The Parallel Style

Parallelism means that two or more words or constructions stand in an identical grammatical relationship to the same thing. In Jack and Jill went up the hill the subjects, Jack and are parallel because both relate to the verb went. In the following sentence, the italicized clauses are parallel, both modifying the verb will come:

We will come when we are ready and when we choose.

Parallelism occurs in all types of sentences as a way of organizing minor constructions. When major ideas are involved, we speak of a parallel style, as in this sentence, where three parallel objects follow the preposition "in":

In its energy, its lyrics, its advocacy of frustrated joys, rock is one long symphony of protest. Time magazine

And here, three infinitive phrases modifying the word "campaign":

The Department of Justice began a vigorous campaign to break up the corporate empires, to restore the free and open market, and to plant the feet of the industry firmly on the road to competition.

Thurman Arnold

Parallel constructions are subject to a strict rule of style: they must be in the same grammatical form. Consider this opening of a sentence by the eighteenth-century political writer Edmund Burke:

To complain of the age we live in, to murmur at the present possessors of power, to lament the past, to conceive extravagant hopes of the future, are the common dispositions of the greatest part of mankind. ...

According to the rule the four subjects of the verb are must be in the same grammatical form, and Burke has made them all infinitives. They could have been gerunds {complaining, murmuring, lamenting, conceiving) or nouns {complaints, murmurs, laments, conceptions). But in any case the point is that they must all be the same. To combine different forms would violate the example, mixing an infinitive with a gerund (To complain of the age we live in, murmuring against the present possessors of power). Such awkward mixtures are called shifted constructions and are regarded as a serious breach of style, sloppy and often ambiguous.

Extended parallelism is not a hallmark of modern writing, as it was in the eighteenth century, when the parallel style was predominant in formal prose. On the other hand it is foolish and unseeing to dismiss parallel sentences as out-of-date. They are still useful and by no means uncommon:

We must somehow take a wider view, look at the whole landscape, really see it, and describe what's going on out there.

Annie Dillard

The professor shuffled into the room, dumped his notes onto the desk, and began his usual dull lecture. College student

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Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

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