A photograph of the seated statue of President Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Source: Lincoln Memorial (Lincoln contrasty), George F. Maxwell, Wikimedia

Parallel structure, or parallelism, is a type of repetition. It is a pattern of words in which two or more elements of a sentence or paragraph have the same importance. Parallelism is useful because it

Guess what? The bulleted list above is parallel. Each bullet begins with a present tense verb. However, verbs are not the only parts of a sentence that can be made parallel. Subjects, objects, nouns, adverbs, and adjective phrases can also be parallel.

A poster of President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address with a picture of President Lincoln at the top of it

Source: Gettysburg Address (poster),
M.T. Sheahan, Library of Congress

To see an example of parallelism, read this passage from the Gettysburg Address.

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Look at the blue highlighted section: “of the people, by the people, for the people.” This use of parallelism makes the sentence memorable. When you read this sentence, if you did not remember that Lincoln said it, you probably remembered that you had head it somewhere.

Now, look at the pink highlighted words. Directly or closely following each “that” is a noun or pronoun: “the honored dead,” “we,” “this nation,” and “government.” Although the words following “that” are not strictly parallel with one another, the repetition of this word followed directly or closely by a noun or pronoun gives Lincoln’s speech a rhythm that builds up to the famous “of the people, by the people, for the people” quotation.

In the activity below, click on the sentence in each pair that correctly shows a parallel structure.

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Tomorrow, I am going to eat an egg, a biscuit, and have a grapefruit for breakfast.
Try again.

Tomorrow, I am going to eat an egg, a piece of toast, and a grapefruit for breakfast.


Studying identified strains of bacteria is easier than trying to identify a new one.
Try again.

Studying identified strains of bacteria is easier than identifying new strains of bacteria.


Jordan is short, heavy-set, and bearded.

Jordan is short, heavy-set and has a beard.
Try again.


The senator’s platform is built on creating a national health system, campaign finance reform, and curbing the national debt.
Try again.

The senator’s platform is built on creating a national health system, reforming campaign finance, and curbing the national debt.


You must either study harder on your own, or it will be necessary for you to get a tutor.
Try again.

You must either study on your own or with a tutor.

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Read the passage below from The Fight by Norman Mailer, which details a boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. As you read, click on each example of parallel structure.

A poster of former heavyweight champion Mohammad Ali as a young man. He is wearing boxing trunks and boxing gloves.

Source: StangoAli, John Stango, Wikimedia

take notes icon What effect does Mailer’s use of parallel structure have on the reader? When you are finished, check your understanding to see some possible responses.

Check Your Understanding

Sample Responses:

Mailer’s use of parallel structure creates a sense of rhythm that mimics the rhythm of a boxing match. While he uses some phrases that are perfectly grammatically parallel (some to the head, some to the body), He also breaks the rules a bit (one collided with Ali’s floating ribs, brutal punches, jarring and imprecise as a collision at slow speed in a truck. . .) to more accurately depict the varying rhythms of a real boxing match. This varying rhythm engages the reader in the story and helps him or her imagine what it was like to watch Foreman and Ali fight.