During natural reading, parafoveal information is processed to some degree. Although isolated words can be fully processed in the parafovea, not all sentence reading experiments have found evidence of semantic processing in the parafovea. We suggest a possible reconciliation for these mixed results via two ERP studies in which volunteers read sentences presented word by word at fixation, flanked bilaterally by the next word to its right and the previous word to its left. Half the words in the right parafovea of critical triads and in the fovea for the subsequent triad were semantically incongruent. The conditions under which parafoveal words elicit canonical visual N400 congruity effects suggest that they are processed in parallel with foveal words, but that the extraction of semantic information parafoveally is a function of contextual constraint and presentation rate, most likely under high contextual constraint and at slower rates.