Definition of parallelism.

Parallelism is the repetition of grammatical elements in writing and speaking. Parallelism influences the grammatical structure of sentences but can also impact the meaning of thoughts and ideas being presented. When writers utilize parallelism as a figure of speech , this literary device extends beyond just a technique of grammatical sentence structure. It may feature repetition of a word or phrase for emphasis, or it can be used as a literary device to create a parallel position between opposite ideas through grammatical elements as a means of emphasizing contrast .

Common Examples of Parallelism

Many common phrases feature parallelism through repetition of words, structure, or other grammatical elements. This calls attention to the wording and can emphasize the phrase’s meaning. Here are some common examples of parallelism:

Examples of Parallelism in the Bible

Parallelism is found throughout the Bible, particularly in psalm verses and proverbs. One use of this literary device in Biblical poetry and phrasing is to create synonymous lines in which an idea is presented and then repeated by being rephrased with parallelism to reinforce or emphasize the meaning. Here are some examples of parallelism in the Bible:

Famous Examples of Parallelism

Difference between parallelism and repetition.

There is another line in Macbeth ’s soliloquy that features repetition, but not parallelism: “ Out, out , brief candle!” In this line, the word “out” is repeated twice, but there is no indication of a repeating grammatical element. Though the effect of this repetition is to emphasize the word “out” in terms of extinguishing the candle, which represents death, there is less of a poetic nature to the line than the repetition and parallelism of the “tomorrow” phrase. Therefore, as literary devices, repetition emphasizes a word or phrase and can certainly reinforce its meaning; however, parallelism often adds even deeper meaning through the repetition of grammatical structure.

Writing Parallelism

Create sense of rhythm, create sense of relationship, difference between parallelism in grammar and rhetoric, parallelism in literature, synthetic parallelism, use of parallelism in sentences,   examples of parallelism in literature, example 1:  pygmalion (george bernard shaw).

If you can’t appreciate what you’ve got, you’d better get what you can appreciate.

Example 2:  The Things They Carried (Tim O’Brien)

To generalize about war is like generalizing about peace. Almost everything is true. Almost nothing is true.

In O’Brien’s story about soldiers in Vietnam, he uses parallelism to create a relationship between war and peace, though they seem to be opposing concepts. In this passage, O’Brien warns against generalizing about either war or peace as the outcome ends up the same–that almost everything is true and almost nothing is true. The repetition of grammatical structure in these three sentences enhances the relationship between war and peace by creating the sense that, in general, they are more alike than the opposite. This causes the reader to reflect on how this relationship between war and peace is possible.

Example 3: How Cruel Is the Story of Eve  (Stevie Smith)

Put up to barter , The tender feelings Buy her a husband to rule her Fool her to marry a master She must or rue it The Lord said it.

Synonyms of Parallelism

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Examples of Parallelism in Literature and Rhetoric

MLK I have a dream quote

Parallelism is often referred to as one of the basic principles of grammar and rhetoric, and you’ll see its use throughout literature. Parallelism has slightly different meanings, depending on the context, but it’s about balancing the weight or structure of ideas and phrases. In rhetoric, parallelism means balancing two or more ideas or arguments that are equally important. In grammar, it means using phrasing that is grammatically similar or identical in structure, sound, meaning, or meter. As you can see from literary examples, this technique adds symmetry, effectiveness, and balance to the written piece.

Parallelism in Rhetoric

Parallelism in rhetoric is used to persuade, motivate, and/or evoke emotional responses in an audience and is often used in speeches. The balance between clauses or phrases makes complex thoughts easier to process while holding the reader's or listener's attention. The balance in importance is also an essential element; each phrase or idea should be as important as its counterpart.

Some examples of parallelism in rhetoric include the following:

You can also see rhetorical parallelism used in longer speeches, such as this example by John F. Kennedy:

"The Ireland of 1963, one of the youngest of nations and the oldest of civilizations, has discovered that the achievement of nationhood is not an end but a beginning. In the years since independence, you have undergone a new and peaceful revolution, an economic and industrial revolution, transforming the face of this land while still holding to the old spiritual and cultural values. You have modernized your economy, harnessed your rivers, diversified your industry, liberalized your trade, electrified your farms, accelerated your rate growth, and improved the living standard of your people."

Parallelism in Literature

The opening paragraph of Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities is perhaps the best-known example of parallelism in literature. Parallelism is shown by using "it was" to connect opposing ideas.

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way."

William Shakespeare often used parallelism in his plays. Consider the following excerpt from Richard II .

"I'll give my jewels for a set of beads, My gorgeous palace for a hermitage, My gay apparel for an almsman's gown, My figured goblets for a dish of wood, My scepter for a palmer's walking staff My subjects for a pair of carved saints and my large kingdom for a little grave."

Diazeugma , using a number of verbs to describe a subject, is also a form of parallelism. This can be seen in Vacation '58 , a short story by John Hughes.

"It wasn't a big cliff. It was only about four feet high. But it was enough to blow out the front tire, knock off the back bumper, break Dad's glasses, make Aunt Edythe spit out her false teeth, spill a jug of Kool-Aid, bump Missy's head, spread the Auto Bingo pieces all over, and make Mark do number two."

Shooting an Elephant , an essay by George Orwell , uses the experience of hunting an aggressive elephant in Burma as a metaphor for British Imperialism. Starting each phrase with "some" creates a parallel structure that reinforces how easy it is for observers of the same event to have entirely different opinions.

"Some of the people said that the elephant had gone in one direction, some said that he had gone in another, some professed not even to have heard of any elephant."

The poem The Tyger by William Blake uses repetition of "what" to create a pleasing rhythm.

"What the hammer? what the chain? In what furnace was thy brain? What the anvil? What dread grasp Dare its deadly terrors clasp?"

How Do I Love Thee? by Elizabeth Barrett Browning also creates rhythmic verse with repetition of the parallel structure "I love thee."

"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight For the ends of being and ideal grace. I love thee to the level of every day's Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light. I love thee freely, as men strive for right. I love thee purely, as they turn from praise. I love thee with the passion put to use In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith. I love thee with a love I seemed to lose With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath, Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose, I shall but love thee better after death."

Community by John Donne contrasts ideas of "good" and "love" with "ill"and "hate" using parallel structure.

"Good we must love, and must hate ill, For ill is ill, and good good still; But there are things indifferent, Which we may neither hate, nor love, But one, and then another prove, As we shall find our fancy bent."

E.E. Cummings' poem, love is more thicker than forget, uses the words "love is" and "more" or "less" to create a parallel structure that explains the meaning of love.

"love is more thicker than forget more thinner than recall more seldom than a wave is wet more frequent than to fail it is most mad and moonly and less it shall unbe than all the sea which only is deeper than the sea love is less always than to win less never than alive less bigger than the least begin less littler than forgive"

Understanding Parallel Construction

Parallelism uses similar words, phrases, or clauses to show that ideas have the same level of importance. This structure improves readability by giving a natural flow to a written work.

For native speakers of English, parallelism is often instinctive. We say, "I like reading, writing, and painting" instead of "I like to read, writing, and painting."

Mistakes in Parallel Construction

However, one common mistake novice writers make involves failing to keep items in a list after a colon in a parallel form. For example, "Writers can use an online dictionary to find help with these issues: word meanings, pronunciations, and finding correct spellings" does not use a parallel construction. Changing the text to read, "Writers can use an online dictionary to find help with these issues: word meanings, pronunciations, and correct spellings" gives it a parallel construction and improves readability.

More Examples of Parallel Structure

Additional examples of parallel sentence structure include the following:

Other Literary Devices Used With Parallelism

As you use parallel construction in your writing or begin to identify it in the literature you read, you’ll see that it also goes with other literary devices:

Stay Balanced in Your Writing

Reading written text out loud is often an effective way to identify examples of parallelism or areas that need editing to maintain a parallel structure. Listening to the rhythm of words as they flow from your tongue will help you maintain the desired balance in your writing, whether you're writing a persuasive essay or a romantic love poem .

Parallelism: What Is It and How to Use It in Your Writing

Jakob Straub

Parallelism repeats grammatical elements, for example in speaking or writing. Such a parallel construction can enhance readability and make it easier to convey an idea effectively. As a figure of speech, it can emphasize and create memorable phrases.

Parallelism as a literary device can also contrast ideas and elements, play with rhythm and create humorous or witty puns. Since there are several ways to achieve parallel constructions, various figures of speech fall under the broad term parallelism. However, there are grammatical pitfalls, and faulty parallelism can sound clunky or obscure. Improve your writing through the use of parallelism and learn from our examples from famous speeches, films, and literature.

Definition of parallelism: what is it?

Parallelism means a parallel construction in which similar or repeated words, phrases, clauses, or sentence structure appear. The common saying, “Easy come, easy go” is an example of parallelism. This figure of speech allows for an effective understanding of the elements that are emphasized or contrasted. It can provide a sense of balance or rhythm and enhance readability and ease of processing.

The literary device of parallelism goes beyond simple word repetition: “You are a fool, a fool, a fool!” only repeats one phrase, separated by commas, but has no other grammatical, parallel elements. Parallelism repeats grammatical elements, or sentence structure: “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

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Specific types of parallelism.

There are distinct literary terms to describe literary devices which make up specific types of parallelism.

Parallelism in grammar and rhetoric

In the grammatical sense, parallelism refers to the grammatical structure of a sentence construction exhibiting parallel elements, typically comprising verb phrases, nouns, infinitives or gerunds. Commas can separate the individual elements or a coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) can form the connection. To avoid faulty parallelism, the grammatical elements in parallel need to agree with each other, and not pair two nouns with a verb, for example.

Beyond the grammatical form, parallelism in rhetoric and literature can balance or contrast phrases or ideas. For further clarity, correlative conjunctions can highlight the relation between the parallel elements. By itself, the parallel structure alone will usually have the effect of an assumed balance or stark contrast in the mind of the reader or listener.

Faulty parallelism

Faulty parallelism occurs when you aim for a parallel construction in your writing but break the grammatical structure. This happens frequently in lists, for example, when naming a series of nouns that includes one gerund or an infinitive. Consider the following example:

Our company values are excellence, trust, transparency, and thinking out of the box.

Not only is “thinking out of the box” standing out grammatically in the sequence of nouns, but it’s also a longer phrase, even when rearranged to “out-of-the-box thinking.” A more fitting word here might be “innovation.”

Writers can use faulty parallelism on purpose to create a literary device, though grammatically incorrect. A syllepsis uses one word for two parts of a sentence, though incompatible: “He works his work, I mine” (from Tennyson’s Ulysses) is a parallel construction in which the repetition of the verb is omitted (ellipsis). The implied “I works mine” is ungrammatical.

Similarly, zeugma uses a single word in two parts of a parallel construction, though with a difference in meaning, often playing on the literal and the figurative. Zeugma is a grammatically correct parallel construction but will stump readers or listeners with the perceived incorrectness because of the difference in meaning.

Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana.

The sentence is an example of ambiguous syntactic structure by linguist Anthony Oettinger, though it’s often attributed to comedian Julius Henry "Groucho" Marx. It contains a double zeugma: the first half of the parallelism uses ‘flies’ as a verb and ‘like’ as a preposition, whereas the second half repeats these words as a noun and a verb.

Groucho Marx also often receives credit for some version of the joke, “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” In this example of faulty parallelism, the preposition ‘outside’ is used figuratively (in the sense of ‘apart from’), whereas the meaning of ‘inside’ is literal.

Why use parallelism in writing?

When you look at our examples below, you see that parallelism is popular among orators: the simplified structure makes a speech easy to follow for the audience and focuses their attention on the most important parts.

Parallelism in writing has a similar effect. The parallel construction increases readability. Just as in a speech, it conveys a sense of rhythm, harmony and balance. The repetition of grammatical elements such as words or phrases allows the writer to vary the pace, add poetic language and add emphasis on the level of grammar and language.

The literary device of parallelism also speaks to the relationship between the things set up in the parallel construction. The writer can compare and contrast concrete and abstract things and draw attention to similarities and differences.

The deliberate use of faulty parallelism can also stop the reader in their tracks, break the flow, and make them ponder the words and the idea they describe. This doesn’t have to be philosophical, though. It can create humor, nonsense, or be a witty pun.

Examples of parallelism

Examples of parallel structure are common in everyday sayings and proverbs. “No pain, no gain,” “In for a penny, in for a pound,” “Where there is smoke, there is fire,” and “It takes one to know one” are all parallel constructions. Because the rhetorical device is popular among orators, we’ll list examples from speeches, as well as from film and literature.

Memorable speeches

Famous examples of parallelism in speeches include Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address . It features epistrophe in the phrase “government of the people, by the people, for the people”, and anaphora in “We can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground.”

“I have a dream” by Martin Luther King, Jr. is another famous example with parallel structure: the repeated use of the phrase at the beginning of his sentences constitutes another epistrophe. He also showed contrast through parallelism: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

In his inaugural address in 1961, President John F. Kennedy also contrasted two opposing ideas in parallel structure: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Winston Churchill uses parallelism as both epistrophe and auxesis, hammering on his message: “We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender.”

Neil Armstrong’s famous words as he set foot on the moon are also a parallel construction that puts great emphasis on the meaning of his statement and the greatness of the achievement his one step signified: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” The parallelism contrasts the difference in momentum and movement, as well as the individual against the collective.

“Stupid is as stupid does” is a commonplace saying and parallelism that appears in Forrest Gump as a repeated line. Parallelism as a rhetorical device will work well in your screenplay when a character has to deliver a memorable soliloquy: a coach motivating a team, a politician convincing their people, a lawyer imploring the jury—these are all great scenes where parallel structures can make it easy for the audience to grasp the gravity of the moment and follow the speech.

Visual parallelism in film allows you to show contrast, create tension, intensify the action, increase the pace, or interweave storylines. Two or more action sequences happening at once create excitement for the audience. In your script, you can execute parallel action by introducing two or more scenes and actions with their locations and descriptions in their headings. You can use INTERCUT to show the parallel cross-cutting and END INTERCUT to conclude such a sequence.

Christopher Nolan's Inception is an example of cross-cutting to show the simultaneous action in the various dream levels, moving towards the climax of "the kick" that has to happen at once on all levels.

Parallel editing can also deliberately mislead the audience. Silence of the Lambs features preparations for an FBI raid inter-cut with Buffalo Bill in his basement. The first assumption of viewers is that his arrest is imminent, but the further progression of the scene reveals the FBI raiding an empty house, while agent Clarice Starling confronts Buffalo Bill alone. The movie The Fugitive features a similar arrest scene.

An early example of parallelism in movies is The Great Train Robbery from 1903, where the editing technique builds suspense. Francis Ford Coppola uses parallel editing in The Godfather to inter-cut Michael Corleone at a baptism with murders carried out by his henchmen.

As a screenwriter, you're not limited to visual parallelism, however. Parallel structures can appear throughout your story. Batman , for example, fights crime because his parents were the victims of crime. In a plot parallel, the B story features a miniature repetition of the A story.

In Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith , Grievous is partly removed from a mechanical suit and set on fire. Anakin is set on fire and put into a mechanical suit. In the TV show Lost , the development on the island is paralleled in the flashback or sideways plot in nearly every episode. In the show House , the doctor typically has a main patient and will discover the key to their cure through parallelism in the B plot of that episode.

Split-screen or picture-in-picture scenes are less common today as forms of visual parallelism, though they appear in modern cinema. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World uses the technique almost as a homage to various forms of storytelling, such as comic books, animation, and video games. Requiem for a Dream relies heavily on montages and creates intimacy by dividing the screen. Annie Hall tells a romantic story and uses split-screen scenes for comedic effect.

“To err is human, to forgive, divine” is a famous example of parallelism by English poet Alexander Pope, which omits the repetition of the verb in the second half. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens opens with the famous first line, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” The clauses in this parallel structure are nearly identical, yet contrast in their meaning. The author memorably and effectively conveys the sense of a period that varied between extremes.

We’ve already mentioned the parallel “Veni, vidi, vici” by Julius Caesar. In his play about the Roman emperor, playwright William Shakespeare has Brutus speak in a parallel structure to justify his decision of murdering Caesar. “As Caesar loved me, I weep for him. As he was fortunate, I rejoice at it. As he was valiant, I honor him. But, as he was ambitious, I slew him.” Brutus responds rationally to Caesar’s traits. By the logic of the parallel structure, it then also seems reasonable that he should die for his ambition.

In Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw, Professor Higgins tells his ‘guinea pig’ Eliza Doolittle: “If you can’t appreciate what you’ve got, you’d better get what you can appreciate.” The grammatical structure is parallel, but the playwright inverses the wording to contrast the ideas. Essentially, Higgins puts a choice in front of Eliza: warm up to him or pursue someone else.

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How to use parallelism in your writing

Parallel structures help you introduce clarity and concision in your writing. Parallel phrases shorten sentences and enhance readability. Through balance, you can create harmonious and satisfying sentences, or highlight the similarity between two things. However, parallelism can also bring out the contrast between two opposing elements.

Parallelism lets you play with the rhythmic pattern of sentences, but in screenwriting, you can also increase the pacing of your script or inter-cut fast and slow action. Connect details in a way that makes them stand out and give your story structure a logical flow with parallelism.

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Types of Parallelism in Literature

The examples we gave in the “Parallelism Definition” section all pertain to sentences with listed components. But, in rhetoric and literature, there are a few types of parallelism that amplify specific ideas using syntax. Let’s examine each one briefly, with parallelism examples in literature and speech.

1. Rhetorical Parallelism

Rhetorical parallelism creates sentence components of equal weight to emphasize similarity and contrast. Typically, it’s a sentence with 2 or 3 components, each of which are written with similar or parallel syntactic structure. You see this type of structure operate in some similes, metaphors, and analogies —especially analogies.

Here’s an example of rhetorical parallelism:

Each component of the sentence follows a parallel structure: one [adjective of size] [movement] for [man / mankind]. Because some of the words stay the same, this sentence highlights those that change: the size of the step grows in tandem with the size of the impact on humanity. Expressed here is the elegance of rhetorical parallelism: how small changes in word choice produce large effects in meaning.

Here are some other rhetorical parallelism examples:

Rhetorical parallelism often relies on effective repetition. You can learn more about wielding repetition in rhetoric at this article:

2. Synthetic Parallelism

The following are primarily examples of parallelism in the Bible. Antithetical, synonymous, and synthetic parallelism are all common features of ancient poetry, particularly Hebrew poetry, though of course these devices can be used in modern poetry, too.

Synthetic parallelism is a poetic structure that advances a thought. It presents ideas of equal weight to make a certain argument, usually a moral one.

Here’s an example, from Proverbs 21:27.

“The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination; how much more when he brings it with evil intent.”

In this quote, the two elements—“the sacrifice of the wicked” and “brings it with evil intent”—are both immoral actions. By placing these ideas next to each other, the quote amplifies its idea by amplifying what’s immoral.

You may notice how the two ideas have different syntactic structures. This is partially because the translation from Hebrew to English is difficult, and partially because it matters more that each idea takes up a similar amount of space on each singular line.

Proverbs is a book about proper conduct in the world, as well as the thoughts behind the ways we conduct ourselves. Synthetic parallelism allows this quote to elegantly express both abominable actions and, further, thoughts that make those actions even worse.

3. Antithetical Parallelism

Antithetical parallelism uses the same sentence structure as synthetic, but it highlights differences. Take, for example, Proverbs 19:16.

“He who obeys instructions guards his life, but he who is contemptuous of his ways will die.”

The two ideas—“obedience” versus “contempt”—are equally weighted, but opposed in such a way that one action is regarded in much higher esteem. “But” is the operant word highlighting contrast, and when it comes to parallelism in the Bible, attention to comparison words helps us understand how different ideas are being compared.

4. Synonymous Parallelism

Synonymous parallelism is simply the repetition of similar ideas with different words. This repetition may appear redundant, but it’s done with the purpose of amplifying an idea and making it multifaceted.

Take the below example, from Psalm 120:2.

“Save me, O Lord, from lying lips and from deceitful tongues.”

“Lying lips” and “deceitful tongues” are clearly synonymous. Modern readers might find the second line to be wholly unnecessary. What is it expressing that’s different from the first line? The point is not to be redundant, it’s to elucidate and amplify. The repetition of an idea in different words highlights the importance of the idea itself. And, since this quote begins with “save me,” repeating the idea also repeats the idea of needing to be saved—it adds a certain layer of desperation, of lack.

You can also find synthetic, antithetical, and synonymous parallelism throughout Ancient Middle Eastern poetry, including the Quran and among many Sufi poets. Think of these structures as advancing moral arguments. The way that rhetorical parallelism helps us speak to audiences of today, these parallel devices helped speak to the listeners of yesterday (and can still do so today!)

More Parallelism Examples in Literature

Parallelism helps advance big ideas, create surprising juxtapositions, and craft effective styles. Here’s how modern authors have wielded the device in their work. The parallelism examples have been bolded.

Parallelism Examples: “I Know What You Think of Me” by Tim Kreider

Retrieved from The New York Times archives.

Years ago a friend of mine had a dream about a strange invention; a staircase you could descend deep underground, in which you heard recordings of all the things anyone had ever said about you, both good and bad. The catch was, you had to pass through all the worst things people had said before you could get to the highest compliments at the very bottom. There is no way I would ever make it more than two and a half steps down such a staircase, but I understand its terrible logic: if we want the rewards of being loved we have to submit to the mortifying ordeal of being known.

In this essay, the parallel sentence structure sets forth a complex idea with supreme elegance. The parallelism helps keep each idea equally weighted: the work of being known is certainly mortifying, but its reward is equal in nature. We cannot be loved until the people that love us know who they are loving. The reciprocal relationship doesn’t need to be stated as reciprocal: syntax accomplishes this for us.

Parallelism Examples: “The Long and the Short of It” by Richard Siken

Retrieved here, from this archive of Spork Press’s Editor’s Pages .

“I work my jobs, I take my pills. Knot the tie and go to work, unknot the tie and go to sleep. I sleep. I dream. I wake. I sing. I get out the hammer and start knocking in the wooden pegs that affix the meaning to the landscape, the inner life to the body, the names to the things .”

This entire paragraph is constructed in parallels, but what strikes me most is the final sentence. Siken showcases beautifully how language defines the world: it affixes meaning to landscape, it connects our bodies to our minds, and it names each and every object and idea. This demonstration of language’s capability, as well as the work of the writer, lingers in the brain both semantically and visually, tying the abstract to the concrete.

Parallelism Examples: Excerpt from the Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

Retrieved here.

“All of us know, whether or not we are able to admit it, that mirrors can only lie, that death by drowning is all that awaits one there. It is for this reason that love is so desperately sought and so cunningly avoided. Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. ”

Baldwin was a master prose stylist, and this is hardly the only quotable parallel sentence he’s written. This passage highlights a certain duality applicable to a wide variety of situations. We are all wearing masks, in some way or another, and love takes off this mask so that we can be seen for who we truly are. How might love unmask the constructs imposed on us—like masks of nationhood, gender, or occupation?

Parallelism in Poetry

Here are some examples of parallelism in poetry.

Parallelism Examples: Excerpt from “A Litany for Survival” by Audre Lorde

Retrieved from Poetry Foundation .

And when the sun rises we are afraid it might not remain when the sun sets we are afraid it might not rise in the morning when our stomachs are full we are afraid of indigestion when our stomachs are empty we are afraid we may never eat again when we are loved we are afraid love will vanish when we are alone we are afraid love will never return and when we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcomed but when we are silent we are still afraid

So it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive.

Lorde makes her argument through a series of negations: we are constantly worrying about the loss of something we have. If this is the case, it follows that our fears are better ignored. Why do we let fear prohibit us from achieving what we want? This is a poem that finds beauty in inversion. Rather than adopting the attitude “we’re all going to die,” the poem says “ since we’re going to die, let’s enjoy the time we spend not dying, and demand what we deserve.” This point is hammered through a series of parallelisms.

Parallelism Examples: Excerpt from “Parameters” by Caitlin Scarano

Out of Caitlin’s collection The Necessity of Wildfire.

There were days when we laughed, days we grew teeth. Season to sow, season to reap.

The juxtaposition of these two parallel sentences is simply gutting. It implies that laughter sows, and growing teeth reaps—that, in this relationship, the time spent in laughter sets the stage for fighting. This excerpt is a fantastic example of how parallelism can tie the abstract to the concrete, using visual imagery that sticks in the mind’s eye. ( Check out what Caitlin is teaching with! )

Parallelism Examples: “We Lived Happily During the War” by Ilya Kaminsky

Retrieved from The Academy of American Poets .

And when they bombed other people’s houses, we

protested but not enough, we opposed them but not

enough . I was in my bed, around my bed America

was falling: invisible house by invisible house by invisible house.

I took a chair outside and watched the sun.

In the sixth month of a disastrous reign in the house of money

in the street of money in the city of money in the country of money, our great country of money , we (forgive us)

lived happily during the war.

The parallelisms that Kaminsky employs help amplify the poem’s critique. It makes visual the idea that every square foot of the country is not-so-figuratively paved in gold—highlighting the futility of protest in a nation that’s rich enough to do whatever it wants, including bombing its own houses.

Tips for Writing Parallel Structure

Parallel structure should be an actively utilized tool in every stylist’s toolkit. Here are some tips for writing parallelism examples in your own prose and poetry.

1. Avoid Faulty Parallelism

A faulty parallelism is a sentence set up to have parallel structure, but with an error. We’ve already seen some examples of this in our Parallelism Definition section. It happens most commonly in sentences with lists of three or more.

To reiterate, faulty parallelism can manifest in the following ways:

Here are some faulty parallelism examples, using each of the above flaws:

Parallel sentence: We like to travel the world, read lyric poetry , and eat ice cream.

Faulty parallelism examples:

And, for nouns and pronouns with different numbers : The sky is filled with an airplane, birds, and clouds. (“Airplanes” would make this parallel.)

2. Pay Attention to Rhythm and Flow

Good parallel sentences have rhythm and flow. Typically, this is accomplished by giving each component of the sentence equal weight. When one item has more words, or more unique words, than the other items, then the sentence is likely to be jarring. Simplicity is key.

Here’s a simple, stylish parallel sentence: I think, therefore I am.

The following moderations are a bit less mellifluous:

In each of these examples, one side of the sentence weighs more than the other. Word choice and clause length both contribute to rhythmic and effective parallel structure.

See also: stylistic error as a form of faulty parallelism.

3. Deepen Relationships Between Objects and Ideas

For creative writers, parallelism can create relationships between objects and ideas concisely and elegantly.

Take the example of parallelism in poetry we shared from Caitlin Scarano. In those 2 ½ lines, the poem draws a connection between “laughter” and symbolic “teeth” without stating that connection explicitly. It creates a relationship between the two, showing cause and effect . This is also a means of employing show, don’t tell in writing .

Another thing you can do with parallelism is compare and contrast . Here’s an example, from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (III.ii)

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;

I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.

The evil that men do lives after them;

The good is oft interred with their bones

Notice how the sentences are set up in parallel, but use contrasting words. “Bury vs praise” and “evil vs good” are set up side by side in this excerpt, deepening the reader’s understanding of Marc Antony’s intent.

4. Keep Things Simple

Don’t overextend an idea. Simplicity and elegance are key.

Here’s a parallelism that’s short and effective: Immature people want things to be “right” or “wrong,” but mature people recognize that things are complicated.

This sentence communicates exactly what it needs to. It opposes immaturity versus maturity, and it recognizes that many things in life are not absolutely good or bad; morality is more nuanced and complicated.

Here’s a sentence that goes too far: Immature people want things to be “right” or “wrong,” but mature people recognize things are complicated; immature people crave absolutes, mature people acknowledge nuance; immature people wish to condemn, mature people wish to understand.

While the ideas added to this sentence might add complexity, they’re tiring to read. The point has already been made, and the writer should trust in the reader. Spoonfeeding your ideas will rarely do the reader any good. Leave room for interpretation and understanding. Great parallelism examples will express themselves neatly, elegantly, and briefly.

5. Use the Oxford Comma

This last bit of advice is purely stylistic, and there are grammarians who disagree. But, here, we advocate for the oxford comma.

An oxford comma is a comma that precedes a conjunction in lists of 3 or more. Here’s an example: I like the colors yellow, purple, and black.

The comma after the word “purple” is the oxford comma. Now, in this example, it’s optional. If you remove that comma, it doesn’t change the meaning of the sentence. We still get three colors, and I still communicate to the reader that I like each of them.

Here’s an example where the oxford comma might prove useful:

I have met both my state senators, a clown professor and the queen of Sweden.

Without an oxford comma, this sentence implies that my two state senators are a clown professor and the queen of Sweden. This results in a faulty parallelism, because I am actually trying to communicate three items in a list. (Sadly, in real life, I have not met any of these people. Does Sweden even have a queen?)

Not every sentence needs an oxford comma, but it’s good practice to use it in every list you write. Otherwise, you might neglect the comma in a sentence that really needs it.

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Grammatical parallelism helps writers deliver smart ideas in elegant sentences. To master this and other elements of style, take a look at our upcoming writing courses , where you’ll receive expert feedback on everything you write.

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I. What is Parallelism?

Parallelism, also known as parallel structure, is when phrases in a sentence have similar or the same grammatical structure. In its most basic usage, parallelism provides a phrase with balance and clarity. Parallelism also serves to give phrases a pattern and rhythm.

For example:

That’s one step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

When Neil Armstrong first stepped foot onto the moon, he said what would become a famous quote. In this example, parallelism occurs in the repetition of “one … for ….” Both phrases also follow the same grammatical structure:

One step ( action ) for ( preposition ) man ( noun )… one leap ( action ) for ( preposition ) mankind ( noun ).

This parallelism gives it a memorable rhythm and repetition.

II. Examples of Parallelism

Parallelism gives prose and poetry a sense of symmetry and balance.

For a first example of parallelism, read this excerpt from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous speech:

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

This, too, is an example of parallelism, as each paragraph begins with the evocative phrase “ I have a dream ,” and is followed by a noun phrase and the verb “will.” The shared grammatical structure from phrase to phrase gives this speech a rhythm that makes it more powerful, inspiring, and memorable.

For a second example, consider a quote from Mother Teresa:

Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.

In this example, parallel structure is used to list the effects of a smile:

Once again, it is the parallel grammatical structure which creates a truly memorable phrase.

III. The importance of using Parallelism

Simple uses of parallelism create readable and understandable passages. Sentences are best understood when structured in a grammatically parallel fashion. More importantly, though, parallelism also provides prose, poetry, and speeches with symmetry that the human eye and ear both crave. This symmetry creates a rhythm and repetition which can make phrases more catchy, memorable, or compelling. Parallelism may be found in creative pieces such as poetry and songs as well as more formal pieces such as formal papers and speeches. This musicality also creates memorable and quotable phrases, as can be seen in quotes from Armstrong, King, Teresa, and others.

IV. Examples of Parallelism in Literature

Parallelism is a prominent feature in prose, poetry, speeches, and plays alike.

For an example of parallel structure in poetry, see the following excerpt from E.E. Cummings’ poem “[love is more thicker than forget]”:

love is more thicker than forget more thinner than recall more seldom than a wave is wet more frequent than to fail   it is most mad and moonly and less it shall unbe than all the sea which only is deeper than the sea   love is less always than to win less never than alive less bigger than the least begin less littler than forgive

This poem has various instances of parallelism. The phrase “love is” creates parallelism when it is repeated at the beginning of two stanzas . Successive phrases containing “more” and “less” also serve to create parallel structure. This use of parallel structure builds upon the idea of what love is with numerous descriptions that attempt to describe something beyond description.

For a second example of parallelism, read this excerpt from Paul Violi’s poem “Appeal to the Grammarians”:

We, the naturally hopeful, Need a simple sign For the myriad ways we’re capsized. We who love precise language Need a finer way to convey Disappointment and perplexity. For speechlessness and all its inflections, For up-ended expectations, For every time we’re ambushed

In this section, Violi utilizes parallelism in two ways. First, he begins sentences with “we” in order to emphasize an entire group of people’s support. Secondly, he repeats “for” in order to illustrate how numerous the various applications of the inverted exclamation point are. Both uses of parallelism give the poem a strong rhythm.

V.Examples of Parallelism in Pop Culture

Parallelism is a common element in songs which use the device for rhythm, catchy repetition, and musicality.

For an example of parallelism in song, examine “Vindicated” by Dashboard Confessional. The repetition of “I am” provides the chorus with rhythm. It also serves to emphasize the speaker’s triumphant feelings of self-awareness in a way that is stronger than “I am vindicated, I am selfish, I am wrong, and I am right.”

Dashboard Confessional "Vindicated" Live at Java Rockingland 2010

For a second example of parallelism in song, listen to Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World”:

Louis Armstrong - What A Wonderful World Lyrics

Louis Armstrong’s song is full of parallelism which matches the song’s lulling but joyful rhythm. Repetition of “I” followed by senses such as “I see,” “I hear,” and “I watch” provides the song with a simple but effective parallel structure.

VI. Related Terms

(Terms: anaphora and epistrophe)

Parallelism is a simple structural guideline often used in more advanced constructions. Here are a few examples of parallelism as it is used in similar devices.

Anaphora is a specific type of parallelism in which the same word or phrase is repeated at the beginning of successive sentences.

Here are a few examples of anaphora:

In the above examples, parallelism and anaphora are used in the repetition of “be,” “give,” and “she’s” at the beginning of successive phrases.

Epistrophe is a specific type of parallelism in which the same word or phrase is repeated at the end of successive sentences.

Here are a few examples of epistrophe:

In these examples, repetition of “be kind,” “issue,” and “I eat pizza” at the ends of sentences creates parallelism in the form of epistrophe.

VII. In Closing

Parallelism provides phrases with grammatical symmetry. This symmetry creates a rhythm and repetition which can make phrases more catchy, memorable, or compelling. Parallelism may be found in creative pieces such as poetry and songs as well as more formal pieces such as formal papers and speeches.

List of Terms


  1. Types of parallelism

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