Grammar Yammer: Parallel Structure - Lists

2019-03-25

We all know that the word parallel in mathematics refers to lines on the same plane that never touch, and that the word "parallel" in the phrase parallel universe refers to a universe that, in theory, exists alongside our universe. Along the same vein, parallel structure in lists refers to a list of items that appear in the same format.

 

This rule is quite simple to understand and also easy to identify. Essentially, items that are part of the list need to hold the same structure, whether they are a list of nouns, verbs or gerunds. Let's look at examples of each type.

 

 

List of Nouns

 

Nouns refer to people, places, or things. A simple example of this would be:

 

✔:Tom's favorite foods include cheese, ham, and bread.

 

X: Tom's favorite foods include cheese, ham, and eating bread.

 

The second example above incorrectly lists eating bread as Tom's favorite food. While bread is a type of food, "eating" bread is classified as a gerund, and thus, is not correctly placed as part of a parallel list.

 

Let's look at a slightly more complicated example.

 

X: Lachlan, a musical genius, could always identify differing timbre, shifts in key, and elements of the style of each piece.

 

While this example contains more description, this is the type of parallel structure sentence that you are more likely to encounter, as it is generally more difficult to identify parallel structure errors when there are so many other words to distract you. The key here is to underline just the items that are required in the list. In this case, "differing", "shifts" and "elements". Now it should be obvious that "differing" does not belong as it is a gerund, while the other two are nouns. Thus, the correct version of the sentence would be:

 

✔:Lachlan, a musical genius, could always identify differences in timbre, shifts in key, and elements of the style of each piece.

 

The correct version contains three nouns "differences", "shifts" and "elements", which makes the items in this list parallel.

 

 

List of Verbs

 

Moving onto verbs, which refer to actions, occurrences, or states of being. Let's dive right into an example:

 

X: When Annie gets ready for soccer tournaments, she fills up her water bottle, will pack an extra snack, and bring an extra set of clothes.

 

Like for lists of nouns, it is easier to identify the verbs that are included in the list such as "fills", "will pack", and "bring". In this instance, all three verbs take different forms and thus, the sentence has an error in parallelism. There are several ways to correct the sentence. The correct versions of the sentence are as follows:

 

✔:When Annie gets ready for soccer tournaments, she fills up her water bottle, packs an extra snack, and brings an extra set of clothes.

 

✔:When Annie gets ready for soccer tournaments, she will fill up her water bottle, pack an extra snack, and bring an extra set of clothes.

 

Both versions of the above sentence are correct, even though they take different forms of the verbs. Remember, as long as all items in the list follow the same structure, the sentence is parallel in structure. If you are asked to choose between multiple correct options on any exam, then the question is likely testing for a different kind of error.

 

 

List of Gerunds

 

Gerunds are words that end in "ing" and function like nouns. Again, let's go straight into an example:

 

✔: Jane takes responsibility for her golden retriever Cookie: walking him, feeding him and brushing his fur daily.


X: Jane takes responsibility for her golden retriever Cookie: walking him, feeding him and she brushes his fur daily.

 

The second version of the sentence includes several grammatically correct items in the list, but is considered not parallel in structure. This renders the entire sentence grammatically incorrect. Thus, it is vital to look at the sentence as a whole and not just in parts in order to determine what is correct.

 

 

If you would like to learn more about grammar, see the rest of our Grammar Yammer series.


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