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Unlocking the power of parallel grammar


Photo by liz west on flickr

We all love patterns, in our fashion, art and architecture, and even our writing. One form of literary pattern is parallel grammar, which is when phrases or clauses in close succession use the same grammatical structure; this makes sentences easier to understand. Text and speech that doesn’t use parallel grammar can be easy to spot:


Non-parallel: 'He likes running, jogging and to swim.'


Parallel: 'He likes running, jogging and swimming.'


But it can be hard to see in more complex sentences:


Non-parallel: 'Greg was considered an excellent doctor because he was always attentive, he was very knowledgeable and he did not lack initiative.'


Parallel: 'Greg was considered an excellent doctor because he was always attentive, he was very knowledgeable and he was not lacking in initiative.'


If you’re lucky, your use of parallel grammar may make your speech or text more memorable, as it did for Abraham Lincoln, who said the following in his Gettysburg Address:


'… government of the people, by the people, for the people …'


The pattern here is a preposition ('of', 'by' and 'for') followed by 'the people'. Had Lincoln said '… government of the people, that the people conduct, and by which the people are served', his meaning would have remained intact, but there would have been no pleasing pattern and the Gettysburg Address might not be as often revered as a great speech.