What Are Parallels in Writing?


Parallels in writing are repeated grammatical structures -- the same kinds of words being used in the same order multiple times. This repetition can occur at the word, phrase and clause levels. Parallel structures are necessary in lists, correlations and comparisons, and they create rhythm and clarity in writing.

Equivalent Elements

  • The most basic parallels ensure that elements within a list are grammatically equivalent. For example, the list in "he enjoys bicycling, fishing and to ride horses" is unparallel because "to ride horses" does not match "bicycling" and "fishing." In a parallel list, he would enjoy "bicycling, fishing and horseback riding."

Parallel Coordination

  • Parallels should also be maintained in coordinate phrases -- marked by pairs like "either / or," "neither / nor" or "not only / but also." Each part of the pair should start an identically structured phrase. For example, "He had taught me not only to swim, but had also taught me to dive" is unparallel because "not only to . . ." and "but had also taught . . ." do not match. The "but also" is interrupted by an unnecessary "had taught." A parallel coordination would state, "not only to swim, but also to dive."

Comparative Phrases

  • Comparative phrases using words like "than" or "as" should also be parallel. For example, the phrase "it is faster to walk than drive" is unparallel because "to walk" and "drive" do not match. In a parallel construction, you would say it is faster "to walk" than "to drive."


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