And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

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.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

                (Martin Luther King, Jr., at the Lincoln Memorial, August 28, 1963)


Using parallelism as a technique for building memorable writings and speeches creates a rhythm that helps a reader/listener move through words, phrases, and clauses with ease.  Equal ideas have similar form and structure, such as in Martin Luther King, Junior’s famous speech, above.  He uses the phrase, “I have a dream,” five times to create prose that is almost poetic.  Each verse has another parallel duo (underlined) that contributes to the power of this unforgettable speech.  A writer not only makes use of parallelism to enhance his or her work, but uses it consistently and correctly with lists/series, coordinating conjunctions, correlative conjunctions and comparisons.


Julius Caesar famously said, “I came, I saw, I conquered.”  He uses the subject “I” with a past tense verb in each of the three clauses.  To keep a list or series parallel you make sure that each item uses the same pattern:  phrases (noun, verb, infinitive, prepositional, etc.) with other similar phrases, and dependent and independent clauses (full sentences) with other clauses.

It took a man like Madiba [Mandela] to free not just the prisoner, but the jailer as well; to show that you must trust others so that they trust you; to teach that reconciliation is not a matter of ignoring a cruel past but a means of confronting it with inclusion and generosity and truth.  He changed laws, but he also changed hearts.

(President Barack Obama, speech at the memorial service for former South African president Nelson Mandel, December 20, 1013)

Note the repeated uses of infinitive phrases (underlined).  You would use the same rule if you create a bulleted list; each item has to be in like form.


Coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, nor, so, for, or yet) require the same consideration as lists and series.  The elements on either side of the conjunction must use parallel forms.

Truth is not a diet but a condiment.

(Attributed to Christopher Morley)

Good breeding consists in concealing how much we think of ourselves and how little we think of the other person.

(Mark Twain)


Correlative conjunctions (both . . . and, neither . . . nor, either . . . or, not only . . . but also, whether . . . or) require the use of similar forms after each conjunction.

Either we have dinner now, or we just forget it.


There is a full sentence on either side of the correlative conjunctions, each beginning with we.  The following sentence is incorrect:

I was not only surprised that he showed up for dinner but that he was dressed up.

The correct sentence would be the following:

I was surprised not only that he showed up for dinner but that he was dressed up.


Finally, comparisons (than, as) call for the same consideration.

Dale likes building fishing rods as much as playing golf.

I think it is easier to cook dinner than to clean up after.


Parallelism demands that the same form is used for each item in a series or list and that the same form is used on either side of coordinating conjunctions, correlative conjunctions, and comparisons.  Parallelism not only aids a reader’s understanding but also creates a powerful and lasting impression.




Diane Repass is a retired tenured assistant professor
from The University of Dubuque and now a beloved
writer for Plaid Swan Inc. She received her M.A. from
The University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa.




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