Elizabeth has taught elementary and middle school special education, and has a master's degree in reading education.
What Is Parallelism?
If you know what parallel lines in geometry terms are, then you have a good idea of what parallelism means in writing. In math, parallel lines are a set of lines that do not touch or meet. In terms of grammar, parallelism is a pair or a series of related words or phrases. Just like parallel lines, words or phrases using a parallelism should be related and similar, but they should not overlap or intersect.
When using parallelism, it's important that the words in the pair or the list have the same form. For example, nouns go with nouns, infinitive forms go with infinitive forms, and so on. Keep your terms parallel: you don't want a noun to cross over and be mixed with a verb. Parallelism can help the reader understand what you are saying and make your writing flow.
Here is a simple example using parallelism with nouns:
- Charles packed his pencils, pens, and notebooks in his backpack.
And another where each item ends in '-ing:'
- Terrance went hiking, swimming, and zip-lining on his camping trip.
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How Does It Become Faulty?
Faulty parallelism happens when the parts of your series do not follow the same structure or format. Here's an example using the sentence about Charles:
- Charles packed his pencils, pens, and put his notebooks in his backpack.
Adding the verb 'put' breaks up the flow of the sentence and makes it confusing and choppy. Instead of having a series with three nouns, the sentence now has two nouns followed by a verb.
If your writing has a series of phrases, the phrases should have a similar structure. For example:
- Staying active is an important part of being healthy, being happy, and weight loss.
The first two phrases in the series follow the same structure ('-ing' verb), but the last one is a noun (weight loss). You could easily rewrite the sentence so that each phrase follows a similar structure:
- Staying active is an important part of being healthy, being happy, and losing weight.
Faulty parallelism can also happen if you are writing a list. Each item should follow a similar structure. Don't mix phrases with complete sentences, or statements with questions.
Let's take a look at some more examples of faulty parallelism, followed by corrections. The first one:
- Tricia made a list of her favorite activities: painting, drawing, bike riding, and to fly kites.
How might you correct the sentence so that it eliminates the faulty parallel? We might write instead:
- Tricia made a list of her favorite activities: painting, drawing, bike riding, and flying kites.
Another faulty sentence might go something like this:
- It is sometimes easier to be wrong than trying to be right.
In this one, we only have two parts that have to agree with one another. Corrected, it might read:
- It is sometimes easier to be wrong than to be right.
Last one. After reading the sentence, correct it yourself to eliminate the faulty parallel:
- The first day of training was focused on accessing e-mail, recording time, and vacation days.
So, what did you write? To make the sentence work, we might write something like:
- The first day of training was focused on accessing e-mail, recording time, and taking vacation days.
Faulty parallelism happens in writing when the structure or form in a pair or in a series gets confused. It can also happen with lists if the format becomes mixed up. Parallelism can help writing flow, but faulty parallelism can be confusing and distracting.
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What is Faulty Parallelism? - Definition & Examples
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