you will have many options. Remember to choose the construction that is most clear, natural, and concise.
Gerunds and Infinitives
A common faulty parallelism involves switching between gerunds and infinitives in a list. Remember to stay consistent. So, decide on what form you want to use, and change all items in the list to this form.
FAULTY: Living in San Francisco, driving up and down all the hills, and to shift between gears makes for exciting driving.
PARALLEL: Living in San Francisco, driving up and down all the hills, and shifting between the gears makes for exciting driving.
Phrase and Articles
Make sure that a list of phrases are parallel. Parallelism can apply not only to the beginning of phrases and clauses, but also to the end of phrases and clauses. So, look at the whole phrase when you are deciding if they are parallel.
FAULTY: On the way to the market, I saw many cats, I saw many dogs, and there was even an elephant on the beach.
PARALLEL: On the way to the market, I saw many cats, I saw many dogs, and I saw an elephant on the beach.
Make sure that the items you are comparing are the same part of speech and the same structure.
FAULTY: Either the death of her mother or the fact that her dog died soon after led to Ophelia’s deep depression.
PARALLEL: Either the death of her mother or death of her dog soon after led to Ophelia’s deep depression.
ON THE TEST
Anytime you find a comparison in a sentence, or a sentence that contains a list of things, check the things being compared or the items in the list. This is a prime location for faulty parallelism. More often than not, these structures were put there by the testmaker for a specific reason–to test your knowledge of parallelism.
The best way to identify a lot of these errors is to individually read each item of the list with the stem phrase at the beginning of the sentence. In this way, you will be able to quickly see if they match.
Some problems will be made even more difficult by the addition of modifying phrases separating the items in the lists. Ignore these phrases when checking a sentence and choosing an answer choice.