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Kristin Fracchia

ACT English: Parallelism

In this post, we are going to take a look at errors in parallel structure, how to find them, and examine how to correct them on the ACT.

Did you catch the mistake I made in the above sentence?

If you did, gold star to you. If you didn’t, that’s completely ok. People mess this up all the time. So let’s get to work.

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Lists of items

When two or more items are given equal weight in a sentence, they should be written as similarly as possible. The simplest example of this is a list of items:

For breakfast, I like to eat cereal, fruit, and I also like yogurt.

“Yogurt” is getting a little extra love there, and grammatically-speaking, that’s a no-no.

To correct the parallel structure we need to get rid of the stuff in front of “yogurt” so we just have a list of three nouns:

For breakfast, I like to eat cereal, fruit, and I also like yogurt.

Lists in a sentence don’t necessarily have to be a group of nouns; they could be verb phrases, for example.

To escape the wicked witch, the boy ran out of the gingerbread house, rolled down the hill, and went jumping across a river of fire.  ← wrong

To escape the wicked witch, the boy ran out of the gingerbread house, rolled down the hill, and went jumping jumped across a river of fire. ← right

So let’s go back to the sentence I started with:

In this post, we are going to take a look at errors in parallel structure, how to find them, and examine how to correct them on the ACT.

See that extra verb in the third part? All of the items in the list follow from “take a look…” We are “taking a look” at errors in parallel structures, how to find them, and how to correct them.

Here’s the smoothed out version:

In this post, we are going to take a look at errors in parallel structure, how to find them, and how to correct them on the ACT.

 

Parallel Comparisons

Trickier parallelism questions will make an appearance in comparisons.

Take a look at the following sentence:

Danny’s test scores weren’t as good as Bryan.

In this case, you know what the sentence means, so in ordinary life, you might just go right past a question like this one. But on the ACT English test, you need to have eagle eyes. A closer look reveals the parallel structure is faulty. We are comparing Danny’s test scores to Bryan’s test scores. Not Danny’s test scores to Bryan, the person.

Danny’s test scores weren’t as good as Bryan’s test scores.
So when you see comparisons on the test, make sure they are comparing apples to apples and not apples to oranges.

 

Prepositional Phrases

Sometimes even trickier parallel structure questions have to do with prepositional phrases.

Take a look at the following sentence:

I wasn’t informed or interested in the after-dance party.

You may have a feeling something is off here, but  may not be sure what. Well, let’s take out “or interested” for a moment. Then we just have “I wasn’t informed in the after-dance party,” which doesn’t make sense. We need a preposition to go with “informed” that works with that verb and sets up the parallel structure with “interested in.”

Here’s one solution:

I wasn’t informed about or interested in the after-dance party.

 

So when it comes to parallelism on the ACT English test, make sure you watch out for three specific scenarios:

  1. List of items that are supposed to be weighed equally (nouns, verb phrases, etc.). Remember: a “list” could just be two items!
  2. Comparison of two or more items. Make sure that, grammatically-speaking, the lists are comparing the same type of thing.
  3. Multiple prepositional phrases in the same sentence. Take care that a preposition essential to understanding the meaning (and maintaining elegant parallel structure) isn’t dropped!

 

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About Kristin Fracchia

Kristin makes sure Magoosh's sites are full of awesome, free resources that can be found by students prepping for standardized tests. With a PhD from UC Irvine and degrees in Education and English, she’s been working in education since 2004 and has helped students prepare for standardized tests, as well as college and graduate school admissions, since 2007. She enjoys the agony and bliss of trail running, backpacking, hot yoga, and esoteric knowledge.


One Response to “ACT English: Parallelism”

  1. emily says:

    Great post!

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