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What Is Parallelism?

Parallelism is a literary device that enhances rhythm and balance by repeating similar grammatical structures. It's like a dance of words, where each element mirrors the other, creating a harmonious flow in sentences. This technique not only beautifies text but also reinforces arguments. Curious about how parallelism can elevate your writing? Let's delve deeper into its transformative power.
Jim B.
Jim B.

Parallelism is a practice used by speakers or writers of structuring similar clauses, phrases, words, and sentences similarly in their prose or speech. Doing this allows the speaker or writer to keep consistency within their work, allowing for a smoother flow. In addition, it can help make a speech or piece of writing more persuasive because of the repetition it employs. When speakers or writers string together several constructions that could be parallel in nature but instead take many different forms, it is known as faulty parallelism.

If someone is writing a piece of prose, he or she can engage the reader with the power of the words on the page. Similarly, public speakers attempt to get the desired reaction from their listeners by putting their words together in such a way that their point is emphatic and clear. Speech or prose that is disjointed and unwieldy will only distract listeners and readers from the intended effect. As a result, it is always a good idea to sprinkle examples of parallelism throughout a long speech or any lengthy piece of prose.

Parallelism is commonly used by speakers to allow for smoother flow.
Parallelism is commonly used by speakers to allow for smoother flow.

In a sentence, parallelism can occur any time that a certain construction is repeated. For example, similar phrases may be repeated, as in the sentence, "The dog ran into the room, into the garden, and into our hearts." It may also occur when two or more similarly-framed clauses is repeated, as in the sentence, "Whenever was necessary, whatever was required, I was willing to do it."

There are instances when the possibility for this technique exists, but writers and speakers fail to recognize it. When this occurs, it is known as faulty parallelism. Imagine a speaker who says, "I can get this done by working hard, with a lot of late nights, and giving extra effort." Modifying this sentence can help achieve greater cohesiveness. The speaker could say, "I can get this done by working hard, by staying late, and by giving extra effort."

It is also possible to achieve parallelism in a longer piece of prose or rhetoric by piling similarly-structured sentences on top of each other in succession. This technique can not only draw attention to the point of the work, but it can also engage the intended audience. Whenever this method is used, the power of all the similar constructions builds throughout until it reaches a powerful climax with the final part. In addition to gaining cohesiveness, the writer or speaker can also gain impact.

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Discussion Comments


What's the best way to identify parallelism in a piece of writing? Should I just look for markers like "and," "but," "or?"

Parallel structures always have one of these right?

I'm preparing for the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) and it has a lot of questions on parallelism. I'm having some difficulty with it.


@turkay1-- When there are two or three parallel constructions back to back, it's a good idea to combine them. It makes it easier to understand what the writer is talking about. But when there are more than three constructions in a parallel sentence, then it has the opposite effect.

I've seen some parallel sentences using five or six constructs separated by commas. I have to pause and ponder on each construct to keep track of what's going on.

So I don't think that parallelism always helps writing, it can hurt it as well, if it's not used properly.


Parallelism in writing not only makes sentences flow better, but it also helps me combine small sentences together. I use them all the time.

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    • Parallelism is commonly used by speakers to allow for smoother flow.
      By: Antonio Gravante
      Parallelism is commonly used by speakers to allow for smoother flow.