Parallel Construction

By Maeve Maddox

A common writing fault is faulty parallelism.

In writing, parallelism is a similarity of construction of adjacent word groups. Faulty parallelism results when words, phrases, or clauses are mismatched.

Here are some examples of faulty parallelism:

Hiking is more fun than to swim.

“Hiking” is a verbal noun. “To swim” is an infinitive.
Better:
Hiking is more fun than swimming.
To hike is more fun than to swim.

Sandra Bullock is beautiful and has intelligence.

“Beautiful” is an adjective; “has intelligence” is a clause.
Better:
Sandra Bullock is beautiful and intelligent.
Sandra Bullock has beauty and intelligence.

Even though we have had peaceful protest, there has been protest that was violent, even today.

This sentence from a student essay about a tradition of violence in the United States has several problems. The first clause begins with a true subject, “we,” while the second clause begins with “there.” The delayed subject of the second clause is “protest.” Having “protest” as the object of a verb in the first clause and the subject of the verb in the second clause is awkward. More imbalance results from the mix of past and present verb tenses and the tacked-on phrase “even today.” “Even though” seems to call for a stronger contrast than what follows.

Better:
Even though we have had peaceful protests, violent protests have been common and continue today.

The nightly news is full of stories about missing children or stories that someone tried to abduct some children at a bus stop.

This example is also from a student essay. The structural imbalance results from the fact that the first “story”–“stories about missing children”– is qualified by an adjective phrase, while the second “story”–“stories that someone tried to abduct some children at a bus stop”– is qualified by an adjective clause.

Better:
The nightly news is full of stories about missing children and child abductors.
The nightly news is full of stories about children who have disappeared from their homes or who have been abducted at bus stops.

A recent Apple ad for the iPad contains an example of faulty parallelism in the list of words interspersed with a series of screenshots:

delicious
current
learning
playful
literary
artful
friendly
productive
scientific
magical

All but one of the words is a descriptive adjective. “Learning” is a verbal noun. The adjective that would fit with the other adjectives is “educational.” Perhaps the copywriter felt that the word “educational” is too stodgy for an Apple ad targeting fun-loving consumers.

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4 Responses to “Parallel Construction”

  • PreciseEdit

    Re: “Even though we have had peaceful protests, violent protests have been common and continue today.”

    Is the introductory clause of this revised sentence a dangling modifier? Here’s why I ask.

    The subject of the introductory clause is “we,” and the subject of the main sentence is “protests.” This gives us a similar construction to the sentence “Swimming happily, the corpse floated by his head.”

    I would make the subject of the introductory clause match the subject of the main sentence. This would result in the following options.

    1. Even though we have had peaceful protests, we have commonly had violent protests.
    (Here, the subjects of the introductory clause and main sentence are “we.” The use of the present perfect tense indicates that the protests have occurred up to the present time, i.e., today, so we can get rid of “continue today.”)
    2. Even though some protests have been peaceful, violent protests have been common. (Here, the subjects of the introductory clause and main sentence are “protest.”)
    3. Even though some protests are peaceful, violent protests are common. (Again, the subjects are “protests.”)

    Now that I have made the subjects match, I can think about which might be most appropriate.

    I prefer the second and third option to the first. These sentences are not about us, or “we.” Rather, they are about protests. The second and third options, using “protests” as the subject, correctly focuses attention on the topic. However, the third option is my choice. By using the simple present tense, we communicate these ideas as general statements not limited to any specific time or time period. This statement accurately describes past protests as well as those protests that “continue today.”

    Re: “The nightly news is full of stories about missing children and child abductors.
    The nightly news is full of stories about children who have disappeared from their homes or who have been abducted at bus stops.”

    The first revision loses the information about abductions at bus stops, which changes the meaning of the original sentence. The second revision also changes the meaning of the original by losing the idea that some stories are not about the children but are about abductors. This revision may solve both problems:

    “The nightly news is full of stories about children who have disappeared from their homes and people who have abducted children from bus stops.”

  • Geoffrey Bernardo Van Wyk

    Re: “The nightly news is full of stories about missing children and child abductors.”

    The above revision is the same as: “The nightly news is full of stories about missing children and missing child abductors.”

    The branches of a “and” always traceback to the last adjective or preposition.

  • ApK

    >>All but one of the words is a descriptive adjective. “Learning” is a verbal noun. The adjective that would fit with the other adjectives is “educational.”<<

    Remember the flak Apple took over "Think Different." People complained that it should be "Think Differently."
    They were wrong. Apple was telling you WHAT to think, not HOW to think. They were saying "Think about wanting something that is different."

    Here, too, I think they may not be saying that the iPad is educational for YOU. Perhaps they are saying that it itself learns. IT is friendly, IT is artful and IT is learning (to do more things and to work the way you work.)
    Just sayin'….

    ApK

  • PreciseEdit

    @ApK I still don’t think those terms are parallel.

    “IT is friendly, IT is artful and IT is learning.”

    In the 1st expression, the verb is “is,” followed by an adjective.
    In the 2nd expression, the verb is “is,” followed by an adjective.
    In the 3rd expression, the verb is “is learning.”

    We have 2 “to be” verbs in the simple present tense followed by an adjective. Then we have the third person present progressive of the verb “learn.” “Learning” is not being used as an adjective to describe “IT” but as part of the verb form.

    Here’s another way to think of this: The verb “is” works like an equal sign in a mathematical equation. If we follow your stance, these expressions can be written as follows:
    IT = friendly
    IT = artful
    IT = learning
    The third expression doesn’t make sense. “IT” doesn’t equal “learning.” (Perhaps IT is “intelligent.”) Given the placement of “learning,” “learning” is not being used as an adjective, such as in the case of “the learning experience.”

    Even if you’re right about this, Apple’s copy writers would have been wise to change “learning.” I think that most people who pay attention to things like parallelism would notice “learning,” thus reducing their attention to the message Apple is trying to communicate. This reflects my belief that when the writing is good, people won’t notice it. Rather, they will respond to the ideas it communicates.

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