Keeping It Real: Parallelism and Avoiding the False Series

Posted: January 28th, 2014, 2:35 pm   By: brittany.corners

Faulty parallelism or a false series messes with the syntax of your sentences. Parallelism is often misused in lists, but many types of phrases and clauses are also affected by this error that creates jilted and sometimes awkward prose. Think of the following quote by Benjamin Franklin:
“Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” – Ben Franklin

The man’s brilliance obviously extended beyond his endeavors as a diplomat, inventor, physicist and politician. His syntax is also what made him an excellent writer. Parallelism is evident in two ways in this quote. First, the beginning of the quote starts with matching phrasing (early to bed, early to rise), but the list at the end is also parallel by using adjectives (healthy, wealthy, wise).

What if the quote looked differently?

“Early to bed and waking up early makes a man healthy, wealthy and a leader.”

Now, there are two instances of faulty parallelism. Had the original quote looked like this, it’s unlikely it would appear in this discussion. For the sake of continuing though, assume the quote appeared with the jilted construction. It’s not as smooth. It causes you to adjust your thinking – even if you don’t realize it. Instead of the words rolling through your brain as you process them, they stop, stutter and lose their effect (notice the three verbs used in this list).

Parallelism creates consistency, consistency your readers expect. When you start with a particular construction or part of speech, readers expect that you’re going to finish in the same manner. When you fail to do so with a false series, you’ve let your readers down in a seemingly small way, yet it undermines your credibility as the brilliant writer you are.

To maintain parallelism, you must use the same parts of speech when using lists, phrases or clauses. Think of it as a balancing act, one that when properly maintained makes your writing more clear and easier to read. You wouldn’t write “a, b and 10” for example and think it sounded okay. The same principle applies when parallelism is used in your writing.

Incorrect: Kim Kardashian expressing she wants to run for mayor at some point in the future should make the residents of Glendale run, duck and hiding to dodge her future campaign.

Run, duck and hiding is not parallel. Parallel construction would require “run, duck and hide” or “running, ducking and hiding.”

Correct: Bath time for babies is undoubtedly more fun with floating toys, bursting bubbles and barking puppies trying to steal the toys .

Sentences with parallel construction are smoother, more balanced. They keep the minds of your readers on the track you want readers to travel, so make sure your lists maintain parallel structure in everything you write. Doing so may not make you healthy or wealthy, but it does make you wise.