In speeches, in poetry, in literature, you may have come across a grammatical and rhetorical technique known as parallelism. It is famously known for its use of repetition, its use of emphasis, and its use of persuasion. Writers and politicians use parallelism in different ways for different reasons, as do authors and poets. But what is parallelism? How can you identify it and how can you use it in your writing?
What is parallelism?
Due to it possibly getting confused with the other type of parallelism (narrative), it is important we define parallelism (grammar/rhetoric) in a clear cut way. And since even this type of has two unique versions, we will want to explain that, too.
What is parallelism?
Parallelism is a grammatical technique involving the use of the same or similar grammatical structures and clauses within sentence structures. In rhetoric, parallelism similarly compounds and groups together structures and clauses to provide a flow in the sentence(s).
Parallelism is often used to create a better flow to whatever sentence it is applied to. In both poetry and speeches, it is often used for emphasis, as the repetition makes it easier for what is being said to be remembered by whoever is reading or hearing it. For these same reasons, parallelism is an attractive rhetorical technique in speeches.
Parallelism characteristics include:
- Repeating the same words and phrases within the same sentence
- Emphasizing a specific point or idea
- Creating a flow in the sentence(s) to make it better/easier to read
Parallelism in Writing
Parallelism in writing and grammar
The answer to “what is parallelism?” is at its most accessible and most basic in grammatical parallelism. This is because the technique is most often seen in the written word, which includes more than just parallelism in literature or in speeches. In fact, it is likely you have witnessed or practiced this technique in writing to someone, be it for work or among friends. You can get a quick idea for parallelism examples in the video below.
So, for example, when you are describing what a certain someone can do, you may write it like this:
“John can swim, hunt, and jump.”
This is a clear and simple example of grammatical parallelism, especially since the words flow together so well. In this specific example, it’s three succeeding verbs ascribed to one subject. This means that the concept of parallelism in grammar can be as simple as sticking to just verbs or nouns when listing something out. One other noticeable example would be like this:
“First thing you do is apply soap to the sponge; second thing you do is add water; third thing you do is squeeze to release suds.”
In this case, the repetition of “First/second/third thing you do…” is what makes this sentence an example of the technique in grammar. It’s a set of instructions making it clear what the first, second, and third thing you must do is.
You can get a lesson using this technique in writing in the video below.
Understanding what is parallelism in grammar, as well as what is parallelism in writing, mainly requires you to recognize basic patterns. Once you notice these patterns and can write them yourself, you’re ready to expand the power of parallelism in poetry and parallelism in literature.
Parallelism in Poetry
Parallelism in literature and rhetoric
While this technique in grammar is fairly straightforward, parallelism in literature and rhetoric is a bit more complex. While the same rules still apply, the way those rules are handled and played with is more vast. For the most part, parallelism in rhetoric will look the same in grammar.
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
This famous English proverb is a very good parallelism example being employed in rhetoric. We can subconsciously sense a pattern in the sentence even if we do not exactly know what that pattern is. The trick here is the repeated use of “a man” along with “a fish/to fish” and “feed him for a…” But whereas many grammatical examples just focus on a few individual words, parallelism in rhetoric can be implemented within more complex phrases within sentences and paragraphs.
This technique in the rhetorical variety can be seen from plays (Shakespeare), religious texts (the Bible), and of course, speeches, be them in plays (again Shakespeare) or by a famous politician (Winston Churchill and John F. Kennedy are two famous examples).
One cool thing about parallelism in literature and rhetoric is that there exist different figures of speech under it. Some of those are the following:
As the name might imply, antithesis is when two (or more) things are placed with each other to provide contrasting views. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens is one of the classic parallelism examples in literature.
Probably the most simple technique here, asyndeton is simply when you remove a conjunction from a series of words in a sentence. Among the most famous examples of this are Julius Caesar’s “I came, I saw, I conquered” (“Veni, vidi, vici”).
Anaphora is the familiar trick of reusing one word or more at the beginning of a successive clause or phrase. One example of this would be from Skee-Lo’s 1995 hit “I Wish,” where he states:
"I wish I was a little bit taller, I wish I was a baller
I wish I had a girl who looked good, I would call her
I wish I had a rabbit in a hat with a bat
And a six-four Impala"
Anaphora’s opposite, an epistrophe, is when you reuse one word or more at the end of a successive clause or phrase. Abraham Lincoln’s “of the people, by the people, for the people” speech is one of the most famous examples of this.
Through a combination of these figures of speech and the amount of parallelism examples in literature, poetry, and speeches, there is no shortage of ways to define parallelism in literature and rhetoric. There are also no shortages on how to explain parallelism, how to use it, or write sentences and phrases with it.
Persuasive Advertising Techniques
Now that we’ve looked over this technique in grammar and rhetoric, take a look at how figures of speech are used in advertising. Similarly to its usage in rhetoric, ethos, pathos, and logos have their place in marketing and persuasion. We cover these and more in both this and related articles.