Literary Devices

Parallel Structure

What is it?

Parallel structure is repetition of the same pattern of words or phrases within a sentence or passage to show that two or more ideas have the same level of importance.

Why is it important?

Parallel structure helps to organize ideas, making a text or speech easier to understand. Parallel structure can also create a satisfying rhythm in the language an author uses.

How do I do it?

Repeat the same pattern of words at key points in the text. Use parallel structure to organize ideas within a sentence, as in Example 1, or within a longer passage, as in Example 2.

Example 1:

"Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him."

—William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar

Note: The author uses parallel structure in both lines. In the first line, parallel structure equates three different groups of society: friends, Romans, and "countrymen." In the second line, the author uses parallel structure with the phrases "to bury Caesar, not to praise him."

Example 2:

"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood...

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

—Martin Luther King, Jr., "I Have a Dream" speech

Note: Here, King repeats the words "I have a dream," in order to emphasize his message and give listeners the sense that his dream can be expressed in many ways, all of which are equally important. King's repetition also creates a kind of rhythm that works well in public speaking.

More about parallel structure