Some of the most memorable works of great minds owe at least some of their memorability to the use of parallelisms. In his I Have a Dream speech, Martin Luther King Jr.’s repeated use of the phrase “I have a dream” was a perfect way to put emphasis on his powerful ideas. In the first paragraph of his novel A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens’ juxtaposition of light and dark motifs in parallel phrases was a perfect way to create a single-sentence paragraph that was easy to read and comprehend. In its song “Tubthumping,” Chumbawamba’s list of drinks the person drank was the perfect way of creating a song people spent the last few years of the ’90s trying to get out of their heads.

Parallelisms have power, and their power lies in their ability to make things clear. Parallelisms are usually found on the sentence level, but their use, or lack thereof, has a very noticeable effect on the flow and comprehensiveness of an entire work, be it an essay, an article, or a paper. Just take a look at the first paragraph of this article. Try to read it out loud. You’ll notice that something is a bit off about it – that’s because its parallel structure isn’t that good.

Reading Out Loud and Proud

Reading an essay or any other written work out loud is one of the best ways to look for odd-sounding structures. This is especially effective when looking for faulty parallelisms at sentence level, but it shouldn’t be discounted in the search for essay-level parallel structures that aren’t completely right. Let’s see how it works on the first paragraph of this article.

Matching Sentence Structure Improves Clarity of a Paragraph

Even without having to read it out loud, you’ve probably noticed the paragraph was written as a list. The first sentence is okay, as is the second, but in the third things start to get a bit different. It includes a relative clause, as opposed to the sentence before it. To fix this, we could either insert a relative clause into the second sentence or change the third so it doesn’t include it. The more elegant solution is to remove it from the third, so “a single-sentence paragraph that was easy to read and comprehend” becomes “an easily comprehensible single-sentence paragraph.”

Tenses Count, but So Do Forms

The fourth sentence presents us with another problem – the verb “create” is in a different form than in the previous two sentences. This is a common mistake in sentence-level parallelisms, but it illustrates beautifully how sentence-level parallelism rules can be implemented on the essay level. In order to facilitate clarity and balance, which is what parallelisms are used for, it would be a good idea to make sure all the tenses and forms match properly. For the unfortunate fourth sentence of the first paragraph, “creating” becomes “to create,” and everything falls into place.
Well, almost everything. There’s still that mess of a relative clause. If you have an idea for an elegant solution to the problem it poses, feel free to leave it in the comment section below.

Where to Look for Parallelisms

Because of their ability to make or break an essay, parallelisms are well worth the attention that goes into creating good ones and correcting faulty ones. Still, if you know where to focus that attention, you can create and correct parallelisms in a quick and easy way. Just keep your eyes peeled for the following elements in an essay.

All lists should be parallel. You can list nouns, adjectives, adverbs, or verbs in a sentence. You can do the same with phrases and clauses. You can create a bullet-point list. You can string together multiple sentences to form a list. But every item in the list should be the same type of word, in the same form, or with the same structure.

Verbs and their use in texts are also a place to look for parallelisms. You probably know how important it is to use the correct sequence of tenses in a sentence or a paragraph. It’s important throughout the whole document as well, because if you switch tenses in an illogical way between paragraphs, you will greatly damage the clarity of your writing. The same rule applies to forms.

Correlatives are another element that entails the use of parallel structures. They are much easier to look for and sift through than verbs or lists, but they are equally reliant on parallelisms to give them clarity and meaning.