Parallel Construction (PC from now on) is a type of sentence structure that confounds even “good” writers and many professional editors. Sorry! If you understand PC, then you must have HATED the title of this post!
YES! Points to you if you recognized that this post’s title is NOT written in proper Parallel Construction! I wrote: “…What it is, what it isn’t, and how to write better…”
image from unilifeapps.curtin.edu.au
When we write a string (a series) of phrases or words, the rule of PC is: the members of any string must be in the same form or format.
When they are not in the same form/format, then they must be separated by giving them different wording and punctuation than when they are Parallel.
Here is what is incorrect about that part of the title, according to PC. In the title’s string, I start with “what it is” and then go on to “what it isn’t.” Fine, so far.
The mistake comes in the next phrase. This phrase seems as if it is part of the same string, but it can’t be, due to its differing format: “how to write better.”
If I can’t write what I want to say in the same format as the two or more members of the series that preceded the next phrase or word, but I insist on including that content in that series’ sentence, I must change the structure of the sentence, like this:
“…what it is and what it isn’t, and how to write better…” adding the “and” between the two similar series’ members and a comma after those before the “and” that precedes the odd one out.
Confused? Here is another example of a mistake in Parallel Construction I lifted from a video description on Youtube today: “Daniel Radcliffe is smart, rich, and has a good sense of humor.”
Here we have two members of the series that are one-word adjectives, “smart” and “rich.” To keep that string in its proper, parallel format, the next quality that describes Radcliffe also should be a one-word adjective, but it is not. Not only that, but the errant final phrase starts with a verb and keeps going.
The third member of that contumacious string is an imposter, not being a one-word adjective. This pretender to the above sentence’s string membership has an entire phrase as its quality’s entourage: “has a good sense of humor.” DISALLOWED!
If the author wishes to describe Radcliffe with these three qualities yet write correctly, s/he could write: “Daniel Radcliffe is smart, rich and funny.” See? The three one-word adjectives are in perfect Parallel form. No comma is needed or desirable after “rich” in this version, by the way.
OR, to maintain the exact meaning even better, try this: “Daniel Radcliffe is smart and rich and has a good sense of humor, too.”
Unfortunately, what I see (and hear) repeatedly are strings with two or more members that are properly Parallel while the final member is not. Errors in Parallel Construction are rampant. Fortunately, they are easy to detect. Unfortunately, they are sometimes awkward to correct.
The trick in correcting errors in PC is to avoid making the edited sentence sound phony or stiff while maintaining the precise meaning the author intends. Not so easy to do in many cases, you will find.
Some Tips to Recognizing and Correcting Errors in Parallel Construction:
image from slideplayer.us Thanks to Walden University for both graphics.
Also, when you start a list of items in which the first item starts with a capital letter or italics, keep doing that. When each point ends with a period, keep that format as well. The first piece of advice concerns Parallel Construction. The next two tips concern parallel formatting.
I hope this brief lesson in Parallel Construction improves your understanding, your speaking and your writing.
If it does not, don’t blame, call or come to find me and kill me.
Correct my (intentional) errors in the comments section, below. That constitutes your final exam.
Thanks for playing Grammar with me!
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