Some sentences involve repeating the same grammatical structure to link points. Repeated grammatical forms of this kind has been labelled parallel structures.
Parallel structures enable you to organize a list of ideas so that they are coherent and easy to follow. By using parallel structures you can produce long, well-formed sentences.
There are many different types of parallel structure. Here are some examples:
- Television was originally designed to educate, (to) amuse and (to) entertain the masses.
- The underlined verbs all link back to designed to, though it is not necessary to repeat ‘to’.
- The student was accepted on to the course because he had the correct language level and (he had) the required school exam results.
- The underlined noun phrases link back to ‘he had’. It is not necessary to repeat ‘he had’.
- The person who gave the presentation and (who) designed the website is a friend of mine.
Here is the parallel structure in the sentence:
- The underlined verb phrases link back to ‘the person who’. It is not necessary to repeat ‘who’.
Read the following paragraph from a lecture on the subject of new media. Observe the sentence closely and underline the parallel structures. What error has been made?
There is evidence that excessive use of new media among children can affect their performance at school, influence their behavior at home and limiting their overall attention spans.
|What’s wrong: |
Different verb forms are used within the parallel structures. The first two verbs ‘affect’ and ‘influence’ are parallel. They are not in the singular form because they go together with ‘can’. The third verb should therefore be in the same form as ‘affect’ as it also linked with ‘can’ → ‘can limit’.
- There is evidence that excessive use of new media among children can affect their performance at school, influence their behavior at home and limit their attention spans.
The following are some more complex examples of sentences with parallel structures:
- Despite spending many hours a day on computer games consoles and hardly ever reading, some of the teenagers studied had high reading comprehension skills. Note: ‘despite’ is followed by the ‘-ing’ form of a verb. ‘Reading’ is in the same form because this part of the sentence means ‘despite hardly ever reading’.
- Some experts recommend that parents should restrict home computer use and that this use should always be supervised by parents. Note: ‘that’ is repeated because the first underlined section is about ‘parents’ whereas the second underlined section is about the ‘use’ of computers. In other words, the subject in each clause is different.
- Home computer use proved to be a significant factor in performance in tests and to have an influence on behavior in the classroom. Note: ‘to’ must be repeated because ‘to be’ and ‘to have’ form part of two separate phrases: ‘to be a factor in’ / ‘to have an influence on’.
Be careful with Neither/nor!
This structure is used for expressing two connected negatives but the verbs used are not negative and both of them must be in the same form:
- Findings from research into the effects of internet use are neither consistent nor point to any major problem. Note: both verbs ‘are’ and ‘point’ relate to the subject of the sentence ‘findings’
→ Findings are not consistent + Findings do not point
Remember: When a sentence contains parts that are linked to the same structure, their grammatical form must also be the same (though some words within the structure may be omitted).