I have been reading “Mastering the craft of writing” in which the author explains “loose” and “periodic” sentences. He writes: “A note of caution: When you create a series of preceding or following elements, be sure to maintain parallel structure.”

Parallelism is the matching of forms of words, phrases, or clauses within the sentence.

He gives these examples of sentences:

A—“(1) Full of beliefs, (2) sustained and elevated by the power of his purpose, (3) armed with the rules of grammar, the writer is ready for exposure.”

—1. 2. 3. Adjective phrases.

I have problems with sentence B and C—I cannot se the pattern.

B—“(1) One leg dragging, (2) still on hands and one knee, (3) grizzled, tattered, crushed over, (4) looking like a he-bear in molting time after a terrible fight, (5) he examined the sand (6) around the ash heap, (7) around the grave, (8) also the spot where he had laid when he first came to.”

—1. Participle phase. —2. Adjective phase. —3. Adjective phase. —4. Participle phase. —5. Main clause. —6. 7. Prepositional phrases. —8. ? A non essential clause.

C— “(1) Then the young [buffalo] bulls came through the gully in waves, (2) huge, hairy, blowing, snorting young bulls, (3) eyes wild, black head and black horns lowered, (4) black shaggy humps and foreparts bouldering along, (5) small tan afterparts skipping, (6) each young bull for all the world looking like an overgrown black bull up front (7) and a nervous tail-whipping silly tan heifer in back, (8) one after another, (9) by tens by hundreds by thousands, (10) solid black walls of them, (11) bellowing, blowing, roaring, (12) wilder even than the cows and calves.”

—1. Main clause. —2 …

  • Are the numbered phrases identified by you or the author? Because I don't think C.7 is meant to be a new item. Meanwhile, this point might be easier to understand with some examples of violations of parallelism. Mar 15 at 17:27

1 Answer 1


It might be easier to understand with some examples that break parallel structure. The rule of thumb to check parallelism is: You have a series of items, like branches of a tree, attached to one main clause, like the trunk. Any one of the items should be able to make sense, attached to the trunk, if it were the only one and all the others were missing. In the author's example C, there's some variety among parts of speech, but any one of these phrases could follow "Then the young bulls came through the gully in waves," as the only remaining part of a valid sentence.

A common violation of this idea might be "Yesterday I ate lunch, did some gardening, and, because there were so many weeds, I ran out of time to go to the store." If I joined the final clause to the main one, I get "Yesterday I, because there were so many weeds, I ran out of time to go to the store, with an extra "I".

Note, to my mind the author's example B part 8 fails this test. We might overlook the missing "and" in a series as a bit of stylistic license. But to my mind, this adds up to "He examined the sand ... the spot where...." Simply adding "in" to match the "around"s would have satisfied me. (I wonder whether there could be a mistake in transcribing, or whether this was offered as an example of a mistake?)

In the long example C, each phrase also has the same function as a whole, simply descriptive. Some might be called adjectival and some adverbial, but they describe either the bulls or their movement. Now, you could make a valid sentence with "Then the young bulls came through the gully in waves, because there wasn't room for them to come through at once, but you couldn't inject this into the series of descriptive phrases.

  • Thank you!—I placed the numbers, and I knew C-6 and C-7 were together (I separated them to make it easier for someone to explain). I checked the text twice, and I asked my partner to check it also: The sentences were examples from books to follow. — Thank you for explaining that I don’t need to use the same grammatical structure all the time as long as the phrases can be attached to the main clause.
    – Piermo
    Mar 15 at 20:17

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