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Parallelism is when you consciously repeat the same grammatical structure to create harmony, balance, and clarity.

To create harmony and balance

Sentences are easier to read if they have the same structure–if the different parts of the sentence agree in grammatical form. This technique is called parallelism, parallel structure, or parallel construction. It is required with lists and comparisons/contrasts. Everywhere else, it is an ideal that we strive for because of its natural elegance.

Parallelism is everywhere in our world, from the natural to the manmade.

double rainbow parallelism
Photo by Christopher Michel

twin railroad tracks in a forest parallelism
Photo by TriviaKing


Native speakers naturally use parallel structures constantly in their everyday language, but non-native speakers usually have to consciously work to create them.

When you see parallelism, it seems obvious and natural, like in these examples:

Parallelism in a list

Having these cultural characteristics means that the Dutch are relatively unaccepting of power differences, value their individuality and input, and prefer to solve conflicts through negotiation and relationship building.

My objections are, first, that the measure is unjust; second, that it is unconstitutional.

We administered 10 mg of this drug intravenously, then performed a CT scan 72 hours later.

Parallelism in a comparison/contrast

Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.

Surgery is recommended for high-risk patients, while therapy is recommended for low-risk patients.

Merchants, conquerors and prophets were the first people who managed to transcend the binary evolutionary division, 'us vs them', and to foresee the potential unity of humankind. For the merchants, the entire world was a single market and all humans were potential customers. They tried to establish an economic order that would apply to all, everywhere. For the conquerors, the entire world was a single empire and all humans were potential subjects, and for the prophets, the entire world held a single truth and all humans were potential believers. They too tried to establish an order that would be applicable for everyone everywhere. (Sapiens, Harari)

Parallelism across paragraphs

Autonomy was assessed with a three-item scale, based on Karasek’s (1985) job content instrument. A sample item is “I can decide myself how I execute my work”. All items were scored on a five-point scale ranging from 1 (never) to 5 (always).

Opportunities for professional development were assessed with three items from the scale of Bakker, Demerouti, Taris, Schaufeli, and Schreurs (2003). A sample item is “I have sufficient possibilities to develop myself at work”. All items were scored on a five-point scale ranging from 1 (totally disagree) to 5 (totally agree).

These sentences and paragraphs can be read quickly and easily because the writer has worked hard to ensure that they are as parallel as possible.

how it works

When parallelism is applied correctly, the structure becomes invisible to the reader so that they can focus all of their mental energy on the content of the message.

But when you are working to create parallelism from the chaos of your mind, it can be anything but easy:

Parallelism is hard

Why does this technique work?

The structure of the sentence mimics the structure of the content, so the reader is able to more quickly place the new bit of information where it most logically fits with the other bits of information. You can use parallelism to solve many writing problems. For example, parallelism can help you remove respectively, reduce wordiness, or call attention to one aspect over another.

"The likeness of form enables the reader to recognize more readily the likeness of content and function." (The Elements of Style, Strunk & White)

How important is parallelism?

On a scale of 1-10, it's a 10: most important! Use parallelism everywhere you can. Are you struggling to add parallelism to your text? Ask for help!

Reader Expectations