Parallel Structure: Coordinating Conjunctions

This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series Grammar Lessons

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

Culture Clash, or How an English Teacher Sees Your World of Warcraft Post

As a Holy pally i [ALWAYS capitalize] just love stacking just SP and Crit. i [always capitalize] dont [missing apostrophe] stack much haste dont [missing apostrophe and comma (run-on sentence)] really need it.i dont [missing space; always capitalize!; missing apostrophe] even gem for it Or [missing punctuation or improper capitalization and run-on] mp5 unless its [its != it’s; D- mistake!] for the socket bonus if it a [missing verb (really? seriously?)] socket bonus of SP or crit. Y i dont [Y is NOT a word! You know better!; capitalization; apostrophe] gem for Haste? i [ok, now you’re doing it on purpose] sit at 14% haste i [press the extra key, dammit!] like it and in [2 independent clauses must be separated by a comma before the conjunction] my spec it give [improper verb form] me 15% more hast everytime i [spelling; every time = 2 words, i = laziness] judg b/c [spelling, informal or shorthand abbreviations should be avoided in final text] of jugements of the pure [spelling; proper nouns should be capitalized]. and y i dont [/facepalm] gem for mp5 is b/c [informal abbreviation] we have Divine Plnea [?] this it [missing verb again]. I [holy cow! You did it!] sit at 27k mana i [doh!] have 2801 SP and 27% crit my flask heals crit for 10 to 12k thats [apostrophe; run-on sentence] almost the as much a my [articles almost never proceed pronouns] holy light Holy like [interesting use of repetition and assonance… Oh, no, wait… that’s one run-on sentence followed by a misspelling and another run-on sentence. Nevermind.] hits for13k [missing space] no crit and i [sigh] never run out for mana i [I’ve run out of things to say about this] dont [and this] need mp5 and y i  dont [please, I beg you, quit killing my language] gem for int like the other pallys are yea int give [improper verb form, but at least you remembered it.] you SP but [run-on sentence] you get more SP out of +23 sp the +20 int and [run-on] the only thing Int gives pallys is just SP and Crit. thats [capitalization; apostrophe] it it dont give [Oh. My. God.] you haste are [?] mp5  but i think its [capitalization; D- mistake] just better to just gem for SP and Crit not much int or hast or mp5 thats how i heal as a pally in pve i love it and it soo much fun most of the time i out heal ppl unless they are doing a lot of overhealing I dont just spem flash heal on the tank i really only heal if needed and when i ahve to bubble i put hand of sacrife on the tank i even do that in pvp for i dont get cc but that Diff. [Capitalization; spelling; repetition; spelling; punctuation; R.O.; capitalization; informal abbreviation;  R.O.; apostrophe; did you mean sperm?; punctuation; capitalization; punctuation; capitalization; R.O.; capitalization; spelling; punctuation; capitalization; capitalization; spelling; R.O.; capitalization; apostrophe; R.O.; capitalization] lol [huh?] But i [u suk (is that easier for you to understand?)] heal diff. then other eveyone Diff. [I don’t even know what this means] so just do what you do and if it works dont change it btw i love healing thats all i love really in this game if there was not healing in this game i would not play anymore [R.O. and some other stuff] lol [I hope this stands for Learning Our Language.]
but thats how i heal i hope it helps  [Good thing you heal more effectively that* than you write, because I think my eyes are bleeding.]

Additional comments: *name redacted*, your content is solid, but you are still struggling with the basics. Run-on sentences and capitalization remain your biggest stumbling blocks, but you’re getting there. Keep practicing, and one of these days it will all fall into place. Overall, a nice improvement!


(*1/3/2012: edited to fix a typo I never noticed. One that I made. When irony strikes, it strikes both subtle and strong. And often makes me giggle!)