The Sesame Street Method for Mastering Parallel Structure

by | May 13, 2022 | GrammarSpot, Writing Tips | 0 comments

According to researchers, pattern recognition correlates more closely with general intelligence than any other mental skill. When I heard that for the first time, I spent a good two or three hours making my own set of color and shape flash cards so I could start playing matching games with my two-year-old son.

In addition to helping with math skills, pattern recognition contributes to social development and – you guessed it – language. Creating parallel structure with lists is one of the most obvious examples of patterns in language. Surprisingly, errors in parallel structure are also among the most common writing problems.

What It’s All About

As humans, we naturally seek consistency. There are countless studies on how routines positively affect children’s development. In the same way, readers feel much more comfortable with language that reflects solid structural organization. In order to have correct parallel structure, all elements of a list should be grammatically equal.

An error in parallel structure looks like this:


In words, it might look something like this:

I love running, dancing, and to ride my bike.

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How To Fix Errors

As an editor, whenever I run into an error in parallel structure, I can’t help but sing a little Sesame Street song to myself, “One of these things is not like the others….” Thankfully, it usually isn’t difficult to fix the problem. Once I have located the word or clause that doesn’t follow the pattern, all I have to do is change it so that the structure is consistent.

Correct parallel structure looks like this:




I love running, dancing, and biking.

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Strive for Simplicity

By using parallel structure whenever you write, you will be able to convey your message much more clearly. Your writing will also be a lot more compelling, even if your readers aren’t familiar with the term “parallel structure.”

As I think about it, I am astounded to see how many “difficult” linguistic principles can be simplified and explained as basic patterns. Can you think of any surprising places that simple patterns seem to pop up?

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