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What Is Parallel Syntax?

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  • Written By: B. Turner
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 24 September 2014
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Parallel syntax is a grammatical device in which different sentences or parts of a sentence are arranged similarly to one another. This technique may be applied to phrases located close to one another in the same section of a text, or used on sentences throughout a document. In language, the concept of syntax refers to how sentences are structured. Parallel syntax, also known as parallel sentence structure, refers to sentences structured similarly to one another. This grammatical device not only helps to connect different ideas and improve the flow of a text, but also allows the author to emphasize a specific point or draw attention to the order of words in a sentence.

In inflected languages, such as Latin, sentence structure and syntax does not affect the meaning or understanding of a text. That is why readers won't find examples of parallel syntax in Latin or other inflected languages. In many other languages, including English, syntax can have a significant impact on the meaning of a sentence. By arranging words or phrases in different orders, writers can completely change the meaning of the text.

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For an example of parallel syntax, consider a simple list of chores, such as "Make beds, wash dishes, trash cans, clean oven." In this example, the term "trash cans" does not fit the sentence structure established by the other phrases because it doesn't include a verb. In order to make this entire list into an example of parallel syntax, one would have to add a verb to "trash cans," changing it to "empty trash cans." Once this verb is added, all the phrases reflect parallel syntax because they all consist of a verb followed by a noun.

To spot examples of parallel syntax, readers can often look for common connecting phrases or words that are used to join parallel phrases and sentences. For example, the term "You may either...., or...," is often used with parallel structure. Terms like "but also," "neither nor," or "both and" also signal the presence of this structure.

Writers rely on this grammatical tool to improve the quality and clarity of their works. With sentences arranged in this manner, the text becomes easier for the reader to understand. This type of sentence structure also improves overall flow for both the written and spoken word, though it is most effective with written documents. Parallel syntax also makes documents appear both orderly and concise, and helps to eliminate unnecessary words or phrases that can distract readers from the point of a text.

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Carpell
Post 1

Using parallel syntax is a great method for a writer to make his or her writing clearer and more easily readable. But I must take issue with the first two sentences of the third paragraph, which read: "'Make beds, wash dishes, trash cans, clean oven.' In this example, the term 'trash cans' does not fit the sentence structure established by the other phrases because it doesn't include a verb."

Actually, the phrase "trash cans" can be construed as having a verb - "trash." In other words, "trash cans" could mean "throw out all those cans." True, a competent writer who wanted to include throwing out cans in this list of chores would not likely word the sentence as in the example. But I point this out just to stress how important syntax, context and word choice all can be in creating a good, clear, unambiguous piece of writing.

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