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Parallelism in Writing Sentences with Examples

Updated on May 18, 2017
VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne has been a University English instructor for over 20 years. She specializes in helping people write essays faster and easier.

What is Parallelism?

All of the items in your list have the same form. If they are verbs (action words), they all have the same ending (like ing or ed).

Examples

Here are two examples of parallel sentences:

  1. The cow jumped over the moon, walked across a rainbow, stepped into the stardust, and traveled across my dreams.
  2. Moving into the dorm, meeting my new roommate, walking across campus and getting my books at the bookstore, I felt both exhilarated and scared at the sudden change in my life.

The athlete prepared all week before the meet, slept over 10 hours the night before, stretched carefully before his event, and jumped a personal best!
The athlete prepared all week before the meet, slept over 10 hours the night before, stretched carefully before his event, and jumped a personal best! | Source

Parallelism Makes Your Meaning Clear

Ever had an instructor tell you that your sentences were awkward? Unclear? Hard to understand. Using parallelism can help your reader understand what you want to say so they don't have to re-read your sentences.

When to use: When you are writing a list of things. One of the most difficult and yet most effective types of sentences you can write is an extended list of examples.You can avoid having to write parallel list sentences by writing lots of shorter sentences, but that does not make your writing seem mature and professional.

An example of using short sentences: I am going to the store to run errands. I am going to pick up my laundry at the cleaners. I am picking up my kids from school. Then we will be going to the park.

Revision: I am going to the store to run errands, picking my laundry up at the cleaners, getting my children from school, and then going to the park.

Writing Complicated Lists

Writing and an extended list of examples in one sentence is effective because it allows you to pack a lot on information into one sentence. However, these sentences are difficult to write correctly because often the items in the list don’t easily fit into the correct grammatical structures. Luckily, you can write these types of sentences easily if you just keep in mind a couple of simple rules.

Rule 1: Verbs Must Be the Same

All items in the list must be in the same grammatical format.Usually, this means they will all be in the same verb form (ing, to xxx, ed, s) or all nouns of the same type.

Example of Gerund Verbs (ing verbs)

  1. Mentors are rewarded by sharing clinical knowledge, developing necessary skills, helping others succeed, and supporting the profession.
  2. The obstacle course for the birthday party had the children running across a field, jumping rope ten times, going through three hoops, walking along a fence, pushing a friend in a wheelbarrow, singing "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" while standing on tiptoes, and finally rolling across the grass to the finish line.

Example of Present Tense Verbs

The obstacle course for the birthday party required the children to run across a field, jump rope ten times, go through three hoops, walk along a fence, push a friend in a wheelbarrow, sing "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" while standing on tiptoes, and finally roll across the grass to the finish line.

Example of Past Tense Verbs

Notice that many of these verbs are irregular and so they have a past form which is not "ed" but instead has a different form like sing/sang or go/went:

At the obstacle course for the birthday party, the children: ran across a field, jumped rope ten times, went through three hoops, walked along a fence, pushed a friend in a wheelbarrow, sang "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" while standing on tiptoes, and finally rolled across the grass to the finish line.

Example of Infinitive Verb ( "to" form)

Note: in a list the "to" only appears before the first verb, but all the other verbs are written as if "to" was in front.

Mentors are expected to share clinical knowledge, develop necessary skills, help others succeed and support the profession. (Notice that you don't need to repeat the "to" in every item of the list)

Rule 2: Parallelism and Nouns

You can also have a list of noun phrases but these need to also be in the same format and you should not mix up items that are verbs with items that are nouns.

Use Pronouns

To make a list with several nouns rather than verbs, the nouns need to be in the same format. In this example, the people are all described by how they relate to the writer:

When it came time to set up the obstacle course for the birthday party, everyone helped out: my brother, my sister, our neighbors and my parents.

In this sentence, all of the nouns use the same pronoun, "his," so you only need to use it before the first one:

The best athlete at our school always wore his matching colored Nike shoes, hat, socks, shorts and shirt to every meet.

Use "A"

  • We needed several items for the obstacle course: a field, a jump rope, a fence short enough to walk on, a wheelbarrow, a roll of tape to mark where they would stand on tiptoe, and a strip of grass the kids could roll on to the finish line.
  • Are you ready to go? I have already gotten a picnic lunch, a towel to sit on, a set of sand toys and a large gallon of water.

Use Numbers

  • Cheryl bought five chocolate donuts, a cinnamon bun, three donut holes, and two twists.
  • Serena almost forgot to bring what she needed for the art field trip: one sketchbook, two sets of paints, three pencils, one rubber eraser, five paint brushes of various sizes, an easel, two water cups and her imagination.

Colons in Writing Lists

You want your list to be easy to read. One way to do this is to put a colon before the start of the list. Sometimes, you might use cue words like "include" or "the following" to start your list.

  1. Benefits of mentoring relationships include: sharing clinical knowledge, developing mentee’s skills, helping others, and supporting the profession.
  2. My brother helped us out at the birthday party. His work included: marking out the course with blue painter's masking tape, getting all the supplies ready ahead of time, timing all the kids as they went through the obstacle course, and cheering the winner.
  3. All the kids eagerly participated in the obstacle course at the birthday party. Here are the main reasons they said they enjoyed it: they enjoyed racing one another, they loved the challenge of going through the hoops, everyone liked watching the other contestants mess up, and no one left without a prize!
  4. Our prizes weren't expensive and included the following choices: balloons, candy, sour pickles and popcorn.

Source

Using Semi-colons With Colons

To write the most complicated type of sentence which contains a long list of items which include phrases describing each item, you will need both a colon to introduce the list and semi-colons in between each item.

  1. Mentors are rewarded by knowing they are: sharing clinical knowledge, which they have learned through their own experiences; developing another worker’s skills through spending time with them in work situations; helping others succeed by giving them assessment skills and practice; and supporting the profession by raising up the next generation of trained professionals.
  2. Our first day in China was a whirlwind tour which included: climbing the Great Wall, which everyone reminded me can be seen from space; going to the Summer Palace, which was so foggy I don’t remember much of it; strolling Tienanmen Square, where I almost got in trouble for photographing a guard; and seeing the Pandas at the Beijing zoo, where I took pictures for my father who is involved with the Pandas at the San Diego zoo in California.

Proofreading for Parallelism


  1. Check the sentences in your paper that are making a list.
  2. Look for the words “and” and “or” to see if the items are parallel or not.
  3. Look at the first word of each item on the list. You might want to underline them. Are they the same sort of word? You might try reading the sentence aloud if you aren’t sure it is correct.
  4. If your sentence isn’t parallel, then change the sentence around to make sure that you are using the same format. Sometimes, you might want to re-write the sentence into a couple of sentences.
  5. Remember that we have several ways in English to write verb forms:
  • I am going to run.
  • I am running.
  • I run.

You can use all of these forms correctly, but when you make a list, each part of the list should be the same form.

Practice

Finish the following sentences by using parallel format to make a list of at least three things. Try to make each item in the list more than just one word on at least some of them.

  1. The reason my ex-girlfriend/boyfriend is my ex is because:
  2. The five things I most remember about growing up are
  3. My mother always
  4. My best friend reminds me to
  5. You know you’re in Texas when you see
  6. I chose to go to this college because
  7. No one should ever have as bad a day I as did when
  8. Four things I learned when I got to college were
  9. When I’m fifty-five, I hope that
  10. Three things I learned in high school that I’ll always remember are

Source

Correct These Sentences

  1. The English teacher spoke in a clear voice, distinctly and was vivid in describing. The coach told his players that they should get plenty of sleep, to not eat cookies, and stop talking.
  2. The coach told his players that they should get plenty of sleep, to not eat cookies, and stop talking.
  3. My mother likes watching "Chopped," to eat out with her family at a restaurant, and has her family over to cook too.
  4. My roommate and I are going to eat at McDonald's for lunch, planning to study in the library after that and like to meet a friend maybe at Starbucks later in the afternoon.
  5. Speaking loudly, the security guard is telling the people where to stand, repeated information we already knew, gestures towards someone and generally got in the way of the traffic.
  6. Volunteers do all kinds of work for Talitha Koum, such as playing with the children, administrative assistance, swimming pool program, donations and mentor the kids.
  7. They use political tactics to get lawmakers on board with their plan, such as boycotts, demonstrations and negotiate with those who fund them.
  8. People with musculoskeletal conditions have difficulty moving, walk, stand, sit and use their hands and feet.
  9. Victims may also return to their abusers because their partner promises to change or apologizes, the women lacks money or a place to go, they have a fear of loneliness, or they even have the hope that the thing will change someday.
  10. Nine categories measure the company’s performance in different areas including client screening, the quantity of food given, how much of the funds is used to purchase food, the variety of food offered, and how aware their clients are of other help they can get and advice to improve living.

Try it!

Why don't you give it a try? Writing complicated sentences isn't as hard as it looks if you understand the structure behind them. In your next writing project, try making a longer list and see how this can help you pack your writing with more concrete information. I'd love to have you write some examples of your efforts in my comments section!

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    • VirginiaLynne profile image
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      Virginia Kearney 3 months ago from United States

      Jaiza, Both of these can be correct but the meaning is different. If you want to say she is a loving person when she is a student, a daughter, and a grandchild, then use the second example. If you wanted to say she is a student, a daughter and also a loving grandchild, then the first is correct. However, it would probably be a better sentence if you had an adjective before each of the nouns. Here is a sample: Jessica is a highly-motivated student, a thoughtful daughter, and a loving grandchild. By the way, I would put a comma after "daughter" in both of your examples, although this is optional.

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      jaiza 3 months ago

      please tell me if this is. correct.

      she is a student, a daughter and a loving grandchild.

      "she is a loving student, a daughter and a grandchild".

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      Mekayla Danielson 6 months ago

      How are these sentences being used in parallelism?

    • VirginiaLynne profile image
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      Virginia Kearney 2 years ago from United States

      Lauren--you've asked an excellent question. Yes, you do need semi-colons to separate items in a list if even one of the items has a descriptive phrase requiring commas. Here is an example:

      Janet relayed to us her frustrating day at the office which included: running out of Starbucks Pike's Peak blend and having to use Maxwell House; being yelled at by her boss, Judy, who, even in the best of moments, is difficult to endure without large doses of caffeine and chocolate; and losing her best client to the cheerleader she hated in high school.

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      Lauren 2 years ago

      This was a very interesting read! In the case of using semi-colons when constructing a list, is it possible to have descriptive phrases for some of the items but not all? Additionally, if it is possible, would you then continue to use semicolons for the entire list or commas? I recognize using a similar structure for all the items would certainly be ideal, however, sometimes only a few items require additional detail, and I was curious how that could work. Thanks!

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      sachin 5 years ago

      i am having to go to delhi.

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      Penney 5 years ago

      I don't understand can someone help me.

    • VirginiaLynne profile image
      Author

      Virginia Kearney 6 years ago from United States

      Thanks! I like to try to help make grammar easier for people to understand.

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 6 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      GREAT topic. I always get frustrated when I see people with flawed sentence structure. Hopefully this will be helpful for many!