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Parallelism in Writing Sentences with Examples

Updated on April 11, 2016
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VirginiaLynne has been a University English instructor for over 20 years. She specializes in helping people write essays faster and easier.

What is Parallelism?

Parallelism means that 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).

Parallel Sentence 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.

Parallel Sentences Show Practice

Like any difficult athletic feat, writing parallel sentences requires practice.
Like any difficult athletic feat, writing parallel sentences requires practice. | Source

Why is Parallelism Important?

Parallelism helps the reader understand what you want to say, and makes sure they don't have to re-read the sentence.

When is Parallelism Used? 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.

List in one sentence using parallelism: 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.

Parallelism in 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)

Parallelism Explained


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.

Parallelism and Nouns

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.

These nouns are preceded by "a" or a number:

  1. 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.
  2. Cheryl bought a chocolate donut, a cinnamon bun, three donut holes, and two twists.

Parallelism and Colons

Colons before a list: 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. Using cue words like the category (benefits) and a keyword indicating a list is coming (include) also help the reader.


  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 by: 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 because: they enjoyed racing one another, the kids loved the challenge of going through the hoops, everyone liked watching the other contestants mess up, and no one left without a prize!

Parallelism and Semi-colons

Using Colons and Semi-colons in a Parallel List: 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.

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.


Using Colon and Semi-Colon in Complicated Sentences

Here is an example of using a colon and semi-colons to construct a very challenging sentence:

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.

Practice Parallelism on Your Own!

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!

More Parallelism Examples


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    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      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 4 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

      Virginia Kearney 5 years ago from United States

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

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 5 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!

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