I know parallel structure makes things look and sound better. But there are sentences that lack symmetry that are still grammatically correct.

I stole an example from a worksheet: The class valued respect, honesty, and being on time in a teacher.

It was marked "incorrect". Why is that "incorrect"? It is correct. It just doesn't comply to a rule I've never heard of until this year. Respect, honesty, and being on time are all nouns. They are each perfectly perfect to be used as direct objects. Why is it suddenly "incorrect" to use a gerund phrase along with plain nouns? Notwithstanding the better flow of "promptness" in place of "being on time", why is it considered "incorrect"? Do teachers take off points for this kind of thing? In my opinion, telling kids they have to use parallel structure is just as stupid as telling them they can't begin sentences with conjunctions.

Why is this a big deal? I'm sure about a hundred years from now, there will be a literary device made up to explain lack of parallel structure. Students will be forced to marvel at the fact that authors chose to deny its existence. Teachers will tell their students that having one odd item out in a list creates emphasis and should be celebrated. Omission of parallel structure will one day become the new polysyndeton.

closed as primarily opinion-based by choster, FumbleFingers, user11550, user66974, anongoodnurse Jun 2 '14 at 11:12

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 2
    Parallel structure is not part of grammar, except to the extent that there are syntactic rules, like Conjunction Reduction, that apply to structures that are syntactically parallel. They're always optional rules, though, and there's no grammatical requirement to use parallel structures. They're awfully useful, though, as you point out. As for your class experience, I'm sympathetic, but you should learn asap that there is a lot of bullshit being taught about English grammar by people who really never had a chance to learn about it, and are just repeating what they were taught. Unfortunately. – John Lawler Jun 2 '14 at 2:57
  • 1
    Maybe it's not a part of grammar, but knowledge of grammar is needed in order to understand it. That's one reason why explicit knowledge of grammar is of value. – Michael Hardy Jun 2 '14 at 3:16
  • 2
    This question appears to be off-topic because it's just an invitation to discussion – FumbleFingers Jun 2 '14 at 3:26
  • 1
    --> Achieving 1) and 2) involves the avoidance of confusing or excessively complex grammatical structures and syntax, obscure/archaic vocabulary and irritating mannerisms. The non-parallel structure in your specimen sentence falls short of good style because it causes the reader to expect a different format of information than it delivers, thereby placing an unnecessary additional cognitive burden on them. It’s a trivial issue in an isolated sentence, but a bigger one if it keeps recurring in a longer text. – Erik Kowal Jun 2 '14 at 4:44
  • 2
    Would you actually say "The class valued being on time in a teacher"? I wouldn't. It's not the parallel structure that's wrong, it's what you're trying to get away with hiding inside it. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 2 '14 at 7:02

Parallel structure is neither a rule of descriptive grammar nor a rule of normative grammar. Rather it is a rhetorical device. It is useful for the same reason rhythm is useful: it can make it easier for an audience to absorb your message.

Its connection with grammar is that you need some knowledge of grammar in order to master it.

The examples in the worksheet are not good examples of its rhetorical utility. Rather they are just simple sentences in which it may be easy to understand which structures are parallel. If I were teaching this, I'd want to exhibit a long list of examples of how it can serve a rhetorical purpose. There are none in the worksheet. Unfortunately I don't have any good ones on tap as I write this.

So the examples of non-parallel structure in the worksheet are certainly not examples of bad grammar. Rather they are examples of when structures are parallel and when they are not.

  • 3
    And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor. – MT_Head Jun 2 '14 at 3:28
  • 3
    But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. – MT_Head Jun 2 '14 at 3:29

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.