Parallelism refers to placing similarly structured elements in apposition to one another in a given sentence, so as to make it sound better and easier to understand. Here are some examples of parallelism in literature and popular culture.
It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailer as well; to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you; to teach that reconciliation is not a matter of ignoring a cruel past, but a means of confronting it with inclusion and generosity and truth. He changed laws, but he also changed hearts.
― Barack Obama while speaking at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service on December 10, 2013.
In English grammar, the term parallelism, also known as parallel structure or parallel construction, is the manner in which a given sentence is balanced by using two or more elements and/or phrases that have an identical structure, meter, sound, or even meaning. The use of parallelism not only helps make a piece of writing rhythmic and symmetrical, but also more effective and easier to understand. In rhetoric, parallelism is also used as a literary device in order to impart a definite structure to the passage and to make it seem more persuasive.
In simpler terms, parallelism stands for placing similarly structured elements, one after the other in a given statement/passage. So, a noun comes after a noun, an infinitive after an infinitive, a prepositional phrase after a prepositional phrase, a gerund after a gerund, and a clause after a clause. These then, can be joined either by means of coordinating conjunctions (and, but, and or), or by means of correlative conjunctions (not only/but also, either/or, neither/nor, both/and). They can also be joined together by a linking verb, a verb that connects two distinct parts of a sentence. Parallelism, as a grammatical device, is used in many literary works, popular culture, and even in ordinary conversations. In this Penlighten write-up, we will look at the examples of parallelism.
Parallelism Examples in Grammar
The use of coordinating conjunctions:
- Faulty Parallelism: Alice loves reading and to write.
- Right Parallelism: Alice loves reading and writing. OR Alice loves to read and write.
- Faulty Parallelism: Would you prefer going or to stay?
- Right Parallelism: Would you prefer going or staying? OR Would you prefer to go or stay?
- Faulty Parallelism: She is a good speaker but does not like to listen.
- Right Parallelism: She is a good speaker but not a good listener.
The use of correlative conjunctions:
- Faulty Parallelism: Charlie was neither attending lectures nor he was doing his assignments.
- Right Parallelism: Charlie was neither attending lectures nor doing his assignments.
- Faulty Parallelism: We would like both, to attend the carnival and participating in the festivities.
- Right Parallelism: We would like both, to attend the carnival and participate in the festivities.
- Faulty Parallelism: He not only intends to become famous, but also wants money.
- Right Parallelism: He not only intends to become famous, but also rich.
The use of linking verbs:
- Faulty Parallelism: What you see is getting what you want.
- Right Parallelism: What you see is what you get.
- Faulty Parallelism: Going to a new city means to meet new people.
- Right Parallelism: Going to a new city means meeting new people. OR To go to a new city means to meet new people.
Parallelism in Poetry
There have been numerous instances where parallelism has been used by poets to convey meaning. In many cases, it is used in antithetic sentences, where two contrasting ideas having parallel structures are placed in apposition to one another. Here are a couple of examples:
“To err is human, to forgive, divine.”
― From “An Essay on Criticism” by the English poet, Alexander Pope.
“Good we must love, and must hate ill,
For ill is ill, and good good still …”
― From “Community” by the English poet, John Donne.
Some poets have also created parallel structures in their poems by placing two similarly structured phrases, and even rhyming sounds one after the other. Take a look at the following examples:
“What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp.
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!”
― From “The Tyger” by the English poet, William Blake.
“O, well for the fisherman’s boy,
That he shouts with his sister at play!
O, well for the sailor lad,
That he sings in his boat on the bay!”
― From “Break, Break, Break” by the English poet, Alfred lord Tennyson.
Parallelism in Prose
Parallel construction has also been used wholeheartedly in prose by writers from across the globe.
It may be used to emphasize the subject by repeating a single phrase several times in a single sentence, like the one below by Charles Dickens in his novel, “The Tale of Two Cities”.
“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.”
Parallelism may also be used in the form of the diazeugma, a literary device that uses a number of verbs to describe one, single subject. Take a look at the sentence given below from the, “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.”
More Examples of Parallelism
“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
“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.”
― William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar
“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.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.
“The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessing; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.”
― Winston Churchill
“Wounds caused by knives will heal, wounds caused by words will not heal.”
― Mongolian Proverb
“I came, I saw, I conquered.”
― Julius Caesar
“But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.”
― Book of Amos
“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.”
― Excerpt from Thank You, a song by Alanis Morissette
“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
― John F. Kennedy
“… and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
― Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address
“For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb.”
― Psalm 37:2
“Therefore pride compasseth them about as a chain; violence covereth them [as] a garment.”
― Psalm 73:6
“For the end of a theoretical science is truth, but the end of a practical science is performance.”
“Today’s students can put dope in their veins or hope in their brains. If they can conceive it and believe it, they can achieve it. They must know it is not their aptitude but their attitude that will determine their altitude.”
― Jesse Jackson
“They are laughing at me, not with me.”
― Bart Simpson in The Simpsons
“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.”
― George Orwell in Shooting an Elephant
“Buy a bucket of chicken and have a barrel of fun.”
― The Slogan of Kentucky Fried Chicken
“He’s quite a man with the girls. They say he’s closed the eyes of many a man and opened the eyes of many a woman.”
― Telegraph operator to Penny Worth in Angel and the Badman
Parallelism, therefore, is a very useful tool to keep the entire structure of the sentence/passage on track. But that is not all. Parallelism also gives an aesthetic touch to the piece of writing.