3.3 Parallel Construction
Parallel construction is the repetition of a certain grammatical pattern. Use of parallel structure will add a sense of order, balance, and control to your writing.
Parallel construction is particularly useful when writing a bulleted list.
When we use parallel construction, we must edit carefully to make sure that the parallelism is sustained.
In Example 1 above, each item listed follows the same grammatical pattern: a preposition ( ‘at’ ) followed by a substantive noun ( ‘marine biology’, ‘nuclear physics’ , or ‘pictorial art’. In Example 2, the last item ( ‘painting pictures’ ) breaks the pattern by using a verb followed by a noun.
Whenever a sentence contains two or more similar elements, it is stylistically preferable to keep them parallel, no matter how small they are.
In a series of nouns ( ‘naming’ words ), each item should be a noun.
In a series of adjectives ( ‘describing’ words ), each item should be an adjective.
In a series of verbs ( ‘doing’ words ), each item should be a verb. Within a sentence, make sure that all the verbs are either active or passive, not a mixture of the two.
In a series of adverbs ( words that qualify verbs or adjectives ), each item should be an adverb.
As the last example suggests, the same principle of balance applies to pairs as well as to series. Pairs are usually balanced on either side of ‘and’, ‘but’, ‘or’, ‘as well as’, ‘both . . . and’.
Some of the most troublesome parallels to control are those using ‘either . . . or’, ‘neither . . . nor’, ‘not only . . . but also’. A useful way of thinking about these is to imagine a playground seesaw, with the words after “either” on one side of the seesaw and the words after “or” on the other side. Make sure that they balance.
Note that “cast doubt on the judge’s wisdom” does not balance with “on his impartiality”.
Prepositions & Article
If you repeat a preposition ( ‘for’, ‘by’, ‘to’, ‘in’, ‘at’, ‘with’, ‘under’, ‘over’, ‘from’, ‘before’, etc.) or an article ( ‘a’ or ‘the’ ) once, repeat it every time.
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