Parallelism is a very strange concept. Unlike commas, semicolons, pronouns, tenses, etc., parallelism isn’t applied to just a single area of grammar – it spans all aspects of the English language.
April 25, 2020
When you list two or more things in a sequence, they must be in EXACTLY the same grammatical format, or they are NOT PARALLEL.
Wrong: I took the job for the extra money and to increase my status.
If you’re listing even two things in a sentence, they need to be identically formatted. Correct versions would be:
CORRECT: I took the job for the extra money and for the improved status
CORRECT: I took the job to make more money and to increase my status.
Rule 1: When you’re listing things out or comparing them, make sure the verbiage used to describe them is as repetitive as possible.
Wrong: I like Melissa because she seems so sweet and for her beautiful eyes.
CORRECT: I like Melissa because she seems so sweet and because she has such beautiful eyes.
To complete the music program, a student must present one vocal performance, one instrumental performance, and composing one original work.
A. NO CHANGE
B. and one original composition
C. with one original composition
D. and to compose one original work
Solution: The phrase “and composing one original work” is one of three things that a student must present to complete the music program. We want the last item in the list to match the other two items as closely as possible. The answer is B. The phrase “and one original composition” matches the construction.
Rule 2: When making lists of any kind (pretty much any time you use the word ‘and’), try to make your sentences as parallel as possible.
Wrong: I like you because you’re a great guy and good at pool.
CORRECT: I like you because you’re a great guy and because you’re good at pool.
Wrong: Everyone in that store is great at pool and handsome.
CORRECT: Everyone in that store is handsome and is great at pool.
If this sounds unnatural, it’s because people rarely speak like this anymore. But, it is grammatically correct.
Changes in wind circulation, runoff from sewage, and they accumulate chemical fertilizers can lead to the creation of ocean waters low in oxygen and inhospitable to marine life.
A. NO CHANGE
B. Changing wind circulation, runoff from sewage, and accumulating chemical fertilizers
C. Changing wind circulation, having runoff from sewage, and to accumulate chemical fertilizers
D. Changes in wind circulation patterns, runoff from sewage, and accumulation of chemical fertilizers
Solution: D is the only answer that contains three nouns. The other options contain various combinations of nouns, verbs, and gerunds and are therefore not parallel.
It was like standing on a bridge that must be crossed, leaving behind the carefree days of youth and  stepped into a life of responsibilities, business meetings, and  paying bills.
A. NO CHANGE
B. to step
D. we stepped
A. NO CHANGE
B. bills that have to be paid.
C. having to pay bills.
3. The word ‘and’ is the clue that acts like a parallel marker. The phrase “leaving behind the
carefree days of youth” needs to be parallel with “stepped into a life.” Therefore, stepped should be changed to stepping. The correct answer is C.
4. “Responsibilities” and “business meetings” are nouns, which means the correct answer will also be a noun bills. The correct answer is D.
Parallel Structure with Multiple Sentences
So far, we’ve looked at parallel structure within a single sentence. The SAT, however, may also test your ability to recognize and create parallel structure when more than one sentence is involved. Although these questions may initially seem very complicated, they can actually be relatively simple to answer if you know what information to focus on.
Wrong: She argues that the agency acts with disregard for human life AND property AND reckless abandon AND it should therefore be shut down.
The five underlined items are not all at the same logical level. For a grammatical correct sentence, we create a hierarchy by placing like words or phrases together and adding commas where necessary.
Right: She argues THAT the agency acts WITH reckless abandon AND WITH disregard for human life AND property AND THAT it should therefore be shut down.
An actor stands on the stage and delivers a monologue as an audience hangs onto his every word. A singer performs a ballad as listeners fall silent. As a group of spectators watch in awe, dancers glide across the stage.
Which choice best maintains the sentence pattern already established in the paragraph?
A. NO CHANGE
B. Watched by a group of spectators, dancers glide across the stage.
C. Gliding across the stage, dancers are watched by a group of spectators.
D. Dancers glide gracefully across the stage as spectators watch in awe.
Solution: Remember that the question is asking us to look at the pattern already established in the paragraph. That means we’re going to look at the preceding sentences before we consider the underlined sentence. Let’s start by considering just the beginning the first two sentences:
Sentence #1: An actor...
Sentence #2: A singer...
Each of those sentences begins with a noun. That means the third sentence must start with a noun as well. Only option D places a noun right at the beginning of the sentence, so D is the correct answer.
How do we know that parts of a sentence need to be parallel to each other? Often, we can use Parallel Markers - words that link or contrast items and that force those items to be parallel.
Wrong: The college experience is not only an exciting time to meet new people and also a stressful one because of the level of independence required.
Correct: The college experience is not only an exciting time to meet new people but also a stressful one because of the level of independence required.
Pair errors like the one above are freebies on the SAT as long as you remember to check for them.
As covered earlier in this chapter, just remember that whenever you have a paired construction, the two things being paired should be as parallel as possible Parallel Elements.
James Barrie, the author of Peter Pan and other plays, is noted for portraying adulthood as unpleasant and childhood is glorified.
A. NO CHANGE
B. childhood is being glorious
C. childhood as glorious
D. childhood glorified
Solution: James Barrie is noted for portraying two things. The two things are connected by the conjunction “and.” The first thing he is noted for portraying is “adulthood as unpleasant.” Its construction is NOUN + “AS” + ADJECTIVE. The construction of the second phrase should mirror. The phrase “childhood as glorious” matches the construction and fixes the error in parallel structure. The answer is C.
Mutual funds, though helpful for personal investors who wish to diversify their portfolios, expose shareholders to additional taxation: not only are taxes on shareholders’ eventual sales of the securities collected by the IRS, but also on reinvested dividend stakes earned by the securities held by the fund itself.
A. NO CHANGE
B. collected by the IRS are taxes not only on shareholders’ eventual sales of the securities, but also on
C. taxes not only on shareholders’ eventual sales of the securities are collected by the IRS but also
D. taxes are collected by the IRS not only on shareholders’ eventual sales of the securities but also
Solution: Parallel construction between “not only” and “but also” is nonnegotiable! What comes after “not only” must be directly mirrored after “but also” - B is the correct answer.
During World War II the Department of Defense was the nation’s largest employer, directly employing over 16 million soldiers who served in combat and thousands more support staffers who served the war effort domestically, and which indirectly supported several million additional jobs through its extensive use of the manufacturing and transportation industries.
A. No Change
B. The Department of Defense was the nation’s largest employer during World War II, which directly employed
C. During World War II the Department of Defense was the nation’s largest employer and employed
D. During World War II the nation’s largest employer was the Department of Defense, which directly employed
Solution: Two things are crucial about the phrase in question: “And” is a connector, meaning that there is a previous portion to which this clause needs to be parallel, and “which” sets up that parallel structure. We need the first clause, before “and,” to lead with a “which,” and only correct answer choice D supplies it.
Drill: Choose the Parallel Sentence
Pick the option with correct parallel structure out of the three options provided.
A. I decided to call back and to see if they wanted to move forward with the process.
B. I decided to call back and seeing if they wanted to move forward with the process.
C. I decided to call back, and I want to see if they wanted to move forward with the process.
A. Everybody in the group was dancing, sang some songs, and they went home late.
B. Everybody in the group danced, sang, and went home late.
C. Everybody in the group was dancing, sang some songs, and going home late.
A. The girl in that class is smarter than how intelligent the girl is in the higher grade.
B. The girl in that class is as smarter as how smart the girl is in the higher grade.
C. The girl in that class is smarter than the girl in the higher grade.
A. Have you ever watched TV, studied, and was eating at the same time?
B. Have you ever been watching TV, studying, and ate at the same time?
C. Have you ever been watching TV, studying, and eating at the same time?
A. You have to study chemistry, biology, and how rocks work, in that major.
B. You have to study how elements work, how the body works, and how geology works, in that major.
C. You have to study chemistry, biology, and geology, in that major.
A. To be a champion, you have to want to win more than eating.
B. To be a champion, you have to want to win more than you want to eat.
C. To be a champion, you have to love winning more than you want to eat.
A. Part of the trip is whale-watching; the other part is surfing.
B. Part of the trip is whale-watching; the other part is to go on a long hike.
C. Part of the trip is whale-watching; the other part was hiking.
Comparisons are a form of parallelism that deserves special attention. As the name indicates, comparisons compare two parts of the sentence.
To spot comparisons, you must first learn certain signal words or phrases. Once you find a comparison, identify the two parts of the sentence that are being compared to each other.
The most important comparison signals are Like, Unlike, As, and Than. Whenever you see one of these four words, stop and find the two items being compared. Other common comparison signals are listed below:
- More than
- Less than
- Faster than
- Different from
- In contrast to/with
- As<word> as</word>
- As much as
- As little as
- As fast as
- The same as
Two general types of comparison errors can arise:
1. Terms Being Compared Must Be the Same
When directly comparing two terms, those terms need to be parallel to each other. Comparisons have to be parallel. That is, they must compare similar things.
Wrong: Frank’s build, LIKE his brother, is broad and muscular.
What two things are being compared? As written, the sentence is comparing Frank’s build directly to his brother, not his brother’s build. This is not a logical comparison. In order to correct this error, we need to change the comparison.
Right: Frank’s build, LIKE his brother’s, is broad and muscular.
Let’s look at a harder EXAMPLE: Beethoven’s music, which broke a number of established rules with its structure and melodic form, is considered more revolutionary than Bach.
First, let’s find the comparison signal: MORE revolutionary THAN....
Now we look for the two things being compared. It is often easier to find the second thing, which follows the comparison signal: More revolutionary than Bach. So, what is more revolutionary than Bach?
The subject of the sentence: Beethoven’s music. This comparison is not parallel.
Right: Beethoven’s music, which broke a number of established rules with its structure and melodic form, is considered MORE revolutionary THAN BACH’S.
Note again that we do not have to repeat the word music, as long as we have written Bach’s.
One reason that an insect can walk on walls while a human cannot is that the mass of its tiny body is far lower than humans.
A. NO CHANGE
B. far lower than that of a human’s body
C. lower by far than humans
D. far lower than is a human’s body
Solution: The sentence is comparing “the mass of its tiny body” with “humans.” This is an illogical comparison – the comparison should be between the mass of an insect and the mass of a human. We can eliminate option A.
Answer choice C contains the same error: it merely tweaks the word order. Answer D seems to fix the problem by adding “body,” but it’s still not correct to compare a human body with the mass of an insect body. The only answer that’s left is B, which correctly compares “the mass of its tiny body” and the mass of a human’s body. B is the right answer.
Many people struggle to learn to type, but shouldn’t get discouraged if they find the process to be more difficult than anticipated.  It is a more difficult task to learn to type than mastering a simple word-processing program.  Like video games or playing the piano, typing requires a great deal of hand-eye coordination, and it is a skill that can deteriorate over time if not practiced.
A. NO CHANGE
B. It is a more difficult task to learn to type than to mastering a simple word-processing program.
C. To master a simple word-processing program is a more difficult task than to learn to type.
D. Learning to type is a more difficult task than mastering a simple word-processing program.
A. NO CHANGE
B. Like the piano or video games, typing requires a great deal of handeye coordination
C. Like playing the piano or maneuvering in video games, typing requires a great deal of hand-eye coordination
D. Like the piano and video games, typing requires a great deal of hand-eye coordination
9. This sentence is comparing “to learn to type” with “mastering a simple word processing program.” These two terms need to be the same part of speech. We either need to change “mastering” to “to master” or “to learn” to “learning” so that parallel structure is maintained. The only answer choice that does that without introducing other errors is option D; B uses the ungrammatical “to mastering” and choice C inverts the logic of the sentence, claiming that mastering the word-processing program is the more difficult task. D is the correct answer.
10. What’s being compared in this sentence? Three terms are in play: “video games,” “playing the piano,” and “typing.” Two of these are gerunds and one is not: “video games.” We need to insert an “-ing” verb in front of “video games” so that it acts as a gerund and matches the other terms being compared. The answer choice that does that is C.
2. Comparisons with Possessive Nouns and Pronouns
This type of error appears when possessive nouns or phrases (e.g. “the _ of _”) are in play.
Wrong: Which is larger, the population of New York or Los Angeles?
This sentence compares “the population of New York” with the entire city “Los Angeles.” We can fix this error by adding “the population of” before “Los Angeles,” or revising the sentence so that the information specifying population size appears before the comparison.
Correct: Which is larger, the population of New York or that of Los Angeles?
Correct: Which is larger, the population of New York or the population of Los Angeles?
Let’s try a more complex EXAMPLE:
Wrong: Wandering around the furniture store, she decided that while burgundy and taupe would work well in her living room, the bright aquamarine lampshade would probably hog the spotlight.
This complex comparison involves the colors “burgundy” and “taupe” and “the bright aquamarine lampshade,” a tangible item. To fix this sentence, we need to either adjust “the bright aquamarine lampshade” to refer to just a color (e.g. “bright aquamarine”) or change “burgundy” and “taupe” so that they specify tangible items (e.g. “the burgundy drapes” & “the taupe carpet”).
Correct: Wandering around the furniture store, she decided that while burgundy and taupe would work well in her living room, bright aquamarine would probably hog the spotlight.
Correct: Wandering around the furniture store, she decided that while the burgundy drapes and the taupe carpet would work well in her living room, the bright aquamarine lampshade would probably hog the spotlight.
As far as places to eat for lunch, I recommend going to the deli across the street. At that deli, the sandwiches are similar to the cafeteria, but they are slightly larger, a bit healthier, and definitely fresher. Plus, you can eat your sandwich on one of the benches in the nearby park and enjoy the weather.
A. NO CHANGE
B. That deli’s sandwiches are similar to the cafeteria’s
C. Deli sandwiches are similar to cafeteria sandwiches
D. At that deli, the cafeteria sandwiches are similar to its sandwiches
Solutions: “Sandwiches” cannot be compared to “the cafeteria” - these are very different things. What the speaker seems to be comparing are the sandwiches at the deli and the sandwiches at the cafeteria.
B is the correct answer; it discusses sandwiches from the specific deli and sandwiches from the specific cafeteria and uses possessive punctuation to convey that the comparison is being made between the two. It is grammatically correct to omit the word “sandwiches” after “cafeteria’s” here; the structure of the sentence conveys that the comparison is being made between sandwiches from the two venues.
The books of Agatha Christie, a popular writer of crime novels, have had a greater audience than any fiction author in history.
A. No Change
B. than have those of any fiction author in history
C. in history as any other fiction author has had
D. than those of any other fiction author in history
Solution: Can the books of Agatha Christie, a fiction author, have had a greater audience than those of any fiction author in history?
She is a fiction author! The best she can do is tie herself; she cannot have more readers than even she does. So, the word “other” is crucial here. As a result, the correct answer choice must be D.