Primero mi pregunta en español:

Todo lo demás constante, ¿alientan las reglas de buena escritura en español la simetría en las frases?

Details in English:

I recently came upon the following in the grammar book, Spanish Grammar in Context:

El cambio climático se intensifica a medida que la contaminación recalienta el planeta.

It is part of an exercise in which you are asked to rewrite sentences using a verb shown in brackets. (For this particular sentence, the verb in brackets is "estar.") The answer key gives two verb phrases as follows:

está intensificando
está recalentando

This led me to think about what makes for better Spanish writing. For example, in English there is this notion of sentence symmetry where an effort is made to match certain elements that exist in one part of the sentence with similar elements in the clause that follows it. To cut to the chase, I'm going to list variations of this sentence below in the hope that someone can tell me what nuances in meaning exist (if worth noting) and/or which you consider to be the best of these sentences.

El cambio climático se intensifica a medida que la contaminación recalienta el planeta. (this is the first one listed)

El cambio climático está intensificando a medida que la contaminación está recalentando el planeta. (this is the sentence after applying lesson instructions)

El cambio climático se intensifica a medida que la contaminación se recalienta el planeta. (a version of the sentence using the passive in the first part and passive in the clause that follows)

I could add more variations, but I think the three above are enough to open this up for discussion/answers.

I would imagine that if I had been an English major or English teacher, I might be able to answer this myself based off of the English translations since I suspect rules of good English writing are similar to those in Spanish. Not having studied this, I'd be interested in knowing what you think.

As always, thanks in advance.

Detalles en español:

Recientemente encontré lo siguiente en el libro de gramática Spanish Grammar in Context:

El cambio climático se intensifica a medida que la contaminación recalienta el planeta.

Es parte de un ejercicio en que se pide reescribir frases utilizando un verbo indicado entre paréntesis cuadrados. (Para esta frase, el verbo entre paréntesis es "estar.") La clave de respuestas da los dos sintagmas verbales que siguen:

está intensificando
está recalentando

Esto me llevó a pensar en qué es lo que mejora la escritura / contribuye a una mejor escritura en español. Por ejemplo, en inglés, existe una noción de simetría en frases, por la que se hace un esfuerzo por igualar ciertos elementos que existen en una parte de la frase en la cláusula que la sigue. Para ir al grano, voy a listar variaciones de esta frase abajo, con la esperanza de que alguien pueda decirme qué matices de significado existen (si vale la pena señalarlos) y/o cuál considera que sería la mejor de estas frases.

El cambio climático se intensifica a medida que la contaminación recalienta el planeta. (ésta es la primera listada)

El cambio climático está intensificando a medida que la contaminación está recalentando el planeta. (ésta es la frase después de aplicar las instrucciones de la lección)

El cambio climático se intensifica a medida que la contaminación se recalienta el planeta. (una versión de la frase que utiliza la pasiva en la primera parte y la pasiva en la cláusula que sigue)

Podría añadir más variaciones, pero creo que las tres de arriba / precedentes son suficientes para abrir este tema a debate y respuestas.

Imaginaría que si hubiera sido profesora de Lengua Inglesa, podría ser capaz de responder esta pregunta yo misma basándome en las traducciones al inglés, puesto que sospecho que las reglas de buena escritura son las mismas en inglés que en español. No habiendo estudiado este tema, me interesaría conocer su opinión.

Como siempre, gracias de antemano.

  • 1
    It already is in parallel: both are in the active voice, just one happens to be a reflexive verb and the other a non reflexive. Sometimes it can be ambiguous whether a verb is reflexive or fake passive, but on the second part it's important to note the impossibility of fake passive without omitting the word contaminación Feb 6, 2017 at 0:29
  • 1
    @JMVanPelt Tiene razón. Olvidé añadir "se" antes de "recalienta." Desde entonces lo he añadido. Gracias por mencionarlo.
    – Lisa Beck
    Feb 6, 2017 at 16:16
  • 1
    I'd really like to know what they mean by "false" or "fake passive." There's actually nothing of the sort in real Spanish grammar. The *Nueva Gramática de la Lengua Española" must devote large sections to "se", but perhaps not as well organized as some people might need to make clear which is which. I think you and others like you might need some contrastive analysis of the question (Spanish-English), and I'm sure I have some notes on that from my days as a student of translation.
    – Gustavson
    Feb 8, 2017 at 19:38
  • 1
    @LisaBeck, I am aware of that phenomenon in English, but as you know in Spanish we have "ser + 'verbal' participle" for passive and "estar + 'adjectival' participle" for copulative constructions. There is then no such ambiguity in Spanish as there is in English. There are, however, a couple of ambiguities with "se" passives, as they may sometimes be interpreted as impersonal or as pronominal intransitives. "calentarse", for example, can be understood as "be heated" or as "become hot".
    – Gustavson
    Feb 8, 2017 at 20:10
  • 1
    (I wouldn't call "calentarse" meaning "become hot" "reflexive", because it is not: the planet does not "heat itself"). I would perhaps speak about a "fake reflexive" (actually, in old grammar, there was the "cuasirreflejo"). A "se" passive is a passive proper in Spanish.
    – Gustavson
    Feb 8, 2017 at 20:13

6 Answers 6


The first sentence, with "se intensifica" and "recalienta," is of course fine. ("se recalienta," as guifa said in his comment, is not possible.)

However, it'd be perfect in Spanish to say:

  • El cambio climático se está intensificando a medida que la contaminación recalienta el planeta.

"está recalentando" would not be possible because, combined with "a medida que," it would suggest with excessive emphasis an action at the precise moment of speaking, and with "la contaminación" as subject the result would be absurd. However, for some unfathomable reason, the progressive can work if we use a quasi-reflexive with "se":

  • El cambio climático se está intensificando a medida que se está recalentando el planeta a causa de / como consecuencia de la contaminación.

I don't think replicating the same verb form in the two parts of the sentence will contribute to improving style, at least in the sentence you have provided.

  • Before reading your answer, I had thought that maybe this question was a bit too in the weeds or not specific enough to post, but after reading what you've added, I'm really glad I did post it. I posted a comment earlier and am now revising it, because I've been thinking about your comment for a while now and something about it has kept rising up in my mind. It concerns your statement "está recalentando" would not be possible because, combined with "a medida que," it would suggest with excessive emphasis an action at the precise moment of speaking.
    – Lisa Beck
    Feb 6, 2017 at 22:23
  • After reading through it a couple more times, isn't that what the sentence is attempting to convey? Perhaps my translation of the sentence will help others understand why I'm asking this question. My translation of El cambio climático está intensificando a medida que la contaminación está recalentando el planeta is: Climate change is intensifying as pollution is warming the planet.
    – Lisa Beck
    Feb 6, 2017 at 22:29
  • I used "as" for "a medida que," but I think other translations of "a medida que" could also be "to a measure that" or even "because." So, is it not possible that emphasis, with respect to climate change intensifying and the planet warming, couldn’t be intended? I was not previously aware that progressive usage was limited to the speaker’s time reference. I understand that some concepts are very related to the viewpoint of the speaker (e.g., traer/llevar), but I have never heard of this.
    – Lisa Beck
    Feb 6, 2017 at 22:30
  • Though I've had some more time to think about this and obviously may seem to be questioning something you've written, I still award you with the green checkmark. If nothing else, it has made me aware that I should perhaps add an English translation to Spanish sentences I am enquiring about. In that way, we all walk onto the same sheet of understanding. At any rate, I think you are an incredibly gifted and informative contributor to this forum and look forward to more from you in the future.
    – Lisa Beck
    Feb 6, 2017 at 22:32
  • 1
    The progressive is not restricted to the time of speaking, but in my humble opinion that sentence with "a medida que" renders "la contaminación" an unsuitable subject for "recalentar el planeta" in the continuous form. There is something in the semantics of "recalentar" that causes some unbalance with "intensificarse" if the former takes an active subject. HPH :)
    – Gustavson
    Feb 7, 2017 at 2:15

Although the Grammatical rules in Spanish provide apmple headroom to compose the most capricious and contorted sentences while retaining the idea you wish to convey, providing for great creative possibilities, while trying to create symmetric constructs such as these, you run the risk of easily falling into pitfalls and vices of style such as cacophony.

While the symmetric sentences are correct, they do tend to abuse repetitive sounds of the infinitive forms, only made worse by being verbs with the same number of syllables! Thus the cacophony feels more noticeable (the pair intensifica, recalienta with está intensificando, está recalentando)

The whole paragraph may benefit from a few synonyms here and there, conveying the same meaning, yet avoiding the repetitive same length words, it all flows a lot better.

I'd switch intensifica for acentúa (3 syllables, 3 strong vowels vs 4 syllables and 1 strong vowel. in the former) and the whole thing flows a lot better, with no change in meaning.

Also, intensifica Is a grave accented word [1] which increments it's metrics by 1 virtual syllable, making it yet more markedly rythmic.

1: is grave accent for stress on the next-to-last syllable correct? Suddenly I'm doubtful that's the correct term


La oración mejor redactada es:

El cambio climático se intensifica a medida que la contaminación calienta el planeta.

The sentence: El cambio climático está intensificando (you need to add something here) a medida que la contaminación está recalentando (re warming? it is better to stick with calentando here) el planeta.

The sententce: El cambio climático se intensifica a medida que la contaminación se recalienta (you could just change se recalienta to calienta) el planeta.


I have a few thoughts to share and will put them here even though they don't really constitute an answer.

  1. What is better Spanish writing? Well, before thinking about that, what is good Spanish writing? There are tons of writers and readers in Spanish who are fond of verbiage that doesn't add much meaningful content, but that adds patina to the piece. So, "good Spanish writing" is already a subjective thing. Then, there's "better" Spanish writing. Better than what, or whom? I'd have an easier time thinking about your question if I understood better the point of view of the question. Also, I didn't understand whether the proposed rewrites of the original sentence were suggested by you, or whether they were touted in the book.

  2. Going from English to Spanish isn't like going from English to Chinese. English and Spanish have so much in common that even though I didn't understand the question very well, it seems like a good bet that if you take a list of rhetorical devices used fairly often in English and try to find examples of them in Spanish writing, you'll probably have pretty good luck finding some.

  3. Have you picked out a small handful of authors you really like, and tried to pull out specific examples of rhetorical devices, etc., from their writing, that you particularly liked?

  4. What kind of writing are you doing/will you be doing, that you want to improve in?


I don't really fully understand the concept of simmetry you are trying to apply here. It's a matter of the time of the verbs, the position of the different parts of the phrases, adjectives, nouns?

Anyway, I didn't know that written English had such a rule, but I really, really doubt that Spanish has it. In fact I'm pretty sure that Spanish doesn't have it and I was about to tell you just that, but I just contained myself, just in case.

See, you can say a huge lot of things in one phrase using Spanish, if you want an example one book come to my mind: "Las intermitencias de la muerte" from José Saramago. If you read that book, you'll read some of the largest phrases I've read in my whole live. It's just madness how this writer can handle such phrases with so many information in every one of them, and still being not only readable but pleasant and beautiful.

You can not make such phrases simmetric, and you shouldn't. Every part of the phrase have something to say and a specific way to say it to express what the writer wants to express.
Simmetry doesn't matter at all. What matters is the what and how you are trying to express, and you use all the tools you have to achieve it.
There's no more about it. Forget about simmetry unless you are writing poetry and you need it for the rhythm, or specific things like that.


Given the comments of the user Gustavson, I want to clarify that the example of Saramago was only to illustrate the concept that simmetry shouldn't be a concern while writing, but simply an added thing both on purpose or randomly. The most improtant is what you are trying to express and how.

So, I've collected other example from the book "Fortunata y Jacinta" from Benito Pérez Galdós. It doesn't have the same large phrases, but it would be interesting that you read it and try to find that simmetry in the several phrases of the paragraph:

Me explicaré mejor. Quiero decir que al maltratar a tu rival le has dado la victoria sobre ti. El hombre a quien queréis las dos pudo haber vacilado antes de elegir la que definitivamente había de merecer su amor. Ahora no vacilará. Entre una que se descompone y hace las brutalidades que tú hiciste y otra que padece y es maltratada, el amor tiene que preferir a la víctima. Toda víctima es por sí interesante. Todo verdugo es por sí odioso. En un pleito de amor, la víctima gana siempre. Ésta es una verdad que está escrita en el corazón humano como en un libro, y yo leo en él tan claro como leemos una noticia en El Imparcial. Yo lo sé todo; nada se me oculta. Demasiadas pruebas tienes de ello.

If you was referring to more formal writings, like essays, letters, I apologize, but honestly I thought it was more general and was an interesting question, so I had to give an interesting answer :)

  • 2
    José Saramago wrote in Portuguese, and no matter how good the translations of his books into Spanish may be, it'd be much better for Spanish language learners to read works originally written in Spanish. Also, Lisa is asking about more technical, not literary, writing -- perhaps essays, articles, or reports. (If you don't mind, I could edit your answer, which contains quite a few mistakes.)
    – Gustavson
    Feb 6, 2017 at 1:02
  • Of course you can edit the answer, I'm a native spanish speaker and I'm aware that my English have a few mistakes ;) As always, correct the english but not the meaning.
    – Nox
    Feb 6, 2017 at 11:59
  • Regarding Saramago, I know he wrote in Portuguese, it was simply an example that simmetry is not something one should worry about when writing, giving an extreme example that honestly, came to my mind almost immediately, given how was wrotten that book and the habit of Saramago of use puntuation the way he wanted. I think it was like a way of thinking of him and he was known precisely by it. But you are right that the better would be to give a proper Spanish book example, I think I have one in mind and I'll edit the question when I find it.
    – Nox
    Feb 6, 2017 at 12:07
  • Regarding the literary vs technical, I didn't understand that. I just understood that the question was more about how to write properly in general. Did I misunderstood it?
    – Nox
    Feb 6, 2017 at 12:09
  • 1
    The concept which @LisaBeck is discussing is known (as she says) as parallelism as a rhetorical device. See the Wikipedia entries es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paralelismo_(ret%C3%B3rica) and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parallelism_(rhetoric). The Spanish one has some examples from native writers and also a reference to its common use in translations from the Hebrew in the Bible.
    – mdewey
    Feb 7, 2017 at 13:45

I understand the question better now, having recently coached one of my children to take an English Writing exam where the practice exam focused heavily on how to correct sentences that didn't respect the parallel structure principle you described:

Parallel structure puts similar ideas into the same kinds of grammatical constructions. If one idea is expressed by a phrase, other equal ideas should be expressed by phrases. If one idea is expressed by an infinitive, a gerund, or a clause, other equal ideas should be expressed by duplicate grammatical constructions. … [it makes] sentences grammatically clear by keeping elements of the same grammatical rank and function in the same kind of grammatical construction.

I think the easiest way to understand this topic is to look at an example of a sentence that has a problem -- because it doesn't respect parallel structure:

(Bad!) For this recipe, you must first

  • prepare the marinade

  • let the chicken sit in the marinade for a couple of days

  • it's important to keep the chicken refrigerated during this time

  • discard the marinade before cooking

(I just made that up as an illustration -- don't try to follow that as though it were an actual recipe.)

The bullet that isn't consistent with the others, in its structure, is "it's important to keep the chicken refrigerated during this time," because all the other bullets have just the predicate -- no subject. A solution to the problem might be:

importantly, keep the chicken refrigerated during this time

Perhaps "consistency" would be a clearer term than "parallel structure." But teaching materials in the US do use the term "parallel structure."

For the question, does Spanish also require this consistency or parallel structure in the same way, the answer is yes.

However, boring sentences are to be avoided in both languages.

Example of a boring sentence:

I understand the question better now, because I recently coached one of my children to take an English Writing exam, and I helped him review the topic of parallel structure.

Less boxy:

I understand the question better now, having recently coached one of my children to take an English Writing exam which focused heavily on the topic of parallel structure.

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