Author Topic: The great importance of parallelism in good writing – 2  (Read 6556 times)

Joe Carillo

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The great importance of parallelism in good writing – 2
« on: February 27, 2020, 01:18:12 AM »
Last week’s discussion emphasized that to achieve truly good writing in English, we should aim for parallelism every time we make statements that present several grammar elements in a series. Elements alike in function should all have the same grammar pattern. Using this parallelism rule, in particular, an article or preposition that applies to each of all the serial elements in a sentence must either be used only once before the first serial element, or else used again before every serial element.



The importance of parallel construction will become more evident when we examine this sentence that serially enumerates three distinct grammar elements: “Alberto likes reading, jogging, and to bike.” That sentence is disjointed and reads badly because the three serial elements don’t have a consistent pattern. The first two, “reading” and “jogging,” are in parallel because both are gerunds (“-ing” noun forms), but the third, “to bike,” is an infinitive that ruins the parallel pattern.

A quick fix for this unparallel construction is, of course, simply to put the third element also in gerund form, “biking.” The sentence then would read this way: “Alberto likes reading, jogging, and biking,” This parallel construction is now grammatically balanced and, better still, no longer sounds stilted.

Another way for that original sentence to achieve parallelism is to convert all three of its serial elements into infinitives: “Alberto likes to read, to jog, and to bike.” And as we saw in our discussions last week, that sentence can be further streamlined by using “to” only once right before the first infinitive element: “Alberto likes to read, jog, and bike.”

As a rule, we need to put in parallel not only single words or short phrases but much more complicated grammatical forms such as extended phrases and clauses as well as long serial lists. Still, the basic parallelism rule is the same: never mix grammatical forms. We have to choose the most appropriate form for similar or related ideas, then stick to the same pattern all the way.

Consider this sentence with three extended grammatical elements: “The chief executive decided to fire the advertising manager because he rarely managed to come up with the company’s TV commercials on time, approved the publication of several major print advertising with serious grammar errors, and his relations with both his staff and the advertising agencies were very bad.”

The first subordinate clause, “he rarely managed to come up with the company’s TV commercials on time,” is in parallel with the second subordinate clause, “(he) approved the publication of several major print advertising with serious grammar errors,” as both are active verb forms using “he” (the advertising manager) as the subject. However, the third subordinate clause, “his human relations with both his staff and the advertising agencies were very poor,” disrupts the parallel pattern in the series. This is because it is in the passive verb form, one that has for its subject not “he” but another noun form, “his relations with both his staff and the advertising agencies.”

Now see and hear how much better the sentence reads when we modify that third element to make it parallel with the first two extended elements: “The chief executive decided to fire the advertising manager because he rarely managed to come up with the company’s TV commercials on time, allowed the publication of several major print advertising with serious grammar errors, and related very badly with both his staff and the advertising agencies.”

In the all-parallel reconstruction above, the noun phrase “his relations with both his staff and the advertising agencies” is now an an active-verb phrase, “related very badly with both his staff and the advertising agencies.” It now perfectly matches the active-verb form of the other two phrases in the series.

(Next week:  The great importance of parallelism in good writing – 3)   March 5, 2020                              

This essay, 1,183rd of the series, appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the Campus Press section of the February 27, 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 – 2

« Last Edit: March 19, 2020, 07:44:44 AM by Joe Carillo »