In our first article on sentence aesthetics, we looked at dangling modifiers and misplaced modifiers. In this article, we look at faulty parallelisms. Parallelism is the balance of words, phrases, clauses or sentences with words, phrases, clauses or sentences of similar structure. It is the use of identical or equivalent syntactic constructions in corresponding phrases, clauses or sentences. To put the above in the simplest terms, the way you arrange the words in, for example, one clause in a sentence is the way you will arrange the corresponding words in another clause in the same sentence. The examples we are going to use should make things clearer.

 

Parallel Words and Phrases

  1. Seun has visited Ghana, America, France, London and Germany.
  2. Odia loves cooking and to read.
  3. Kwame enjoys cooking and to read.
  4. What happened between the 25th of December and January 4?

Sentence one is grammatically correct but lacks parallelism. It is inelegant to mention the city once while mentioning the country in all the other cases. In lists of this nature, either the city or country should be listed in every case. So the first sentence above should follow either of these two forms.

  • Seun has visited Ghana, the USA, France, the UK and Germany.
  • Seun has visited Accra, New York, Paris, London and Berlin.

If for some reason a specific item has to be listed out of format in a list of this nature, you can find a way to do that without losing elegance. For example, consider the following sentence.

  • The Blaze Emissions Test has been approved for use in Ghana, the USA, France, Germany, and the city of London.

Sentence two is grammatically correct but lacks parallelism. There is the gerund “cooking” and then there is “to” plus the infinitive “read”.

Faulty parallelisms are easy to fix. All you need to do is to convert all the items in the list of series to the same grammatical form.

To make sentence two above parallel, we should either use two gerunds or two infinitives.

  • Odia loves cooking and reading.
  • Odia loves to cook and to read.

As for the third sentence, note that there is a grammatical problem as well as a parallelism problem. “Kwame enjoys to read” is grammatically problematic. So that sentence is best rewritten as follows.

  • Kwame enjoys cooking and reading.

The fourth sentence is grammatically correct but the use of different formats for the dates renders it inelegant. We should rewrite it as follows.

  • What happened between the 25th of December and 4th January?
  • What happened between December 25 and January 4?

 

Parallel Clauses and Constructions

  • The cattle rustlers came from the east, stormed through the entire village of Chinji, and into thin air they vanished with their loot.
  • The capital of Kenya is Nairobi and Russia’s capital is Moscow.
  • The senators are complaining that they are represented unfavourably in the media and Nigerians consider them leeches.
  • We are all confronted by a barrage of potential business deals every day, ranging from the mundane, like buying a loaf of bread or a pair of flip-flops, to acquiring a car or investing in bonds.
  • In the first case, Captain Aliyu led his troops to victory at the desert, while Major Mahmud manipulated his troops, in the second case, into beating a shameful retreat from the terrorists.

The first sentence has problems of grammar and parallelism. “The cattle rustlers” cannot be followed by “into thin air they vanished”. It should be rewritten as follows.

  • The cattle rustlers came from the east, stormed through the entire village of Chinji, and vanished into thin air with their loot.

The second sentence is correct grammatically but it just isn’t a “good sentence”. It is, grammatically speaking, not a bad sentence, but it is not a good sentence either because the parallelism is faulty. A far better sentence will be either of the following.

  • The capital of Kenya is Nairobi and the capital of Russia is Moscow.
  • Kenya’s capital is Nairobi and Russia’s capital is Moscow.

The third sentence’s inelegance arises out of syntactic dissimilarities between corresponding constructions within the sentence. There is “they are represented” (passive voice) followed by “Nigerians consider them” (active voice).

A better rewrite of that sentence would yield either of the following.

  • The senators are complaining that they are represented unfavourably in the media and considered leeches by Nigerians.
  • The senators are complaining that the media represent them unfavourably and Nigerians consider them leeches.

The fourth sentence is particularly sloppy and that sort of writing is to be avoided always. If we remove the examples from the sentence, what we’re left with is, “We are all confronted by a barrage of potential business deals every day, ranging from the mundane to [blank].”

A better piece of job would appear as follows.

  • We are all confronted by a barrage of potential business deals every day, ranging from the mundane, like buying a loaf of bread or a pair of flip-flops, to the sublime, like acquiring a car or investing in bonds.

(If you don’t consider buying a car or investing in bonds “sublime”, rewrite the sentence and change some words while remembering your parallelism.)

The misalignment of the corresponding phrases “in the first place” and “in the second place” is clearly a case of faulty parallelism in the fifth sentence.

A far better sentence would appear like this.

  • In the first case, Captain Aliyu led his troops to victory at the desert, while in the second case, Major Mahmud manipulated his troops into beating a shameful retreat from the terrorists.

Parallelism can span across sentences. Getting it right helps to clarify meaning.

  • The Addis Ababa negotiations were deadlocked yesterday. The government delegation, lead by the president, insisted on holding the home affairs ministry. The rebels equally refused to yield ground on the same ministry.

This is faulty parallelism. Since the writer is so considerate to tell us who led the government team, he ought to tell us who led the rebel team. A far better construction would be something like this.

  • The Addis Ababa negotiations were deadlocked yesterday. The government delegation, lead by President Kiir, insisted on holding the home affairs ministry. The rebel delegation, lead by Dr Macha, equally refused to yield ground on the same ministry.

It would not make any difference if you were linking the second and third sentences with a semicolon or a conjunctive word.

  • The Addis Ababa negotiations were deadlocked yesterday. The government delegation, lead by President Kiir, insisted on holding the home affairs ministry; the rebel delegation, lead by Dr Macha, equally refused to yield ground on the same ministry.