SAT tips

SAT Tip: Mastering Parallel Sentence Structure


SAT Tip: Mastering Parallel Sentence Structure

Photograph by Lola Allum

This tip on improving your SAT score was provided by Vivian Kerr at Veritas Prep.

Parallelism is an important concept on the SAT Writing section, and it’s fairly easy to recognize once you know what it is. Parallel structure means expressing similar ideas in similar forms.

Parallelism is all around us and lends clarity and forcefulness to writing. The term comes from the Greek parallelos, meaning “beside one another.” You may have read or heard some of these famous examples:

Correct:

“Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” — Benjamin Franklin

“The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.” — Winston Churchill

“Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.” — William Shakespeare

Incorrect:

“Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wiser.”

“The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is to share miseries equally.”

“Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not praising him.”

Notice in the first example that the three adjectives are parallel (set against each other). In the second example, two larger noun phrases are set against each other. In the final example, two verbs are parallel because they are in the same infinitive form (“to …”). Unlike other common SAT errors, such as subject-verb agreement or pronoun-antecedent agreement, parallelism errors can involve multiple parts of speech—nouns, verbs, adjectives—and can be applied to individual words, phrases, or entire clauses.

Parallelism means that two or more parts of a sentence have the same grammatical structure. Let’s take a quick quiz to see if you can tell the difference between parallel and non-parallel structure.  Identify the sentence in each pair that uses parallelism correctly:

1.  (a) It’s important to pay attention and take notes, and to follow directions.

(b) It’s important to pay attention, take notes, and follow directions.

2.  (a) Compared with learning how to swim, to learn how to ride a bike is much easier.

(b) Compared with learning how to swim, learning how to ride a bike is much easier.

3.  (a) The best thing about vacationing in Paris is the incredible sights you see, and the worst thing is the money you spend.

(b)  The best thing about vacationing in Paris is the incredible sights you see, and the worst thing is spending too much money.

For (1) and (2), choice (b) is in parallel form. For (3), choice (a) is in parallel form. How did you do? Let’s examine:

In (1), “pay,” “take,” and “follow” are three verbs all in infinitive form. Items in a list should always be similar. In (2), the idea “learning how to swim” is parallel to “learning how to ride.” In the third question, “the incredible sights you see” is parallel to “the money you spend.” Notice that the second question featured a comparison—when two things are being compared, they should always be in parallel form.

Just like our examples from literature, parallelism can refer to two items or three items, individual words or groups of words/phrases. Circle words and phrases that are parallel (or should be parallel) in the SAT Writing section as you practice. It often helps to mentally “rewrite” the question in parallel form before looking at the answer choices.

Plan on taking the SAT soon? Sign up for a free online SAT Prep Seminar now.


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