Faulty parallelism is one of the major grammatical sins in the English language. When you come across faulty parallelism, it clangs off the ear, destroys written sentences, and muddies any intention the author may have had. The previous sentence is an example of correct parallelism, but more on that below.
Faulty parallelism is a construction in which two or more parts of a sentence are equivalent in meaning but not grammatically similar in form. By contrast, proper parallelism "is the placement of equal ideas in words, phrases, or clauses of similar types," notes Prentice Hall, an education materials and textbook publisher. Properly crafted sentences match nouns with nouns, verbs with verbs, and phrases or clauses with similarly-constructed phrases or clauses. This will ensure that your sentences read smoothly, that the reader hones in on your meaning, and that they are not distracted by inequal parts.
Faulty Parallelism Examples
The best way to learn what faulty parallelism is - and how to correct it - is to focus on an example.
The company offers special college training to help hourly employees move into professional careers like engineering management, software development, service technicians, and sales trainees.
Notice the faulty comparison of occupations ("engineering management" and "software development") to people ("service technicians" and "sales trainees"). To avoid faulty parallelism, make certain that each element in a series is similar in form and structure to all others in the same series, as this corrected sentence demonstrates:
The company offers special college training to help hourly employees move into professional careers like engineering management, software development, technical services, and sales.
Note that all of the items in the series - engineering management, software development, technical services, and sales - are now all the same because they are all examples of occupations.
Faulty Parallelism in Lists
You can also find faulty parallelism in lists. Just as in a series in a sentence, all items in a list must be alike. The list below is an example of faulty parallelism. Read it and see if you can determine what is incorrect about the way the list is constructed.
- We defined our purpose.
- Who is our audience?
- What should we do?
- Discuss findings.
- Our conclusions.
- Finally, recommendations.
Notice that in this list, some items are full sentences starting with a subject, such as "we" for item 1 and "who" for 2. Two items, 2 and 3, are questions, but item 4 is a short, declarative sentence. Items 5 and 6, by contrast, are sentence fragments.
Now take a look at the next example, which shows the same list but with a correct parallel structure:
- Define purpose.
- Analyze audience.
- Determine methodology.
- Discuss findings.
- Draw conclusions.
- Make recommendations.
Notice that in this corrected example, each item begins with a verb ("Define," "Analyze," and Determine") followed by an object ("purpose," audience," and "methodology"). This makes the list much easier to read because it is comparing like things using equivalent grammatical structure and punctuation: verb, noun, and period.
Proper Parallel Structure
In the opening paragraph of this article, the second sentence employs parallel structure correctly. If it had not, the sentence might have read:
When you come across faulty parallelism, it clangs off the ear, it destroys written sentences, and the writer didn't make her meaning clear.
In this sentence, the first two items in the series are essentially mini-sentences with the same grammatical structure: a subject (it), and an object or predicate (clangs off the ear and destroys written sentences). The third item, while still a mini-sentence, offers a different subject (author) who is actively doing something (or not doing something).
You can correct this by rewriting the sentence as it is listed in the opening paragraph, or you can reconstruct it so that "it" serves as the subject for all three phases:
When you come across faulty parallelism, it clangs off the ear, it destroys written sentences, and it muddies any intention the author may have had.
You now have equivalent parts in this series: "clangs off the ear," "destroys written sentences," and "muddies any intention." The verb-object repeats three times. By using parallel structure, you are building a sentence that is balanced, displays perfect harmony, and serves as music to the reader's ear.
"Faulty Parallelism." Prentice-Hall, Inc.