3 Ways Parallelism Can Go Awry

SATGood news! Most answers (errors to look for) in the SAT writing section can be boiled down to six general concepts: verb agreement/tense, pronoun agreement, parallelism, run-on sentences, dangling modifiers, and concise expression. If you check for these six things on each question, with a little bit of practice, you should be able to ace the writing section!

Let’s talk a little more in depth about one concept – parallelism.  You may already associate this word with math and parallel lines. What, then, is parallelism in a grammatical sense? Parallel lines are two lines that never intersect because they have the same slope or structure. Just like parallel lines, sentences need to be parallel. Each part of a sentence must be structured in a uniform way. There are three ways in which parallelism can go awry:

  1. Lists: If a sentence consists of a list of items, each part of this list must match. For example, why is the following sentence not parallel?I love running, swimming, and to ski.

    The first and second items in this list, “running” and “swimming”, have the “-ing” ending. So far, this sentence is correct. The third item in the list, however, presents a problem. “To ski” does not match the previous two verbs. Therefore, this sentence is incorrect. To fix this sentence we must change “to ski” to “skiing”. The correct sentence reads:I love running, swimming, and skiing.

  1. One vs. You: When writing in the second person, it is correct to use “you” or “one”. Regardless of which word you use, one must stay consistent throughout the sentence. Otherwise, the sentence will violate parallel structure. Fixing this error can be a nice give-away question on the SAT. Whenever you spot the word “one” or “you”, you must simply scan the rest of the sentence to make sure the same word is used later. If it’s not, you have just found the answer. Can you find a sentence in this very paragraph where I did not follow this rule? (Hint: Look for the italicized words.)
    Examples:Incorrect: If you like to swim, one must love to go to the pool.

    Correct: If you like to swim, you must love to go to the pool.

    Correct: If one likes to swim, one must love to go to the pool.

  1. Comparison: This is the last thing to look for when evaluating parallelism in a sentence. Let’s start with an example:Jenny’s cupcakes are more delicious than Kate.

    Something about this sentence is not quite right. What does Kate taste like? I don’t want to find out! As written, this sentence states that the cupcakes are more delicious than Kate. What the sentence means to say is that the cupcakes are more delicious than Kate’s cupcakes. In a comparison, you must make sure that the two things the sentence compares are the same. In this case, we have to compare cupcakes to cupcakes and not cupcakes to people. Comparison words such as “like” and “as” should raise a red flag to look out for this error. Whenever you see these words, take a quick look to make sure the comparison is parallel. Otherwise, there might be some cannibalism happening somewhere.

Make parallelism part of your checklist for every SAT writing multiple-choice question. With practice, you will soon see your score improve!

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Danielle Kipnis is a Veritas Prep SAT instructor based in Miami. She is a native New Yorker who then majored in England and Dance at Northwestern University. At Northwestern, she founded the dance company Steam Heat. She now continues to dance, choreograph, and satiate her love for teaching through SAT prep. 

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