Balancing Your Sentences

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Grammar can sometimes be a balancing act. This is especially true when trying to express two or more ideas in the one sentence. Balancing your sentence structure will improve your writing style and improve the clarity of the sentence.

Writing a well balanced sentence is often referred to as parallelism or parallel construction. Essentially you are trying to make each part of the sentence similar in a small way so it does not become confusing for your reader.

Are your parallelisms faulty? An easy way to tell if your sentence suffers from faulty parallelisms is to read the sentence out loud. Listen for any awkwardness or confusion when trying to associate each idea to one another.

In The Elements of Style, Strunk refers to parallel construction as expressing co-ordinate ideas in similar form, and gives the following examples:

Unparallel –

Formerly, science was taught by the textbook method, while now the laboratory method is employed.

Parallel –

Formerly, science was taught by the textbook method; now it is taught by the laboratory method.

Unparallel –

The French, the Italians, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Parallel –

The French, the Italians, the Spanish, and the Portuguese.

Unparallel –

In spring, summer, or in winter.
Parallel –

In spring, summer, or winter (In spring, in summer, or in winter).

As you read through the above examples given by Strunk it is easy to see how each sentence has been improved. In most cases the addition of a preposition is all that is needed to add balance and clarity to each sentence.

Strunk says ‘The likeness of form enables the reader to recognize more readily the likeness of content and function’. In essence, the balancing of a sentence could be compared to a traditional poem. The balance and rhyme of each line aids in the perception of the poem, as the balance and similarity of the sentence fragments aids in the perception of the sentence.

The following examples from Strunk show how correlative expressions should be followed by the same grammatical construction to ensure balance (parallelism):

Unparallel –

It was both a long ceremony and very tedious.

Parallel –

The ceremony was both long and tedious.

Unparallel –

A time not for words, but action.

Parallel –

A time not for words, but for action.

Unparallel –

Either you must grant his request or incur his ill will.

Parallel –

You must either grant his request or incur his ill will.

When looking at these sentences one can clearly see how these small changes make a huge difference in clarity. These simple changes can make any sentence easier to understand.

Effective parallelism creates balance in sentences and adds power to writing. Strunk says that the unskilful writer often violates this principle under the mistaken belief that constantly varying the form of expression is necessary. But if done right, parallel constructions can actually enhance the writer’s voice, and help the writer finish on a nicely balanced piece of writing.


Kristy Taylor is a syndicated freelance journalist with articles and short stories strewn across all forms of media. She has written and published numerous books, and is the executive editor of KT Publishing, which encompasses several web sites. For free listings of short story competitions visit http://www.shortstorycompetitions.com

To contact Kristy, email her at mail@kristytaylor.com


This piece may NOT be freely reprinted. Please contact editor @ howtotellagreatstory.com for reprint rights.

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