Author Topic: The great importance of parallelism in good writing – 4  (Read 5066 times)

Joe Carillo

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The great importance of parallelism in good writing – 4
« on: March 12, 2020, 01:08:34 AM »
To complete our discussions on parallel construction, we’ll take up three more techniques for achieving structural balance and better rhythm for our sentences: (1) When a sentence begins with a clause, sustain a parallel clause pattern for the other serial elements; (2) Use parallel structure for adjectives and adverbs; and (3) Use parallel structure for serial grammar elements serving as complements of a sentence.

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A parallel structure that begins with a clause should sustain that pattern all the way. When a sentence shifts from the clause pattern to phrase form, or when any clause shifts from active to passive voice or the other way around, the parallelism falls apart. The sentence gets disjointed and doesn’t read well.

Take this sentence with three serial grammatical elements: “The English professor told the students that they should aim for perfect attendance, that they should always do their assigned homework, and to submit their term papers on time.” The sentence is unparallel because the first two elements are clauses—“they should aim for perfect attendance” and “they should always do their assigned homework”—but the third element is an infinitive phrase—“to submit their term papers on time.”

To make the sentence perfectly parallel, that third element needs to be changed into a clause—“they should submit their term papers on time.” The sentence will then have an all-clause serial pattern that reads very fluidly: “The English professor told the students that they should aim for perfect attendance, that they should do their assigned homework regularly, and that they should submit their term papers on time.”

Use parallel structure for adjectives and adverbs. Aim for a consistent parallel pattern when using adjectives and adverbs in our sentences, always 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 terribly stilted because the modifiers of the verb “danced” are in 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.

Use parallel structure for serial grammar elements serving as complements of a sentence. For more cohesive sentences, always look for a suitable common pattern for their complements, which we will recall are added words or expressions that complete the predicate of a sentence.

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.” This construction confuses because the three elements serving as complements have different grammatical patterns: “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 working as adverbial phrase modifiers of the verb “basked.”

In practice, the need to use parallel structures in our sentences won’t always be apparent at first. As we develop our compositions, however, we must 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 one of the great secrets to good writing that we should always be on the lookout for.

(Next week: How the English imperfect tense works)    March 19, 2020                            

This essay, 1,185th of the series, appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the Campus Press section of the March 12, 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 – 4

« Last Edit: March 19, 2020, 07:48:19 AM by Joe Carillo »