My method for demonstrating these predictable sentence problems is to use simplified sentences that illustrate the problem and solution clearly and to conclude with some long sentences in which the problem is almost hidden. Additional practice and explanation can be found on the Internet which lists hundreds of thousands of Web sites dealing with the topic.
Question: What can I do to remember how to spell “parallel”?
Answer: Harry Shefter’s Six Minutes a Day to Perfect Spelling suggests that you first blow up the trouble spot: parALLel. Second, add a mnemonic (memory) sentence: “Draw ALL lines parALLel.”
Question: Now that I can spell “parallel,” what the heck is “parallel structure”?
Answer. Simplified mistake in parallel structure: “He likes to hunt and fishing.”
Explanation: “And,” “but,” “or,” “nor,” “for,” “yet” and “so” are coordinate conjunctions, meaning that what occurs on one side of a coordinate conjunction must occur on the other side. If “to hunt” is on one side of “and,” “to fish” must occur on the other: “I like to hunt and to fish.” Or, “I like hunting and fishing.” But NOT “I like to hunt and fishing.”
The point: Grammatically, what occurs on one side of a coordinate conjunction must occur on the other side: “…to hunt and to fish….” “…hunting and fishing….” “What he did and what he said….”, etc. If you spot a coordinate conjunction in your sentence, make sure that what occurs grammatically on one side of the coordinate conjunction occurs on the other side of the coordinate conjunction.
Another example of parallelism is with comparison and contrast: Problem: “TVs on the top floor usually have less interference than on the ground floor.” Corrected: “TVs on the top floor usually have less interference than TVs on the ground floor.” If you have "TVs on the top floor,"then you are going to need to have "TVs on the ground floor" to balance the sentence.
Problem: “TV reception on cable is better than satellite.”
Solution: “TV reception on cable is better than TV reception on satellite.”
Following are some longer sentences with problems in parallel structure, from Warriner’s Grammar and Composition, 1986.
Problem: “A typical cockroach lives as a nymph for about a year and as an adult its life lasts about half a year.” “…as a nymph for about a year….” and “…as an adult its life lasts about half a year.” , p. 313.
Solution: “A typical cockroach lives as a nymph for about a year and as an adult for about half a year.” “…as a nymph for about a year…” and “…as an adult for about half a year.”
Problem: “Cockroaches have a smooth, leathery skin, long thin antennae and they have a body that is thick and flat.” p. 313.
Solution: “Cockroaches have a smooth , leathery skin, long thin antennae and thick, flat body.”
Problem: “The public’s attention has been centered on the need for more teachers, adequate classrooms, and there isn’t enough new equipment.”
Correction: “The public’s attention has been centered on the need for more teachers, adequate classrooms and new equipment.”
Or: “…on the need for more teachers…” “…on the need for adequate classrooms…” and “…on the need for new equipment.”
For more examples of parallel structure, type “parallel structure”” into the Google search engine and you will find, incredibly, 57,200,000 Web sites dealing with that topic, a lot of Web sites for a dry, but important, grammatical concept.
Why is parallel structure important? Parallel structure helps to smooth sentences and helps to improve “flow” in following the writer’s ideas [“…helps to smooth…and helps to improve….”]. While I have been critical of NEEDLESS repetition, parallel structure is one example of necessary repetition. The repetition in parallel structure smooths the flow of expression; unnecessary repetition "clogs" or confuses the flow of expression.
Next: Exercises are of some help in recognizing and correcting these predictable problems in sentence structure. However, I have been asked, "Do these exercises carry over into my own writing? How can I learn to recognize these problems and others in my own writing?" I (RayS.)have a solution. I will tell you about it in my next session.
All the best. RayS.