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Author Topic: Harnessing parallelism for structural balance  (Read 171 times)
Joe Carillo
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« on: November 16, 2017, 08:07:16 AM »

In the preceding four parts of this series, we saw that the consistent use of parallel structures is the key to more readable, more forceful, and more polished sentences. For clearer and more cohesive sentences, we need to always use parallel structures when presenting various elements in a list, when comparing elements, when joining elements with a linking verb or a verb or being, and when joining elements with correlative conjunctions.

To wind up our discussions on parallel construction, we’ll take up two more techniques for harnessing parallelism to give structural balance and better rhythm to sentences. These techniques can dramatically improve our writing and give it a distinctive style.

Use parallel structure for adjectives and adverbs. Aim for parallel patterns when using adjectives and adverbs in our sentences, seeking structural balance for them as we do for noun forms, verb forms, infinitives, and gerunds.

Unparallel construction: “She danced gracefully, with confidence and as if exerting no effort at all.” Here, the sentence is stilted because the modifiers of the verb “danced” have taken different grammatical forms: “gracefully” (adverb), “with confidence” (adjective introduced by a preposition), and “as if exerting no effort at all” (adverbial phrase).

Parallel construction: “She danced gracefully, confidently, and effortlessly.” The consistent adverb/adverb/adverb pattern gives the sentence a strong sense of unity and drama.

Unparallel construction: “The gang attempted an audacious bank robbery that was marked by lightning speed and done in a commando manner.” The sentence reads badly because the three modifiers of “bank robbery” are grammatically different: “audacious” (adjective), “marked by lightning speed” (participial phrase), and “done in a commando manner” (another participial phrase).

Parallel construction: “The gang attempted an audacious, lightning-swift, commando-type bank robbery.” The sentence is much more forceful because the adjective-adjective-adjective pattern is consistent for all three modifiers of “bank robbery.”

Use parallel structure for several elements serving as complements of a sentence. For more cohesive and forceful sentences, always look for a suitable common pattern for their complements. Recall that a complement is an added word or expression that completes the predicate of a sentence. For instance, in “They included Albert in their soccer lineup,” the phrase “in their soccer lineup” is the complement.

Unparallel construction: “We basked in the kindness of our gracious hosts, walking leisurely in the benign morning sunshine, and the palm trees would rustle pleasantly when we napped in the lazy afternoons.” Here, we have a confusing construction because the three elements serving as complements don’t have a common grammatical pattern: “the kindness of our hosts” (noun phrase), “walking leisurely in the benign morning sunshine” (progressive verb form), and “the palm trees would rustle pleasantly when we napped in the lazy afternoons” (clause).

Parallel construction: “We basked in the kindness of our gracious hosts, in the benign sunshine during our early morning walks, and in the pleasant rustle of the palm trees when we napped in the lazy afternoons.” The sentence reads much better this time because the three complements are now all noun phrases set in parallel—“in the kindness of our gracious hosts,” “in the benign morning sunshine during our early morning walks,” and “in the pleasant rustle of the palm trees when we napped in the lazy afternoons.” All three have been made to work as adverbial phrase modifiers of the verb “basked.”


In actual writing, the need to use parallel structures in our sentences won’t always be apparent at first. As we develop our compositions, however, always look for opportunities for parallel construction, choose the most suitable grammatical pattern for them, then pursue that pattern consistently. Along with good grammar, this is actually the great secret to good writing that many of us have been looking for all along.

This ends the five-part series on parallelism.

This essay, 1066th in the series, appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the Education Section of the November 16, 2017 issue (print edition only) of The Manila Times, © 2017 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.

(Next: Getting to know the noun phrase better)   November 23, 2017
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