THE SAT WRITING AND LANGUAGE TEST: THE TEN ESSENTIAL RULES
Rule 4: Use Parallel Structure
Lesson 9: Understand the Law of Parallelism
Which is better?
A. In the ’70s and ’80s, high school math teachers taught almost exclusively by lecture; today, more cooperative and project-based methods are likely to be employed.
B. In the ’70s and ’80s, high school math teachers taught almost exclusively by lecture; today, they are more likely to use cooperative and project-based methods.
Which is better?
C. Ms. Kelly always tried to provide clear instructions that showed respect and were fair to all of her students.
D. Ms. Kelly always tried to provide instructions that were clear, respectful, and fair to all of her students.
Sentences A and C don’t seem glaringly wrong, but B and D sound a bit better. Why? Parallelism.
The Law of Parallelism
When a sentence includes a list, contrast, or comparison, the items being listed, contrasted, or compared should have the same grammatical form.
Sentence A contains two clauses that contrast teaching in the ’70s and ’80s with teaching today. However, the comparison is not parallel: the first sentence is in the active voice, but the second is in the passive voice (Lesson 29). Sentence B reads more smoothly because both clauses are in the active voice, which aligns the subjects and clarifies the contrast.
Sentence C ascribes three adjectives to Ms. Kelly’s instructions, but not in a parallel form. Sentence D clarifies the central idea by putting these adjectives in a clear and parallel list.
Lesson 10: Watch for standard parallel constructions
Which is better?
A. It seems sometimes that our representatives would rather generate sound bites for their partisans instead of working to solve our social and economic problems.
B. It seems sometimes that our representatives would rather generate sound bites for their partisans than solve our social and economic problems.
The problem in sentence A is hard for most readers to catch. It may take a few readings before you notice it. The word rather indicates that the sentence is making a contrast. Such a contrast requires a standard parallel construction: rather X than Y. When you see the word rather, you should expect the word than to appear soon afterward. But in sentence A, not only does than not appear, but the two words from X and Y that should be parallel are not: generate is a present-tense verb, but working is a gerund. Sentence B makes the correction, and creates the parallel construction rather generate … than solve.
Use the following standard parallel constructions precisely. When you use any of these phrases, use the precise wording, and make sure X and Y are parallel.
Lesson 11: Avoid number shifts
If a sentence equates two things, those things should have the same number.
Which is better?
A. Everyone enjoyed their meal.
B. Everyone enjoyed his or her meal.
C. They all enjoyed their meals.
Sentence A commits a number shift: the pronoun their is plural, but its antecedent everyone is singular. Additionally, the object meal is singular, which doesn’t make sense—are multiple people sharing a single meal? One way to correct this problem is by changing their to the singular his or her, as in sentence B. But this phrase is needlessly awkward. Sentence C avoids both problems, so it is the best of the three.
Consider this sentence:
The problem with this plan is all of the permits we would have to file before starting the project.
If we trim it a bit, we get
with this plan is all of the permits we would have to file before starting the project.
Again, we have a number shift: the singular problem is equated with the plural all of the permits. We could try to fix the problem by pluralizing the subject:
The problems with this plan are all of the permits we would have to file before starting the project.
But that sounds very strange. The best revision strengthens the verb to avoid the number shift:
Filing all of the permits required by this plan will probably delay the project.
Exercise 5: Parallel Structure
Rewrite each sentence to improve its parallel structure.
1. The candidate’s platform included tax code reform, an improved school system, and reviving good relations with the unions.
2. Good study practices are not so much about working hard, but rather how well you use your time.
3. The more you get to know her, the more likely it is that you will like her.
4. The food here is not only exceptionally fresh, but its price is also very reasonable.
5. The financial crisis of 2007 was exacerbated by the esoteric nature of certain financial instruments, skittish investors, and the lack of awareness of regulators.
6. Ms. Bennett is appreciated by her colleagues because she is very supportive and has a lot of knowledge.
7. I can’t decide whether I should give Maria the tickets, or Caitlyn.
8. The United States experienced a contraction in wealth, an increase in risk spreads, and the credit markets were deteriorating.
9. I prefer the romantic virtuosity of Liszt, as opposed to Chopin’s emotional accessibility.
10. The festival draws crowds from across the country that come not so much for the music but rather because of the spirit of free expression.