Parallelism: Keep Your Verb Tenses Consistent

by Liz Bureman | 23 comments

A common writing mistake happens when writers fail to use parallel forms in their verbs or other grammatical structures. But what are parallel verbs and how can you make sure you're using the correct grammatical form? Today let's learn how to avoid non-parallel verbs in your writing. 

parallelism

What is Parallelism or Parallel Structure? 

Parallelism is the use of two or more phrases or clauses in a sentence that have the same grammatical structure and use similar words. It is used to add structure, clarity, and balance to a sentence.

For example:

Correct: She was planning on making vegetarian chili and baking cookies.

Incorrect: She was planning to make vegetarian chili or baking cookies.

In the first sentence, the verbs (making and baking) are in parallel structure. In the second sentence, the verb “to make” is in one form while “baking” is in another; this creates an imbalance and makes it difficult to read.

By using parallel construction or structure, a sentence becomes easier to read and understand. Parallelism can also be used with adjectives, adverbs, nouns, and other parts of speech.

Here are some examples of parallel structure:

Parallel adjectives: The laptop was small, light, and powerful.

Parallel nouns: She bought apples, oranges, and bananas.

Now let's look specifically at more parallel verb forms.

Parallel Verbs: How to Keep Them Consistent

When you use a series of verbs in one sentence, you want to use parallel structure to keep them consistent both in form and tense.

For example, if you're on your way to the store and you need to get apples, you might find yourself heading straight to the produce section, investigating each apple for bruises, and putting the best ones in your cart.

See how the verbs match tense and form? In this example, all the verbs are in their gerund form, leading to a nice flow of both words and ideas.

What you would not do is head to the produce section, investigating each apple, and put the best ones in your cart, unless you already had the apples in your possession before migrating to the produce section.

Let's look at an example of parallel infinitives:

They chose to ride the bus, to exit on State Street, and to walk the rest of the way. 

You could swap out the tense or form, but if you do, make sure you apply the change to all the verbs in the sentence. Like this:

They rode the bus, exited on State Street, and walked the rest of the way. 

Notice here we changed from the infinitive form to the past tense conjugation of each verb, but in each case, we made the grammatical elements match. 

The Purpose of Proper Parallelism

The purpose of proper parallelism is the same as that of any grammatical structure: to provide structure and understanding for the reader.

And making sure the parallelism in your phrases matches up results in less brain work for the reader.

Have you seen examples of nonparallel verb structures in the wild? Which ones bug you most? Let us know in the comments.

PRACTICE

Decide before you start your practice if you're going to have all of your objects be acted upon by the same verb, or if each object is going to have its own verb.

Sticking only to that parallel structure, write for fifteen minutes and use parallelism as much as humanly possible. If you're feeling brave, post your practice the Pro Practice Workshop here. If you post, don't forget to check out the work of your fellow writers!

 | Website

Liz Bureman has a more-than-healthy interest in proper grammatical structure, accurate spelling, and the underappreciated semicolon. When she's not diagramming sentences and reading blogs about how terribly written the Twilight series is, she edits for the Write Practice, causes trouble in Denver, and plays guitar very slowly and poorly. You can follow her on Twitter (@epbure), where she tweets more about music of the mid-90s than writing.

23 Comments

  1. Liz

    I’m usually pretty good about this … until I start editing. Then I start a sentence one way, change my mind in the middle, and type that. By the time I’ve done that a few times, my work looks like I flunked fourth grade English. THEN I go back and fix each sentence one at a time. What a difference that makes … also, when finished “let it cool,” then do another read through. Repeat until you can do two read-throughs without finding any errors.

    Reply
  2. Mary

    I like to bring unusual dishes to a potluck. There are always more than enough devilled eggs. But I usually bring my offering home, cook and contents feeling co-rejected. One such attempt was Baba Ganouj, a Middle Eastern dip served with Pita Bread wedges. Even the fresh, Trader Joe’s bread came home with me.
    Encouraged by the few more adventuresome guests who at least asked “What’s that?” I brought it again to my next event; this time posting a tent card listing the ingredients. The card read: eggplant, tahini, garlic, lemon juice, parsley and olive oil. Non-threatening I thought. I thought wrong.
    Last weekend when I was asked to “bring something” I brought a huge platter of devilled eggs. The platter was licked clean.
    Mary

    Reply
    • 709writer

      Your recipes sound great! Keep serving ’em – I know I like to try new foods. : )

  3. LaCresha Lawson

    Yes. Completely understood. Thank you. Writing is such an art…….☺

    Reply
  4. Jeanne Doyon

    Very helpful because I do this without thinking 🙂
    As for the potluck, my favorite thing to bring, aside from my appetite, is a Greek salad.

    Reply
  5. KatSteve

    When I go to a pot luck I like to bake brownies, marinate some chicken, and bring extra napkins, but not necessarily in that order.

    Reply
    • 709writer

      Ha, brownies (chocolate), my weakness. Do you make them soft, chewy, or crispy? The soft kind is my favorite. Nice parallelism you did there, too!

  6. A.R.A

    I don’t always get invited to a pot luck; but when I am, I toss Tabbouleh, make Tiramisu, and cook Couscous.

    Reply
    • Mary

      A.R.A. I’d like an invitation to your potluck. Mary

    • 709writer

      I like Couscous, I just tried it for the first time not long ago. It’s filling and it tastes good, too.

  7. 709writer

    Amy chopped a few more veggies for the salad. “This’ll be a perfect appetizer for our potluck,” she said as she stood at the kitchen sink.

    “Yep.” Sonic the Hedgehog skinned twenty potatoes for mashing, hacked them into chunks, and plopped them into the pot of boiling water over the stove. “I invited Knuckles and Shadow. They should be here in a little while.”

    Amy pivoted, holding her kitchen knife in the air. “Why’d you invite them? Shadow’s always so serious, and Knuckles is either losing his temper, yelling his lungs out, or scarfing down the desserts.”

    “Nothing wrong with scarfing,” Sonic said with a shrug.

    Amy swiveled one eye toward Sonic, making it bulge out quite unnaturally and causing Sonic to draw back.

    “Unless it’s Knuckles doing the scarfing, that is,” Sonic said. He flashed his million-dollar grin.

    There were two knocks at the door.

    Sonic was a streak of light as he zipped into the living room. Smiling, he opened the front door to let in his friends.

    ~~

    I don’t have many potlucks, but at Thanksgiving I like homemade mashed potatoes, cherry pie, stuffing…I’m getting hungry now. : )

    Reply
    • Armand Rockrose

      They didn’t invite Tails… 🙁

  8. TerriblyTerrific

    Okay, I got this one down. Yes. Thank you!

    Reply
  9. Sefton

    Great post! If you come to a potluck, feel free to contribute casserole, curry or a pudding.

    This is an area which I think is easy for native English speakers to “hear” the mismatch in the sentence, and really tough for others. Saying a sentence aloud can help spot the mismatched verbs.

    Reply
  10. Donna

    I find many ways to piddle and avoid. My best skill is avoidance, delay, finding a hundred things I need to do before I start. I’m also not good at follow-through. It took me around an hour to get to my fifteen minute writing practice. I needed first to create a folder in Favorites for web articles on grammar, look up keyboard shortcuts on how to move to the end of a document, design a list of my most preferred keyboard shortcuts for future reference. All very nice and useful but it took me an hour to do all that. Oops! I haven’t started eating my fruit and cottage cheese yet so I must stop now and take a few bites. My self-esteem would probably go up noticeably if I conquered the art of focusing. So from here out, after my cigarette break, I will sit down, read the daily practice exercise article, practice it for 15 timed minutes, polish it, post it (if I want), then do my next thing. If I get this urge to diverge that is irresistible, make a very quick note and go back to what I was doing. Some things can be done during the Business Hour of my writing week. If you noticed, I had to pause a second to turn up the radio for a song I like.

    Reply
    • Fabio Salvadori

      I love the rhythm of your sentences. I tried to focus on the grammar, instead I found myself captured by the story.

    • Donna

      Thank you Fabio. I’m just starting out with this daily practice and I have to work myself up to it. Your comment encourages me to keep going. I read your entry as well and I commented under it.

  11. Nana

    Great article!
    I’ve never payed any attention to parallelisms- only in school when analysing some text’s rhetorical devices..
    Anyways: Thank you for this eye-opening post!

    Reply
  12. Fabio Salvadori

    This is a tough one. When I try to put my sentences right, to align my verbs and to avoid mistypes while I make the effort to build a compelling story. And this is not a story. It’s more like a reflexion, a journey into my inner thoughts to find out something interesting to share.

    In the past, I often wrote lists about the travels I made, the experiences I lived or the people I met. I believe that lists are a good way to provide a good picture and cut out the trivia. When I’m writing a list, I’m focusing on the core, I’m diving in the essentials and I’m seeking the true feelings of what I’m trying to tell. Oh I now, it’s easy to become didascalic, to be cold and detached, to remove the feelings from the words. This is why I always try to avoid to list the facts, people or things. Instead, I try to write the emotions, to find the feelings and to put those in my list. To give you an example let me tell you about the walk I did yesterday, in the street of Kuwait city.

    The flat grey of the sky, the warm air that sticks to the skin, the absence of pavements, the warm asphalt, the honks calling you every minute, the people staring at you from the shops, the fear of getting hit by a truck, the noise of the muscle cars, the skyscraper beside a falling building, the never-ending construction sites, the Indians and Filipinos waiting for the bus, the Kuwaiti girl talking at phone while she drive a Hummer, the piles of dirt, the polished marble outside the hotel, the gym with the Ferrari outside, the new mall with all the glasses, the old mall with a hint of Arabic style, the muezzin chanting from the mosque, the cats searching for food in the dump, the solitude of the streets behind the main strip, the beauty of the boys and girls outside the university, the old men talking outside the barbershop, the sweat running down on my back, the smell of junk food, the flat grey of the sea, the sweet smile of the waitress at my preferred café.

    Reply
    • Donna

      What a great image of Kuwait City. This shows that people are similar everywhere with their cars, phones and the mix of nationalities. How did you feel on this walk?

  13. Donna

    Selma, your grammar looks good, but I admit that grammar is not my strong point. Hopefully I didn’t overlook something.

    Reply
    • Selma Writes

      Thanks Donna. Hopefully I didn’t overlook something.
      Great exercise.

  14. Kai

    Kevin is have to bring some food or beverage to the potluck So he goes to the store to look for chips&dip. He goes in the chips,dips and beverage section he investigating the chip & dips
    to detriment which brand is better in size,price and taste.Around one minute he finds the right
    chip&dip brand that is fair size,price and maybe taste he walks to the checking line he brought

    the chip&dip bring to his car and leave.He went to the potluck thought to himself he forgot the
    beverages but, Julie said it was alright alone if you brought something so Kevin wasting steers
    out anymore.

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Say Yes to Practice

Join over 450,000 readers who are saying YES to practice. You’ll also get a free copy of our eBook 14 Prompts:

Popular Resources

Books By Our Writers

Headspace
- J. D. Edwin
The Girl Who Broke the Dark
- Evelyn Puerto
A Shadow Stained in Blood
- Ichabod Ebenezer
28
Share to...