Parallel Structure in Longer Sentences

Parallel structure can extend across several phrases or clauses in a single sentence. It is especially useful when you are dealing with a long list of objects, ideas, or actions. Consider this example of a non-parallel sentence:

They took charge of the building's design, acquiring the materials, and the management of the team.

Although the sentence makes sense and is grammatically correct, it just doesn't sound right. The elements of the list are a noun phrase (building's design), a gerund phrase (acquiring the materials), and a noun modified by a prepositional phrase (management of the team). What if we switch them all over to the same type of phrase — a gerund, for example?

They took charge of designing the building, acquiring the materials, and managing the team.

This reads a lot better. The similar structures tie the list together and make the sentence sound more coherent.

We could have chosen other ways to achieve parallelism, but the results wouldn't have sounded as good. For example:

They took charge of the design of the building, the acquisition of the materials, and the management of the team.

True, the structure is parallel now. But the phrasing is less concise and active than it was before.

Parallel Structure in More than One Sentence

You can also spread parallel structure across several sentences. Look at this non-parallel example:

Student leaders presented their demands to the university administration. A sit-in was organized on the main quad and attracted considerable press attention. An appeal went out to the undergraduates calling for a week-long boycott of classes.

These sentences may sound fine individually. But why not make the whole thing parallel?

Student leaders presented their demands to the university administration. They organized a sit-in on the main quad that attracted considerable press attention. They called on undergraduates to boycott classes for an entire week.

Now the whole paragraph is in active voice, so it flows a bit better. Don't go overboard with this strategy, though. Sentence variety is important, and while a string of parallel sentences can be dramatically effective, it can also be boring.

Try One on Your Own!

How would you revise this paragraph to achieve parallel structure?

Citizen Kane uses camera tricks to great effect, and the editing is also very important to the overall theme. Gregg Toland photographed the film, and it was directed by Orson Welles, so they deserve a lot of credit and should be praised.

Don't worry about its other problems, such as vagueness. Type your answer into the empty box below, then click to see one possible solution.

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Parallel Structure

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