Parallel Structure: Coordinating Conjunctions

One of the more common grammar elements my students struggle with is parallel structure (also referred to as parallelism). In a nutshell, whenever you create a list, the elements being listed must share identical grammatical components. It’s easiest to explain, I think, with that old Sesame Street song:

Whenever we create a list or series, we use Coordinating Conjunctions (think FANBOYS – for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so). It’s imperative that all the list items look the same. For example:

Paul likes hiking, jogging, and to go swimming.

The list is comprised of three things that Paul likes doing:

  1. Paul likes golfing.
  2. Paul likes jogging.
  3. Paul likes to swim.

But like Cookie Monster says, one of these things is not like the other things! In order to maintain a parallel structure, we need to make them all look the same:

  1. Paul likes golfing.
  2. Paul likes jogging.
  3. Paul likes swimming.

By listing these items separately, we can see they each share a subject (Paul) and a verb (likes). This is the core component of the list, so when we join these items together, we get:

Paul likes hiking, jogging, and swimming.

But that’s not the only way to fix the original sentence. We also could take the long way around and use the infinitive verb forms:

  1. Paul likes to golf.
  2. Paul likes to jog.
  3. Paul likes to swim.

Using the original core of the sentence, we bring them all together:

Paul likes to golf, to jog, and to swim.

But, if we take it a step further, we can see that the core component of the sentence has actually expanded to:

Paul likes to

So while there’s nothing wrong with the first revision using the infinitive verb forms, expanding the core allows us to drop the “to” from the second and third list elements:

Paul likes to golf, jog, and swim.

This provides a more concise expression of the three things Paul likes to do.

Proofreading tip:
When proofreading, don’t try to spot everything in a single pass. Instead, break it up into specific problem areas. Since there are a number of grammar problem areas that involve the use of coordinating conjunctions, focus on those seven words (FANBOYS!) by themselves. Every time you see one of them, take a close look at that sentence. Is it parallel? Is it a run-on? Are there any extraneous commas (comma splices)? Give yourself extra time to proofread more than once and look for specific things. Trying to multitask inside an essay is as dangerous and difficult as it is out in the real world. If you take on too much at once, it is easy to get overwhelmed. The result is often a finished product of lesser quality than you would have delivered had you focused on one thing at a time.


Other resources on Parallel Structure:
Purdue Online Writing Lab
Grammar Girl

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.