If you studied geometry before taking up journalism, you know the definition of parallel: “Being an equal distance apart everywhere,” as the Free Online Dictionary puts it. The word applies to grammar, too, though the same source’s definition is a bigger mouthful: “Having identical or equivalent syntactic constructions in corresponding clauses or phrases.”
Translation: in writing English, words or phrases with equal functions in the sentence must be structured equally. Equal = parallel.
Here’s a near-perfect example of parallel structure from a CUNY J-school student: I shoot video and stills, record audio, edit in Final Cut Pro, Photoshop and produce interactive projects in Tumult Hype. One subject — I — with four or five parallel predicates (verb + object), depending on whether you accept Photoshop as a verb. (That’s where the “near-perfect” comes in). If not, it’s a noun and the sentence should read: I shoot video and stills, record audio, edit in Final Cut Pro and Photoshop, and produce interactive projects in Tumult Hype.
From another student: Being entrepreneur is such a solitude and hard-working.
Solitude and hard-working serve parallel functions in the predicate. But solitude is a noun, and hard-working is an adjective. They need to match. Some possible fixes:
An entrepreneur is solitary and hard-working. Here they’re both adjectives modifying entrepreneur, so you don’t need being. (And don’t forget the article.)
Being an entrepreneur requires solitude and hard work. Here they’re both nouns equivalent to the subject of the sentence, the gerund phrase being an entrepreneur.
Here’s a more complex example, from recent student work: Overall imports like consumer goods, capital goods and higher import of autos were again at $229.9 billion in February, the same number as in January.
Does this mean auto imports are part of the overall imports? If so, the sentence should read: Overall imports like consumer goods, capital goods and autos . . . The fact that auto imports increased can be mentioned elsewhere.
Or does it mean that autos are in separate category? In that case, it should be: Overall imports like consumer goods and capital goods and higher import of autos . . . Of course, that and . . . and construction makes the sentence a little hard to read. You could insert a pair of commas (consumer goods and capital goods, and higher import of autos, . . .) or reword the sentence something like this: Overall imports like consumer goods and capital goods, combined with higher auto imports, were again at $229.9 billion . . .
The author says the first is correct.
Let’s finish with a pop quiz. Is the following sentence parallel or not?
He is not married, he has no kids, he is a young professional who prefers to keep his options open and doesn’t rush into binding himself to any type of long-term responsibility.
It’s correct. It contains three clauses that are parallel even though one uses a different verb and one has a compound predicate. My criticisms are (a) that clauses should be joined by semicolons, not commas, and (b) that even with semicolons, it’s a little long for one sentence. Break it up and tighten:
He is not married; he has no kids. He is a young professional who prefers to keep his options open and doesn’t rush into
binding himself to any type of long-term responsibility.