Parallelism from afar: “That’s one step for man”
What is Parallelism?
Parallelism, also known as parallel structure, is when phrases in a sentence have similar or the same grammatical structure. In its most basic usage, parallelism provides a phrase with balance and clarity. Parallelism also serves to give phrases a pattern and rhythm.
For example, following today’s introduction:
That’s one step for man, one giant leap for mankind.
When Neil Armstrong first stepped foot onto the moon, he said what would become a famous quote. In this example, parallelism occurs in the repetition of “one . . . for . . .” Both phrases also follow the same grammatical structure:
One step (action) for (preposition) man (noun), one leap (action) for (preposition) mankind (noun).
This parallelism gives it a memorable rhythm and repetition.
A Second Example of Parallelism
For another good example of parallelism, read this excerpt from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous speech:
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
This, too, is an example of parallelism, as each paragraph begins with the evocative phrase “I have a dream,” and is followed by a noun phrase and the verb “will.” The shared grammatical structure from phrase to phrase gives this speech a rhythm that makes it more powerful, inspiring, and memorable.
More Examples of Parallel Structure
Additional examples of parallel sentence structure include the following:
- Mother was very busy washing the dishes, dusting the furniture, and gathering the laundry.
- We like television shows that have interesting stories, deep characters, and good actors.
- Jerry’s face is washed, his teeth are brushed, and his hair is combed.
- They are giving us their furniture, selling their house, and moving to Scotland.
- To succeed in life, people need to take advantage of opportunities and to follow their dreams.
The importance of using Parallelism
Simple uses of parallelism create readable and understandable passages. Sentences are best understood when structured in a grammatically parallel fashion. More importantly, though, parallelism also provides prose, poetry, and speeches with symmetry that the human eye and ear both crave. This symmetry creates a rhythm and repetition which can make phrases more catchy, memorable, or compelling. Parallelism may be found in creative pieces such as poetry and songs as well as more formal pieces such as formal papers and speeches. This musicality also creates memorable and quotable phrases, as can be seen in the quotes from Armstrong and King, and many others.
Parallelism is a simple structural guideline often used in more advanced constructions. Here are a few examples of parallelism as it is used in similar devices.
Anaphora is a specific type of parallelism in which the same word or phrase is repeated at the beginning of successive sentences.
Here are a few examples of anaphora:
Be strong. Be brave. Be courageous!
Give all of your energy. Give all of your time. Give everything you have to give.
She’s my best friend. She’s the love of my life. She’s my wife.
In the above examples, parallelism and anaphora are used in the repetition of “be,” “give,” and “she’s” at the beginning of successive phrases.
Epistrophe is a specific type of parallelism in which the same word or phrase is repeated at the end of successive sentences.
Here are a few examples of epistrophe:
When you fail, you must be kind. When you succeed, you must be kind.
This is not just his issue. It’s not just your issue. It’s everyone’s issue.
On my birthdays, I eat pizza. On good days, I eat pizza. And on bad days, I eat pizza.
In these examples, repetition of “be kind,” “issue,” and “I eat pizza” at the ends of sentences creates parallelism in the form of epistrophe.
Parallelism provides phrases with grammatical symmetry. This symmetry creates a rhythm and repetition which can make phrases more compelling, catchy, and memorable. Parallelism may be found in creative pieces such as poetry and songs as well as more formal pieces such as formal papers and speeches.