Parallel Construction: The Basics
By Chris Cherry
When composing, you may want to detail a series, or list of actions or ideas. One way to do this is to write a separate sentence for each one:
Carrie bought a sweater. Carrie bought a scarf. Carrie bought some boots.
However, what happens is that, by using a complete sentence for each item, your writing runs the risk of being dull, repetitive, and stilted (as the case above highlights).
A more sophisticated and streamlined way to compose when dealing with a series is to incorporate all the items into a single sentence. When you do so, however, you should follow the rule of parallel construction. Parallel construction refers to the need for a sentence that contains a list or series to retain the same syntactical structure throughout. For example:
Carrie bought a sweater, a scarf, and some boots.
All the parts of this series share the phrase Carrie bought. Notice that, if you break this series into parts, each of the parts retain the same syntactical structure.
Carrie bought a sweater, Carrie bought a scarf, and Carrie bought some boots all make sense on their own.
Now, let’s look at the following sentence, which does not follow the rule of parallel construction:
I’m baking a cake, a pie, and frying some chicken.
What’s wrong here? Let’s break it down to find out.
I’m baking a cake and I’m baking a pie both make sense, as they follow the correct syntactical structure after using the gerund -ing in baking, a verb which they share. However, I’m baking frying some chicken does not. Frying some chicken has its own verb, when it should, if following the rule of parallel construction, share the same verb as a cake and a pie.
A more grammatically correct version of this sentence would be:
I’m making a cake, baking a pie, and frying some chicken.
This sentence solves the parallel construction problem by giving each noun its own verb. Now, each of the parts of the series has a verb.
In this case, the only word that each of the parts of the series share is I’m. I’m baking a cake, I’m making a pie, and I’m frying some chicken all make sense.
When listing verbs in a series, as above, it’s important that all the verbs be the same form. Notice how baking, making, and frying all end in the gerund, –ing.