GMAT Resources

Understanding Parallelism

Understanding Parallelism

Parallelism is an important grammatical concept tested in many standardized exams. So, what is parallelism really about? Simply put, it involves writing similar ideas in similar forms. It lends more clarity and readability in the writing. Parallelism can occur at the word, phrase or even the clause level. In the exam, typically you would come across complex sentences with multiple clauses

It is better understood with a simple example:

Steve plays guitar and also writes poems.

The above example is a sentence which is not parallel. The items on both sides of the conjunction (and) is not similar. The correct way to write this sentence is:

Steve plays guitar and writes poems.

Typically, sentences with parallel structures contain conjunctions such as and, or, nor, but, so, among others. In an exam scenario, keep an eye out for these conjunctions. You should check whether the items at both the sides of these conjunctions are similar. Imagine these conjunctions as a central line dividing the two halves equally.

A simple way to understand parallelism is to make sure that grammatical forms are similar with different list items. Essentially a noun should be parallel with a noun, a gerund with a gerund, a clause with a clause and so on.

Wrong construction – Steve and I went to the beach and indulged in swimming, surfing and on a run.

Right construction – Steve and I went to the beach and indulged in swimming, surfing and running.

The same rule applies to long sentences typically seen in exams which contain words such as ‘if….then’, ‘not only….but also’ and other such forms. In this case as well, the structure after the first word should be similar to the structure after the second word.

The concept of parallelism is important because it can span large sentences and involve multiple parts of speech. Make sure that you have a good eye for conjunctions. Do a lot of practice problems to be absolutely comfortable in spotting parallelism or the lack of it.

Attempt a few verbal questions.

Sign up for our newsletter!

Get expert tips, exam updates and news articles to help improve your test score


Free Prep Classes

Take online classes to learn from the subject experts