Parallel Structure — SAT Grammar Fundamentals

Parallelism on the SAT

Parallelism is important on the SAT. It will help you employ commas more efficiently and understand how sentences are constructed, so that you’ll know why something that might sound right is actually wrong (it violates the rules of parallelism).

So here are the three things you have to keep in mind with parallelism:

  1. Parts of speech
  2. Lists
  3. Clauses

Parts of speech include adjective, noun, verb, etc. If I list several things, those things should be in the same form, i.e. they should share the same parts of speech. For instance, in the sentence below the list is made up of three things: read magazines, watch television, and play video games.

Incorrect: George likes to read magazines, watch television, and he plays video games.

Incorrect: George likes to read magazines, watch television, and plays video games.

Correct: George likes to read magazines, watch television, and play video games

In the first two examples, we have two verbs that are parallel (“read” and “watch”). What I mean by parallel is they have the same form: they are not “reads” and “watch” or “read” and “watches” or “watching”.

Not that we couldn’t use some other form of the verb. But the three parts that make up the list must be in the same form.

Correct: Reading magazines, watching television, and playing video games are three things he likes to do during his free time.


Parallelism and Correlative Conjunctions on the SAT

There is a special type of conjunction called the correlative conjunction. You don’t really have to know the name, but you have to know the function. More specifically, you have to remember when you see these conjunctions to think “parallelism”.


Correlative Conjunctions:

Not only A but also B
Both A and B
Either A or B
Neither A nor B

What in tarnation does A and B mean? “A” stands for a word or phrase and “B” stands for a word or phrase. These words or phrases should be parallel. In other words, A and B should be parallel.

Not only is he funny, but he is also clever.

In this case A and B are adjectives. As in the original example,


Incorrect: Not only has he squandered an important opportunity, but he is also upsetting many people close to him.

Correct: Not only has he squandered an important opportunity, but he has also upset many people close to him.

Squandered is in the simple past tense, therefore, we need the simple past tense of upsetting, which is upset. Notice in the incorrect example, squanderED does not match upsettING.


On more advanced parallelism questions, it won’t just be two words that have to be parallel but entire phrases. Other times a question is difficult because the verbs are buried in a morass of words, as the example below shows.

  SAT-level (hard)

Playing video games, unlike watching television, is not a passive activity, because doing so requires that the video game player react to what’s happening onscreen, strategizes to overcome obstacles, and that she persevere to advance through the most difficult stages of the game.


    B) that she strategizes
    C) that she strategize
    D) strategize


    B) she persevere
    C) she perseveres
    D) persevere


Answers and Explanation:

The video game player has to do three things: react, strategize, and persevere. The verb form is something called the subjunctive, which often pops up in words that indicated a command, request, or a requirement. You don’t actually have to know this. But you do have to notice that it does not say, “the video game player reacts”; a verb usually takes an ‘s’ the end when it refers to a third person subject (“he walks”, “she dances”, etc.).

Here though it is “react”, not “reacts” (again, that’s because we have the verb “require that”, which removes the –s from the end of a verb referring to the third person. Therefore, the other two verbs must both be in this form, giving us “strategize” and “persevere”. Therefore, the answer to both 1) and 2) is D).

Still hungry for SAT grammar? Check out even more SAT grammar rules!



  • Chris Lele

    Chris Lele is the Principal Curriculum Manager (and vocabulary wizard) at Magoosh. Chris graduated from UCLA with a BA in Psychology and has 20 years of experience in the test prep industry. He's been quoted as a subject expert in many publications, including US News, GMAC, and Business Because. In his time at Magoosh, Chris has taught countless students how to tackle the GRE, GMAT, SAT, ACT, MCAT (CARS), and LSAT exams with confidence. Some of his students have even gone on to get near-perfect scores. You can find Chris on YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook!

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