300 Days of Better Writing

May 26, 2011

Solving 2 Common Parallelism Problems

The case in which I see the most parallelism problems is when the writer is trying to describe simultaneous actions. As stated in 300 Days of Better Writing, Day 82: Use parallel grammatical constructions when describing simultaneous actions.

Using parallel grammatical constructions means describing actions in the same way so that any words referring to all the actions make grammatical sense. Simultaneous actions are actions that occur at the same time.

This is quickly becoming more complicated than it needs to, so let’s look at an example. Consider this sentence.


In this example, the teacher is doing two actions: (1) being helpful and (2) providing directions. The words that relate to both actions are “A good teacher.” (A good teacher should be helpful; a good teacher provides clear directions.)

The problem is that “should be helpful” is not written in the same manner as “provides clear directions.” As such, one of these (or both) needs to change.

Three possible revisions are as follows.

“A good teacher SHOULD BE helpful and SHOULD PROVIDE clear directions.”

“A good teacher should BE helpful and PROVIDE clear directions.” (This is the same as the first revision. The word “should” is implied for the second action.)

“A good teacher IS helpful and PROVIDES clear directions.”

 In summary, find the actions that are occurring simultaneously and make sure that they are written the same way grammatically.

These are a form of “two-part” sentences, which must be grammatically / structurally parallel, as noted on Day 189: 2-part sentences need to be parallel.

In general, a two-part sentence has two phrases or clauses that depend on each other to provide the complete information. Consider this two-part sentence.

“The hybrid engine runs smoothly and burns fuel efficiently.”

The first part is “runs smoothly.” The second part is “burns fuel efficiently.” They are parallel, which means they use the same grammatical structure. (This is similar to the example above from Day 82.) Now consider this faulty 2-part sentence.

“Students learn more WHEN THEY PARTICIPATE than BY LISTENING to the teacher.”

The first part is “when they participate.” The second part is “by listening to the teacher.” (If we leave off the second part, the sentence will be incomplete because of the word “more.”)

These two parts are not parallel; they do not have the same grammatical structure. Either both parts need to have the “when they [verb]” structure or they need to have the “by [-ing verb]” structure.

When we make the two parts parallel, we get the following sentences.

“Students learn more WHEN THEY PARTICIPATE than WHEN THEY LISTEN to the teacher.”

“Students learn more BY PARTICIPATING than BY LISTENING to the teacher.”

300 Days of Better Writing also discusses two more common parallelism problems and, of course, how to solve them.

These are the strategies for days 82 and 125 in 300 Days of Better Writing, available at Hostile Editing in PDF, Kindle, and paperback formats.

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