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Parallel structure

Parallel structure maintains a pattern across a sentence: it isn't a grammar choice so much as it is a matter of rhythm or style. This is a very special episode because it’s Paige’s last video with us as a KA intern! We will miss having Paige as a contributor to the Grammar Team.

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Video transcript

- [Voiceover] Hello, grammarians. Hello, Rosie. Hello, Paige. - [Voiceover] Hi, David. - [Voiceover] Hi, David. - [Voiceover] Today, all three of us are gonna be talking about parallel structure. And I've always had trouble spelling the word parallel, but Rosie pointed out something just before we started recording that is blowing my mind. Rosie, how do you spell parallel? - [Voiceover] Well, it's fun because the two ls that are together in the word are together in the middle of the word. - [Voiceover] Look at that, they're parallel! That's all. - [Voiceover] It's fun. - [Voiceover] That's just, that's amazing. Parallel structure is less a consideration of grammar, it's really more about style, right. Parallel structure basically means that when you're making some kind of list in a sentence, if you're using a series of verbs or if you're using a series of nouns, any series of words, they should all roughly line up with one another. So let's say I was an outdoorsman and I said, "I love fishing, skiing and rock climbing." Now each one of these is a gerund, right, it the ing form of a verb we're using as a noun. And this sentence exhibits parallel structure, but, you know, sometimes you'll see a sentence that'll mess that up, right? So let's say you were editing someone's personal statement, an athlete's personal statement and they said, "I love fishing, skiing, and to climb rocks." Now, there's nothing grammatically incorrect about this sentence, it makes sense, it is legal in the way that it is composed, but stylistically, it just doesn't harmonize. So this is not parallel, but this is. - [Voiceover] Some other things to look out for to make sure you're making a sentence parallel is if everything is active voice or passive voice, infinitive verbs versus other forms of verbs, like to eat versus eating, and a string of individual modifiers like adjectives versus larger phrases. - [Voiceover] Let's put that into action. Okay, so active versus passive voice. - [Voiceover] So an example if we're not gonna have parallel structure would be something like the cake was baked, frosted, and I put sprinkles on it. - [Voiceover] So what we're saying here is that here is a passive thing that happened to the cake, the cake was baked. Here's another passive thing that happens to the cake, the cake was frosted by someone else. And then that someone else comes in and Paige says, "I put sprinkles on it." But, if we're going to assume that sprinkled is now a verb that means to be covered in sugary cake decorations, we would say the cake was baked, frosted, and sprinkled, or decorated with sprinkles, but I kind of like sprinkled. So that's active versus passive. We've already covered infinitive versus other verb forms, so that's, you know, skiing, well, that's to ski versus skiing, so this is what we call an infinitive form, and this is another form that's called a gerund. So make sure to keep those separate in your lists. And then lists of individual terms versus longer phrases. So if you are describing something with a string of adjectives, be careful when you follow it up with a longer phrase. - [Voiceover] For example, sharks are large, damp, and dangerous. Those are all just short, individual modifiers, as opposed to sharks are large, damp, and not to be trifled with. - [Voiceover] And look, again, we're not saying this is not a grammatical sentence. It is. And sometimes you may want to break parallel structure in order to have some sort of particular effect. If you are trying to draw attention to this last element, then, yeah, you might want to break parallel structure, but we want to make you aware that there is just a sort of general tendency towards making your sentences harmonious in this way. Baked, frosted and sprinkled, large, damp, and dangerous, you know, and then when you want to have access to that ability, to really draw attention to that last element, then you can say, "Oh, you know what? "I'm gonna make this perpendicular." (girls chuckle) Now, is perpendicularity, is that a thing that I just made up right now? Yes. Are we going with it? Maybe. (girls chuckle) - [Voiceover] Yeah, I like it. - [Voiceover] Yeah. - [Voiceover] It's not parallel. - [Voiceover] It's not parallel. - [Voiceover] It's not parallel. - [Voiceover] Well, I suppose that just about covers parallel structure. So, for one last time with Paige, you can learn anything, David out. - [Voiceover] Rosie out. - [Voiceover] Paige out. - [Voiceover] You've been a wonderful intern, Paige, we'll miss you. - [Voiceover] We'll miss you. - [Voiceover] Thank you, I'll miss you, too.