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Coordinating structures or parallel construction in English is based on a repetition of grammatical form. A word can coordinate with a word if it is the same grammatical class (noun, verb, adjective, adverb, preposition), a phrase can coordinate with a phrase if the head of the phrase is the same grammatical class (same as brackets above), and a clause can coordinate with a clause.
Why is coordination necessary in English? Because the brain does not work as hard processing information that is the same in content or structure, making the information in parallel constructions easier to understand.
In addition, repeating words within grammatical structures also has the advantage of establishing focus on the repeating element, as in 'she wore blue socks, a blue hat, and a blue dress', which emphasizes the color blue.
Finally, repeating information in standard Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) form can be used to draw attention to another element, as in 'the man who was standing at the street corner, the man who was standing at the bus stop, and the woman who was standing at the cinema door all saw the woman in blue.' The focus is on 'the woman in blue.' The detail that one of the people who witnessed 'the woman in blue' is a woman herself, is nearly lost in the parallel construction.
English is a periphrastic language. 'Peri-' means around, and 'periphrastic' means that multiple words are used instead of a single inflected word. As a result, coordination of some structures is difficult and awkward.
However, once you have arranged your sentence to be parallel, it is easier to see which element does not fit, and reword it so it flows better. You may find you need more specific vocabulary to create a parallel construction.
English learners often use too much periphrastic construction and struggle with parallel construction because they lack specific vocabulary. For example, 'a necessary idea in Smith's theory' could be better stated as 'fundamental to Smith's theory' in the structure 'Fundamental to Smith's theory, yet previously unknown...". The end result is a parallel construction which coordinates 'fundamental' and 'previously unknown'.
How do you determine if a phrase is a noun phrase, a verb phrase, or something else? Remove words until the main meaning is gone, then put the word back in which really matters. For example in the clause 'the man who was at the end of the pier', the head noun is the noun 'man', since it absolutely necessary. In the phrase 'walking to the edge of the dock', the head is the verb 'walking'.
If you are struggling coordinating long clauses, try rewording and coordinating at a simpler level, such as the phrase or word level. Short can sometimes be better than long for holding your reader's attention.
Coordinating conjunctions such as 'for', 'and', 'nor', 'but', 'or', 'yet', 'so' are used between elements in a parallel construction.
Examples of parallel constructions are given below, classified according to the grammatical class of the word (noun, verb, adjective, adverb, preposition), head word of a phrase, and the type of clause.
In some countries, it is standard form to place a comma before a coordinating conjunction. Other countries coordinate three elements with 'and' using only one comma. I have chosen to use two commas for three elements here.
I have also chosen to show three coordinating elements in almost every sentence below. It is not necessary to have three, you may have two, or use four or more.
To join two independent clauses with a coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so), use a comma before the coordinating conjunction.
To join two independent clauses with a conjunctive adverb (consequently, however, indeed, moreover, nevertheless, therefore), use a semi-colon before the coordinating adverb.
To join two independent clauses without a coordinating conjunction or a conjunctive adverb, use a semi-colon between the clauses.
For a printable worksheet of grammar errors of coordination and parallel construction at the word-level, phrase-level, and clause-level, with a separate answer sheet, go to: Grammar Errors Worksheet - Coordination and Parallel Structures
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