Parallelism: Maintain Your Verb Tenses Constant

A common writing mistake happens when writers fail to use parallel forms in their verbs or other grammatical structures. But what are parallel verbs and how can you make sure you’re using the correct grammatical form? Today let’s learn how to avoid non-parallel verbs in your writing. 

What is Parallelism or Parallel Structure? 

Parallelism is the use of two or more phrases or clauses in a sentence that have the same grammatical structure and use similar words. It is used to add structure, clarity, and balance to a sentence.

For example:

Correct: She was planning on making vegetarian chili and baking cookies.

Incorrect: She was planning to make vegetarian chili or baking cookies.

In the first sentence, the verbs (making and baking) are in parallel structure. In the second sentence, the verb “to make” is in one form while “baking” is in another; this creates an imbalance and makes it difficult to read.

By using parallel construction or structure, a sentence becomes easier to read and understand. Parallelism can also be used with adjectives, adverbs, nouns, and other parts of speech.

Here are some examples of parallel structure:

Parallel adjectives: The laptop was small, light, and powerful.

Parallel nouns: She bought apples, oranges, and bananas.

Now let’s look specifically at more parallel verb forms.

Parallel Verbs: How to Keep Them Consistent

When you use a series of verbs in one sentence, you want to use parallel structure to keep them consistent both in form and tense.

For example, if you’re on your way to the store and you need to get apples, you might find yourself heading straight to the produce section, investigating each apple for bruises, and putting the best ones in your cart.

See how the verbs match tense and form? In this example, all the verbs are in their gerund form, leading to a nice flow of both words and ideas.

What you would not do is head to the produce section, investigating each apple, and put the best ones in your cart, unless you already had the apples in your possession before migrating to the produce section.

Let’s look at an example of parallel infinitives:

They chose to ride the bus, to exit on State Street, and to walk the rest of the way. 

You could swap out the tense or form, but if you do, make sure you apply the change to all the verbs in the sentence. Like this:

They rode the bus, exited on State Street, and walked the rest of the way. 

Notice here we changed from the infinitive form to the past tense conjugation of each verb, but in each case, we made the grammatical elements match. 

The Purpose of Proper Parallelism

The purpose of proper parallelism is the same as that of any grammatical structure: to provide structure and understanding for the reader.

Clarity is key to telling your story.

And making sure the parallelism in your phrases matches up results in less brain work for the reader.

Have you seen examples of nonparallel verb structures in the wild? Which ones bug you most? Let us know in the comments.


Decide before you start your practice if you’re going to have all of your objects be acted upon by the same verb, or if each object is going to have its own verb.

Sticking only to that parallel structure, write for fifteen minutes and use parallelism as much as humanly possible. If you’re feeling brave, post your practice the Pro Practice Workshop here. If you post, don’t forget to check out the work of your fellow writers!