Balance and Parallelism

Balance in sentences is similar to balance in other areas of life. Imagine a high-wire artist above the circus ring's sawdust floor, placing one foot carefully in front of another, holding a long pole crosswise, exactly in the middle. Now read the following sentence, and notice how it does a kind of balancing act as it moves forward.

From Lowman to Cape Horn the weather was rainy, but from Cape Horn to Stanley it was clear.

Here the balance point is the coordinator "but." Probably you can feel how it centers the sentence.

From to the weather was ________, but from ______ to ______ it [the weather] was clear.

The two independent clauses balance each other, and the balance is further emphasized by the prepositional phrase that opens each clause. The structure and even certain key words from one sentence part are repeated in another. That patterned repetition is the key to balance.

Sometimes the balance will be perfect, and sometimes a sentence that seems essentially balanced will have some unbalanced parts. Because these qualities are easier to see and recognize than to analyze and understand, a few more examples may be helpful:

The men wore coats and ties, and the ladies wore long dresses and heels.

Can you locate the balance point in the sentence above? Can you see why you should signal that point with a comma?

Some people may find such elaborately balanced structures too artificial, even too repetitious. They'll want to disturb the balance by dropping a few words from one clause:

The men wore coats and ties, the ladies, long dresses and heels.

That technique can work well, but be careful not to destroy the balance completely and cause the whole sentence design to come apart:

By all the men coats and ties were worn, and the ladies were all dressed up in long dresses and heels.

When two or more sentence parts have similar meaning or purpose, its almost always effective to highlight that similarity with balanced structure.

One especially useful kind of balance is called parallelism. See if you can find any parallel structures in the following sentence:

It was a very sad time in my life, living alone, looking for work, dreaming of home.

Because the three phrases at the end of the sentence all serve the same purpose, telling why the writer was sad, it makes sense to use structural patterns that point up the similarity. Notice what happens when we disrupt the parallelism:

It was a very sad time in my life, living alone, to look for work, dreaming of home.

Besides being less rhythmic, this version loses clarity. Does "to look for work" explain why the writer was living alone or why the writer was sad? No such problems arise in the first version, where parallel structure helps keep the rhythm smooth and the meaning clear.


3.10 For each of the following sentences write an equivalent using the same pattern but filling in the missing words as needed.


Every wedding turned into a joke, and every joke turned into a nightmare.

Every drop fell into a pitcher, and every pitcher poured into a creek.

a. In a year of movies, it's the movie of the year.

In a _____ of ______, it's the _____ of the _______.

b. The atmosphere was great, but the food was greasy.

The ______ was _______ , but the _______ was _______.

c. My cousin likes to play the fiddle, tap the rhythm, and call the tune.

My ______ _______ s to _____ the ______, ______ the ______ and _______ the _______.

d. With her eyes closed, her teeth clenched, and her arm extended, the old woman pulled the trigger.

With ____d, ____d, and ______d, the ________ __________d the _______.

e. Money and power are the goals of the greedy, but peace and love are the rewards of the faithful.

_______ and ________ are the ______ of the ______ , but _______ and _______ are the ______ of the _______.

3.12 As you read the following sentences, look for balanced structures, especially for parallelism. Underline any examples you find. If you find sentences that could be improved by repeating a structural pattern, rewrite them so they're stronger.

a. With tears running from his eyes and that fell onto his fatigues, Peterson finally surrendered.

b. My new puppy is shaggy as a bear and mean as a rattlesnake.

c. Some people love to drink, and some people drink to love.

d. I've got to bear down on my studies after flunking Chemistry and I got a D in Algebra I.

e. More than he ever wanted anything before, more than he had even wanted her to leave, Harvey wanted Alice to come back.

f. If you believe you can do it and by working on it hard enough, you can usually succeed.

g. Firecrackers and rockets don't convey the true spirit of Independence Day anymore than the real spirit of Christmas can be seen through Santa Claus and his reindeer.

h. What you see is what you get.

i. This is the place where girls become women, boys become men, dreams become reality.

j. There in the meadow stood a solitary elk, peaceful, majestic, quietly.

3.13 Combine each of the following groups of sentences into one single sentence containing balanced or parallel structures.


We rode the Silver Twister. It was huge. It was fast. Its speed was like lightning. Our stomachs churned. Our blood pumped. We screamed with delight.

Stomachs churning, blood pumping, we screamed with delight as we rode the huge, lightning fast Silver Twister.

a. We were trying to reach the summit. The summit was of Mt. Greylock. We were tired. We were hungry. We were determined.

b. Our group was small. Our group was young. We played in a hall. The hall was immense. The hall was old.

c. The dust was everywhere. It was in our mouths. We got it in our hair. It was in our eyes. We even got it in our noses.

d. Jim Thorpe was outstanding at sports. The sports were many. One was football. Track was also good for him. So was soccer.

e. The people are looking for answers. The answers are to economic questions. The people are looking to the president. The president is looking for answers. His questions are the same. He is looking to his advisors.