Author Topic: The great importance of parallelism in good writing – 1  (Read 11191 times)

Joe Carillo

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The great importance of parallelism in good writing – 1
« on: February 20, 2020, 06:06:00 AM »
Let me begin this discussion by pointing out that good writing doesn’t simply depend on the richness and persuasiveness of ideas nor on grammatical correctness but also on our skill in setting thoughts in parallel. By parallel, of course, I mean the clear and orderly positioning of identical syntactical elements in a sentence. Indeed, the basic principle for parallelism is that to ensure clarity and avoid needless distraction, all grammatical elements of the ideas set in a series in a sentence or statement should have the same form and structure.



Always keep in mind that this parallelism principle applies to all parts of speech, from articles and prepositions to nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs and to infinitives, gerunds, and participles as well. Indeed, how we conscientiously observe this principle will greatly determine the readability and attention-getting power of our expositions.

For starters, we need to observe this very basic parallelism rule for the use of articles and prepositions—that an article or a preposition that applies to all the serial elements of a sentence must either be used only once before the first serial element, or else used again before every serial element. This is how awkward a sentence looks and sounds when this rule is violated: “The Chinese, Thais, the Indonesians, and Vietnamese all live in the Asian mainland.”

Now feel the vast tonal improvement in that sentence when “the” is used only once before the first element: “The Chinese, Thais, Indonesians, and Vietnamese all live in the Asian mainland.” Or, instead, when “the” is consistently used before each serial element: “The Chinese, the Thais, the Indonesians, and the Vietnamese all live in the Asian mainland.”

In practice, the need for parallel structure will be most keenly felt when the statement uses the conjunctions “and,” “or,” “yet,” and “but.” Take a look at this serial enumeration that requires “in” for each element: “We won in the major provinces, in the key cities, and in towns with a population of over 20,000.”  The repeated use of the preposition “in” for all the three phrases in series strongly dramatizes the idea of winning in each of the areas cited.

Now see what happens when we knock off “in” from the last two phrases: “We won in the major provinces, the key cities, and towns with a population of over 20,000.” The sentence remains grammatically correct, but it no longer has the rhythmic power and emphasis of the original sentence; indeed, there’s even the risk that the last phrase won’t be understood in its proper context.

Now let’s carry out the parallelism to a higher plane by setting in parallel even more grammatical elements for that same sentence: “We won in the major provinces, we won in the key cities, and we won in towns with a population of over 20,000.”  Using “we won” in all the three clauses gives the sentence strong emotional power—that burst of enthusiasm normally expected from the speaker under such circumstances. Such use of parallelism for rhetorical purposes is actually the secret of experienced orators and propagandists in making their arguments, whether valid or not, more memorable and persuasive. 

The same value of parallelism can be seen in sentences using “or”: “You can take your vacation in New York, or you can take it in Paris.” This is obviously much more emphatic than this nonparallel construction, “You can take your vacation in New York, or in Paris,” where the second “you can take” has been dropped.

In the same way, look how this weak nonparallel statement, “You can take the train; better yet the plane,” gets more emphatic and forceful when we repeat the verb “take” in the second phrase: “You can take the train; better yet take the plane.”
   
(Next:  The importance of parallelism in good writing – 2)     February 27, 2020                                 
This essay, 1,182nd of the series, appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the Campus Press section of the February 20, 2020 print and Internet editions of The Manila Times,© 2020 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.

Check out this column online in The Manila Times:
The great importance of parallelism in good writing – 1

READ THE LATER THREE PARTS OF THIS PARALLELISM SERIES IN THE FORUM:
“The great importance of parallelism in good writing” - Part 2
“The great importance of parallelism in good writing” - Part 3
“The great importance of parallelism in good writing” - Part 4



« Last Edit: March 15, 2024, 01:46:22 PM by Joe Carillo »