One of the most common writing mistakes in more advanced English learners' writing is parallel structure. Parallel structure refers to structures which are repeated because they are connected by and, but, or, etc. This connecting words are referred to as coordinating conjunctions. Here are a few examples of correct parallel structure:
Tom enjoys taking hikes, riding his bicycle and paragliding in his free time.
I went home, took a shower, changed my clothes and ate some lunch.
Here are the same two sentences using incorrect parallel structure:
Tom enjoys taking hikes, to ride his bicycle and paraglide in his free time.
I went home, take a shower, change my clothes and eat some lunch.
In both cases, there is a mistake in parallel structure. Notice how the verb forms in the correct version of the two sentences use the same verb form. In the incorrect version of the sentences, the verb forms are varied. Parallel structure refers to the same structure repeating throughout a sentence. In other words, if the gerund form (ing form) of a verb is used after one verb, all the listed verbs also take the gerund form.
If you are listing verbs after a main verb, keep the verbs in the same form. (verb + infinitive, verb + gerund)
He hopes to play, eat and get some rest.
She enjoys listening to music, reading novels and playing tennis.
He would like to have some lunch, study and then play the piano.
If you are conjugating a number of verbs to relate a story for the same subject, use the same tense.
We went to church, bought some lunch, came home, ate and took a nap.
There are also other types of parallel structure mistakes. Which two types of mistakes in parallel structure do you think are made in these sentences?
Bob drove carelessly, quickly and in a reckless manner.
Peter mentioned that he wanted to go home, that he needed a shower, and go to sleep.
... and the correct versions of the sentences:
Bob drove carelessly, quickly and recklessly.
Tom told me that he liked sports, that he enjoyed the theater, and that he ate oysters.
In the first sentence, adverbs are being used in a list and should continue, rather than injecting an adjective.
carelessly, quickly, recklessly, ruthlessly, etc. RATHER THAN carelessly, quickly, and in a reckless (adjective) manner.
In the second sentence, the dependent clauses are used 'that he wanted to go home... that he needed a shower, etc.' and should continue in the same manner. Notice also that the verb used in the third clause of this string of clauses is in the present tense, rather than the past as the other clauses.
Here is another example of a similar adjective mistake in parallel structure. Which adjective is incorrect? Why?
Jennifer appears to be tired, distracted and upsetting.
If you answered 'upsetting', you are correct. The first two adjectives 'tired' and 'distracted' refer to the state that effects Jennifer. In other words, she feels tired and distracted. 'Upsetting' refers to the effect that she has on someone else.
Jennifer is upsetting to Jim.
In this case, the intent is that Jennifer appears tired, distracted AND upset. All three adjectives refer to how she feels, rather than the effect she has on someone else.
Double Check for Mistakes in Parallel Structure
A good way to check for mistakes in parallel structure is to look for anything you list using commas, or, and, etc. and make sure the list of equal elements are all in the same form.
Parallel Structure Exercise
Identify and correct the mistakes in parallel structure in the following sentences. Answers are provided on the following page.
- Alex decided to get up early, go jogging, eat a healthy breakfast and got ready for school.
- I wish he would listen to his father, take his advice, and applied for a job.
- James stopped smoking, drinking and to eat too much.
- Jason invited Tim, her, they and Peter to the wedding.
- He is an articulate, thoughtful, and meaningfully speaker.
- Alexander did her homework, cleaned her room, but doesn't play the piano.
- The politicians hope to clean up, and modernizing this city.
- Eating healthy food, drinking lots of water and get exercise improves your quality of life.
- The teachers had graded the tests, completed the reports and meeting with parents before they went on summer vacation.
- Sheila misses seeing Tom, going on long walks with her friends, and played football.