GMAT Sentence Correction – Parallelism

    Sayantani Barman Sayantani Barman
    Study Abroad Expert

    Sentence Correction (SC) questions are found in the 65-minute Verbal Ability section of GMAT having around 11-16 Sentence Correction questions with each Sentence Correction question containing a sentence with an underlined portion that contains 0-2 errors. It is a very vital part of the GMAT GMAT Syllabus sectioned under the verbal reasoning part. The verbal section of the GMAT needs special attention as it has three important sections under it - 


    This is a messy topic for many candidates as Parallelism is one of the GMAT’s favorite devices on the Sentence Correction. The GMAT test makers love this topic as it is so flexible and confusing at the same time. Parallelism is a property of the sentence where a “higher-order” feature of a sentence depends not only on grammar but also on logic. In order to better understand the concept of Parallelism in a sentence, suppose P & Q are two phrases or clauses that we want to put into parallel, it is not enough that P is grammatically correct and separately Q is grammatically correct. These sentences being grammatically correct individually is a bare minimum, but not sufficient. Thus, in order to construct the parallelism correctly, P and Q must match in their grammatical form and must serve the same logical role in the sentence. It is important to understand that there is no simple formula for parallelism and thus, we have to engage with the logic and meaning of the sentence.

    What can be in parallel?

    It is as simple as the meaning of the word i.e. placing into parallel individual words which could be two nouns, two verbs, two adjectives, etc. Few of the simple examples of parallel words are ‘the birds and the bees’, ’eat and run’, ‘necessary and sufficient’. Such words may appear on the sentences in GMAT Sentence Correction, however, they will not be a focus in the questions that are asked, instead the focus of the GMAT Sentence Correction questions is based on the complex parallelism i.e. the parallelism of two phrases which could be any of the phrases including the prepositional phrases, infinitive phrases, participial phrases, gerund phrases or clauses including substantive clauses. However, since there is high competition in GMAT, the test maker loves to increase the complexity, thus, if P and Q are phrases or clauses in parallel, each one is likely to have a long modifying phrase accompanying it and thus, this complexity can make it more difficult to spot the parallel elements.

    Parallelism Markers

    While this may seem obvious, the candidate can still make mistakes related to two parallel joinings either through single coordinating conjunction or a pair of correlative conjunctions. To list down a few of the three coordinating conjunctions that, by themselves, can join parallel phrases are

    • ‘and’ - It can join two elements (“P and Q”) or three (“P, Q, and R”), in which case the format is always [first term][comma][second term][comma] “and” [third term]. Thus, every time a candidate sees the word “and” on the Sentence Correction, some kind of parallelism is in play. For example, the government responds to inflation by raising the prime lending rate, limiting the money supply, and setting up cost-of-living adjustments for folks on a fixed income.

    Other most common correlative conjunctions on the GMAT are – ‘but’, ‘or’. They can be in the following formats:

    • not only P but also Q
    • not P but Q
    • both P and Q
    • either P or Q

    There are other makers of parallelism as well, two sets of words that are like coordinating conjunctions which are parallel in themselves are “as well as” and “rather than”.

    Logic and false parallelism

    This part of sentence correction is there to trouble the candidate in the GMAT examination as there are more sophisticated mistake patterns that are called false parallelism, this includes pairing of two or more elements that superficially, grammatically, seem to match, but which logically play very different roles. Taking a simple example would let the candidate understand – ‘Last night, I cooked dinner with fresh vegetables, with my friend Chris, and with a sense of profound satisfaction.’

    Now, just looking at the above-quoted sentence, the candidate would superficially think that these are in parallel as there are three correctly constructed prepositional phrases, each beginning with the word “with.” 

    To accompany that, at the level of pure grammar there is absolutely nothing wrong with this sentence. However, at the level of logic, though, this sentence is completely wrong since this sentence puts in parallel three completely different meanings of a “with” prepositional phrase:

    • materials: “with fresh vegetables”,
    • accompaniment: “with my friend Chris“,
    • manner: “with a profound sense of satisfaction”

    Parallelism – Go by Logic

    Many candidates solving the sentence correction part of the GMAT Verbal Ability section miss every time when there is a problem pertaining to parallelism since instinctively the candidate will check the grammatical structure of the entities to make the list parallel and there is nothing wrong in checking if the entities have a same grammatical structure to make the list parallel. However, what the candidate must still keep in mind is how the grammatically parallel entities in the list convey the meaning of the sentence and if it is logically intended or not, since, if the grammatically parallel entities make the sentence illogical, then the list is not considered parallel.

    How to get to the logic

    Till not it must be clear that there are not just the grammatical mistakes in the sentence correction questions of the GMAT Verbal Ability section, these sentences must also be logically correct. Therefore, to solve a parallelism problem, it is highly important to first understand the logical meaning of the sentence and accordingly make the entities grammatically parallel to convey that meaning.

    Now since the candidate has understood that a grammatically correct parallel list will still be incorrect if it does not convey logical meaning and thus in order to get to the logical meaning of a sentence, there are two essential things that are of most important nature, they include:

    • Understanding the context of the sentence with an outside view: While it is very important to spend some time with the original sentence, analyzing it to decipher the logical intended meaning as the original sentence always sets the context for the logical meaning and even if any entity in the list conveys illogical meaning, it is indicating that we must first correct that unit first for logical parallelism and then make it grammatically parallel with other logical units in the list.
    • Attention to the sentence structure: Knowledge of sentence structure helps in determining the correct role of the entities in the list so that they can convey logical sense and also helps in choosing appropriate grammatical structure of the entities to keep them grammatically parallel.

    Let us take a look at an example – ‘John prepared for Hurricane Sandy in advance, storing enough food and water, purchased flashlights and candles for possible power outages, and charging his cell phone to reach out to authorities in case of emergency.’

    1. storing enough food and water, purchased flashlights and candles for possible power outages, and charging
    2. storing enough food and water, purchased flashlights and candles for possible power outages had charged
    3. storing enough food and water, purchasing flashlights and candles for possible power outages, and charging
    4. stored enough food and water, purchased flashlights and candles for possible power outages, and charged
    5. stored enough food and water, and purchased flashlights and candles for possible power outages, being charged

    As mentioned earlier, one of the most important and essential method to check whether the sentence is grammatically correct or not, it is very important to understand the meaning of the sentence, here, the sentence says that John prepared himself for Hurricane Sandy and he did the following list of things for his preparation:

    • He stored enough food and water,
    • He purchased flashlights and candles,
    • He charged his cell phone for emergency use.

    Error Analysis (Related only to Parallelism)

    Let us try to identify the error in the above-quoted example sentence. Firstly, there is a list of things that John has done to prepare for Hurricane Sandy.

    While without any doubt it is clear that the modifier “storing” correctly modifies the preceding clause giving additional information with regards to what John did for his preparation against the mishap of Hurricane Sandy. However, if the candidate looks at the sentence closely, the word “purchased” is not parallel to “storing” and “charging”.

    Correct Sentence

    ‘Storing enough food and water, purchasing flashlights and candles for possible power outages, and charging’ is the correct choice because it is not only grammatically parallel but also logically parallel. Thus, the three verb-ing modifiers correctly modify the preceding clause, presenting information about the modified clause.

    Assorted thoughts on Parallelism

    • Many of the ways of stating a comparison involve parallelism, therefore, it is useful to review the idioms involved in comparisons, looking for indicators of comparison.
    • Many idioms necessarily involve elements in parallel, like “to think of A as B” or “to consider P Q”.
    • Another important part that the candidate must understand is that the verbs in parallel need not have the same tense.
    • Pay close attention to the placement of any common words in parallel structure (one of the sentences of the three above has issues with the placement of a common word.)
    • Pay attention to what implied words we are allowed to drop, and especially how to handle the tricky issue of repeated verb phrases.

    *The article might have information for the previous academic years, which will be updated soon subject to the notification issued by the University/College


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