GMAT Grammar Rules: Parallelism and Verb Tenses

Introduction: parallelism

Parallelism is one of the GMAT’s favorite grammatical structures.  Probably almost half of all SC questions involve parallelism of some kind.  Of course, one can put nouns or adjectives into parallel, but what’s the fun of that?  Parallelism only gets interesting when you put entire verbs or verb phrases (e.g. infinitive phrases, participial phrases) into parallel.
Of course two items in parallel must be the same grammatical form: both regular verb forms, or both participles, or both infinitive.  But the question arises — if they are regular verbs, or if they are participles, must the two items in parallel match in tense?


Parallel verbs and tense

Can regular verbs in parallel have different tenses?  The OG provides a resounding “YES” to this question.  Not one, but two different SC questions in the OG13, SC#10 and SC #91 have correct answers in which the parallel verbs have different tenses.  Here are other examples of such a sentences:

1) China had been united under the Qin (221 – 206 BCE) and Han (206 BD – AD 220) before Buddhism was introduced, and it was united again in the Tang (618 – 907) Dynasty, a time now regarded as the “golden age” of Chinese Buddhism.

2) Ancient Celtic legend holds that the mythical figure of Arthur was at one time king of all of England and, in some future time of need, will arise as king again.

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3) The baseball team gave up seven unearned runs in the second inning of today’s game, and still are losing in the seventh inning.

In the first sentence, we have a past perfect verb parallel with a simple past verb.  In the second sentence, we have a simple past verb parallel with a simple future verb.  In the third sentence, we have a simple past verb parallel with a present progressive verb.  The first two concern the history of religious ideas, and the third strongly resembles a team for which the author of this article roots — you know, I just would rather not talk about it!  😛


Parallel participles and tense

Can the participles of two participial phrases in parallel be different tenses?  Here, we are not on such solid ground.  The OG13 affords no examples for or against, nor am I familiar with any official test material that explores this construction.  The most I can say is: all authorities on grammar would call this construction perfectly acceptable, so there is no reason it couldn’t appear at some point in the future on GMAT SC.  Here are a couple completely correct examples.

5) Ralph Nader, having run for US President six times and declining to run again in 2012, explained his reasons during a symposium at the university.

6) The Atlantic Ocean, formed when Europe split away from America 130 million years ago and still expanding today, will be Earth’s largest ocean at some point in the distant future.

Sentence #5 uses a somewhat unusual participle tense, a perfect participle, “having run” in parallel with a present participle; perfect participle are rare on the GMAT, but they do appear.  Sentence #6 uses a past participle in parallel with a present participle.  Again, those are grammatically 100% correct, and there’s no reason they couldn’t appear on GMAT SC, although, again, we have not seen any examples of this construction on the GMAT.

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  • Mike MᶜGarry

    Mike served as a GMAT Expert at Magoosh, helping create hundreds of lesson videos and practice questions to help guide GMAT students to success. He was also featured as "member of the month" for over two years at GMAT Club. Mike holds an A.B. in Physics (graduating magna cum laude) and an M.T.S. in Religions of the World, both from Harvard. Beyond standardized testing, Mike has over 20 years of both private and public high school teaching experience specializing in math and physics. In his free time, Mike likes smashing foosballs into orbit, and despite having no obvious cranial deficiency, he insists on rooting for the NY Mets. Learn more about the GMAT through Mike's Youtube video explanations and resources like What is a Good GMAT Score? and the GMAT Diagnostic Test.

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35 Responses to GMAT Grammar Rules: Parallelism and Verb Tenses

  1. Alex February 10, 2017 at 10:46 pm #

    You say, “Of course two items in parallel must be the same grammatical form: both regular verb forms…” But that’s not true. Sometimes, parallelism does NOT require two regular verbs.

    Your 2nd and 3rd examples are NOT regular verbs.
    Arise –> arose –> has arisen
    Lose –> lost –> has lost

    Also consider these:

    He played and won the game. = CORRECT
    played = regular verb (simple past tense)
    won = irregular verb (simple past tense)
    Here, we do NOT have two regular verbs. Yet the sentence is correct because we have two parallel TENSES.

    By playing and winning the game, he earned a scholarship. = CORRECT
    playing = present participle
    winning = present participle
    Correct because the present participle matches the other present participle. No disagreement with you there.

    He played well in high school and has gone on to better things in college. = CORRECT
    played = simple past tense (regular verb)
    has gone = present perfect tense (irregular verb)
    Here, tenses DO NOT have to match, which you say is fine. I agree.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert February 11, 2017 at 1:58 pm #

      You’re absolutely right. Although I believe that when Mike refers to “regular verbs” here, he’s talking about regular grammatical use vs. alternate grammar forms like infinitives and participles. He’s not referring to regular verbs vs. irregular verbs, both of which are perfectly OK in parallelism. You provide some really good examples of this, which complement this post nicely. Thanks for sharing this! 🙂

  2. Toby Okonkwo November 22, 2016 at 2:28 pm #

    “5) Ralph Nader, having run for US President six time and declining to run again in 2012, explained his reasons during a symposium at the university.”

    Just a small typo: this should read “six times” or “for a 6th time”

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert November 22, 2016 at 6:24 pm #

      Hi Toby,

      Thanks again for the typo catch! 😀

  3. Tanya November 11, 2015 at 7:07 pm #

    Hi Mike,
    Would you tell me if the following two sentences have parallel constructions?

    1. “Going to college brings many advantages: A college experience broadens a person’s sense of the world and his or her place in it, creates new career opportunities, and is often the source of lifelong friendships.”

    2. “Children should not be allowed to use Facebook, as it destroys thinking, and it isn’t educational.”


  4. Jacob October 30, 2014 at 1:13 pm #

    Q#42 from OG 12 shows that participles of two different tenses are parallel. Since this question is removed from OG13, can we still take this rule to be true

    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike October 30, 2014 at 1:53 pm #

      Dear Jacob,
      I’m happy to respond. 🙂 The point of this article is: tenses don’t matter for parallelism. Thank you for providing the example from OG12: this only further confirms the point.
      Does this make sense?
      Mike 🙂

      • Jacob October 30, 2014 at 10:20 pm #

        Yup.. Thanks MIke

        • Mike MᶜGarry
          Mike October 31, 2014 at 10:14 am #

          Dear Jacob,
          You are quite welcome! 🙂 Best of luck to you!
          Mike 🙂

  5. Tushar August 8, 2014 at 8:46 am #

    Hey Mike!
    Can linking verb and action verb be in parallel?
    He is hungry and wants a pizza.

    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike August 8, 2014 at 10:44 am #

      Dear Tushar,
      Absolutely! 🙂 “George Washington had wooden teeth and is revered as the Father of the USA.” Past active & present passive in parallel = no problem! “Fred was a low energy person but now runs five miles every day.” Past “existence” verb & present active verb in parallel = no problem! Any valid verb can be in parallel with any other valid verb.
      Does all this make sense?
      Mike 🙂

      • Tushar August 8, 2014 at 10:47 am #


        • Mike MᶜGarry
          Mike August 8, 2014 at 10:48 am #

          Dear Tushar,
          I’m glad you found this helpful. Best of luck to you!
          Mike 🙂

  6. Becky Buckingham May 20, 2014 at 12:00 pm #

    Asking questions are really fastidious thing if you are not understanding anything entirely, however this post presents pleasant understanding yet.

    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike May 22, 2014 at 9:41 am #

      Thank you very much for your kind words. Best of luck to you!
      Mike 🙂

  7. Martha Cabrera September 1, 2013 at 11:18 am #

    Hi, can you tell me the Parallelism features you can find in this part of Martin Luther King’s speech, if any? Thank you. Martha

    “This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning “My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my father’s died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!”

    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike September 1, 2013 at 2:48 pm #

      Dear Martha,
      In Dr. King’s own words there, there is no parallelism. The only parallelism is in the lyrics he quotes — the phrase “sweet land of liberty” is an appositive phrase, which is a very special case of parallelism. See:
      Also, “land of the Pilgrim’s pride” is another appositive, referring back to “land where my fathers died”.
      Mike 🙂

      • Martha Cabrera September 1, 2013 at 8:30 pm #

        Thank you so much for your help.
        P.S. I loved your page!!!

        • Mike MᶜGarry
          Mike September 1, 2013 at 9:15 pm #

          You are more than welcome, my friend. Best of luck to you.
          Mike 🙂

  8. Anurag August 18, 2013 at 6:08 am #

    If two clauses are being made parallel, is it mandatory that active verbs in both these clauses be in the same tense ?

  9. RJ June 18, 2013 at 9:56 pm #

    Hi Mike,

    Can I conclude that for parallel question types
    it it usually paired participle with participle …past simple with
    past simple etc?



    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike June 19, 2013 at 9:53 am #

      Dear RJ,
      I’m not sure I understand your question. Full verbs can only be in parallel with full verbs, and participles can only be in parallel in with participles. That’s immensely important. By contrast, the *tense* of the verb or the participle doesn’t matter in the least.
      Does this answer your question?
      Mike 🙂

      • RJ June 21, 2013 at 6:45 am #

        Hi Mike,

        Sorry for not being clear earlier. Can a ‘adverb’ be parallel with ‘prepositional phrase’ in the same sentence where they’re modifying the same thing?



        • Mike MᶜGarry
          Mike June 21, 2013 at 11:39 am #

          Yes, that *could* happen, but it would be rare —it’s hard to think of an example that’s not contrived and awkward. It’s not a construction I would expect to find on the GMAT. Notice that the prepositional phrase in such an instance would be acting as an adverbial phrase, taking the rule of an adverb —-

          Does all this make sense?
          Mike 🙂

  10. pokemon iceberg June 2, 2013 at 6:55 am #

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on grammar. Regards

    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike June 3, 2013 at 9:59 am #

      You are more than welcome. Best of luck to you.
      Mike 🙂

  11. abhinav May 5, 2013 at 10:48 pm #

    Thanks a lot for this article mike! !

    can you please throw some light on unusual participle tense “having run” etc.?

    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike May 6, 2013 at 12:02 pm #

      The participle “having run” is a present perfect participle, a relative rare and sophisticated form. It means the “running” is in the past and completed. It allows us to construct an active participle in the past tense. (Most past participles are passive)
      Mike 🙂

      • Tushar August 8, 2014 at 4:08 am #


        • Mike MᶜGarry
          Mike August 22, 2014 at 10:59 am #

          Dear Tushar,
          I’m glad you found that helpful.
          Mike 🙂

  12. Alexei April 28, 2013 at 7:38 am #

    Very helpful article. Have one question, regarding this subject. Which of the following would be correct?

    I have to drink and to eat to be healthy


    I have to drink and eat to be healthy

    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike April 29, 2013 at 9:46 am #

      Dear Alexei,
      I’m glad you found the article helpful. Either of those sentences would be correct.
      Mike 🙂

  13. Confuse Mind September 7, 2012 at 11:06 am #

    Thanks Mike 🙂

    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike September 7, 2012 at 3:50 pm #

      You’re quite welcome.
      Mike 🙂

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