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Parallel Structure:  Skill in Context

Parallel structure is important not just for a grocery list that is easy to follow at the grocery store. It is also important in coordinating complex ideas so that they, too, are easy to follow. In the Old Testament, for example, parallel structure is used to clarify ideas; the repetition of structure helps the reader understand the meaning:

Day to day pours forth speech,
and night declares knowledge.

Some of the most memorable sayings are memorable because of excellent use of parallel structure. Consider, for example,

Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise. (Benjamin Franklin)

Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live. (Oscar Wilde)

Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation. (Oscar Wilde)

Moreover, parallel structure is a common feature of modern music, emphasizing the songwriter's ideas and helping us remember the words to a song. For example, in many of her songs, as in the excerpt from "Thank You," below, Alanis Morisette uses parallel structure to reveal the irony of her own self-discovery:

The moment I let go of it was
The moment I got more than I could ever know;
The moment I jumped off of it was
The moment I touched down.

Using parallel structure this expressively in your own writing is not as difficult as it may seem. Try experimenting a bit. For example, use a negative to define a positive: "not __, but __." Or once you have a basic sentence written down, go back to it and see if you might add more information to the sentence using coordination: "She was exhausted," might become "She was exhausted after spending nine hours on her feet at work, sitting in rush hour traffic, waiting in line at the grocery store, and retrieving her kids from after school activities." When writing longer texts, see if you can find ways to combine like ideas using parallel structure.




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