In grammar, parallelism, also known as parallel structure or parallel construction, is a balance within one or more sentences of similar phrases or clauses that have the same grammatical structure. The application of parallelism improves writing style and readability, and is thought to make sentences easier to process.
Compare the following examples:
- Lacking parallelism: "She likes cooking, jogging, and to read."
- Lacking parallelism: "He likes to swim and running."
- Parallel: "She likes cooking, jogging, and reading."
- Parallel: "She likes to cook, jog, and read."
- Parallel: "He likes to swim and to run."
- Parallel: "He likes swimming and running."
- Lacking parallelism: "The dog ran across the yard, jumped over the fence, and down the alley sprinted."
- Parallel: "The dog ran across the yard, jumped over the fence, and sprinted down the alley."
- Grammatical but not employing parallelism: "The dog ran across the yard and jumped over the fence, and down the alley he sprinted."
Note that the first nonparallel example, while inelegantly worded, is grammatically correct: "cooking," "jogging," and "to read" are all grammatically valid conclusions to "She likes." The third nonparallel example is not grammatically correct: "down the alley sprinted" is not a grammatically valid conclusion to "The dog." The final example, which does not attempt to employ parallelism in its conclusion, is grammatically valid; "down the alley he sprinted" is an entirely separate clause.
Parallelism is often used as a rhetorical device. Examples:
- "The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries." — Winston Churchill
- "Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty." — John F. Kennedy
- "...and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." — Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address
- "We have petitioned and our petitions have been scorned. We have entreated and our entreaties have been disregarded. We have begged and they have mocked when our calamity came. We beg no longer. We entreat no more. We petition no more. We defy them." — William Jennings Bryan
- Gary Blake and Robert W. Bly, The Elements of Technical Writing, pg. 71. New York: Macmillan Publishers, 1993. ISBN 0020130856
- For the point about processing, see Carlson, Katy. Parallelism and Prosody in the Processing of Ellipsis Sentences. Routledge, 2002, pp. 4–6.
- "Parallelism", americanrhetoric.com.
- Faulty Parallelism, Nipissing University