What is Parallelism in Writing?

Written by Scott Wilson

what is parallelism in writing

What is Parallelism? Parallelism is a term that describes the use of similar elements used in grammatical or literary constructions. Parallelism is used to make comprehension easier, provide rhetorical impact, and create memorable phrases in writing.

The concept of parallelism is a valuable one for creative writers to master. In rhetoric, it’s a technique that stretches back into ancient history, featuring prominently in the Bible and Middle Eastern poetry.

It’s also a concept that can work on multiple levels, both grammatically and rhetorically. Parallelism serves as a means of emphasis or as a counter-point in other structures in writing.

Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

Parallelism has been used to great effect by some of the most legendary authors in history to create memorable works that become well-known parts of literary canon, with excerpts that can themselves become part of the English language. In many cases, the parts of the text that are constructed with parallelism are recognized by many more people than have even read the original work.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Life, it was the season of Darkness…

Parallelism even works in other languages.

I came, I saw, I conquered / Veni, vidi, vici

Parallelism has a strong presence in art but also in politics.

…and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

It’s a form that lends impact to words and can form the core of persuasive writing and speech toward many different goals.

What Does Parallelism Refer to in Writing?

Parallelism is a broad concept in writing. It can be a literary device itself, but it is also a category that other types of literary devices fall into. Many of the most memorable quotes or phrases from literature, speech, or the performing arts take advantage of parallelism or its relations.

That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

Basically, parallelism uses some sort of repetition to create a better flow or more memorable phrasing in a written work. The repetition is not always of individual words. Instead, it can be reusing a particular grammatical construction repeatedly, such as:

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

Although each clause in the list uses different words and refers to different concepts, they are linked by parallelism in their repeated statements of actions the United States will take on behalf of liberty.

Parallelism as a larger category of literary devices includes:


This is the use of contrasting elements in a sentence to create greater impact. Neal Armstrong was using antithesis by drawing a contrast between his small step and a giant leap. Antithesis is not always an example of parallelism, but it is often used together with parallelism for effect and better understanding.


Anaphora is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of a string of related clauses. In the opening to A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens’ use of “it was” at the beginning of each clause is a use of anaphora.


Asyndeton is not always an example of parallelism, but it often works in conjunction with parallelism to convey meaning. The technique omits the use of conjunctions for effect, such as in Caesar’s famous quote above.


In epistrophe, the repetitive word use occurs at the end of the respective phrases… Lincoln’s Gettysburg address section quoted above shows this with the repeated use of the word “people.”

Creative Writing Programs Teach Parallelism Along With Other Literary Tools

I think, therefore I am. / Cogito ergo sum.

The examples shown here make it clear how important parallelism is for writing meaningful and memorable works in many different types of writing. Creative writing degree programs teach parallelism along with all kinds of other literary devices. This can help stock up your literary toolbox no matter what type of writing you plan to pursue.

Just as important, creative writing programs come with heavy lists of reading assignments, covering a great breadth of different modern and classical texts. You’ll learn to dissect and analyze the use of language in these works, giving you plenty of examples of parallelism in action.

And creative writing degrees naturally include plenty of writing assignments to give you a chance to put that learning into practice. Each assignment receives review and feedback from your professors and from fellow students, so you can weigh the effectiveness of your uses of parallelism and hone your skills over time.

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