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Understanding Anacoluthon: Meaning, Usage and Examples

Some rhetorical devices appear unfamiliar but are frequent in everyday language. Anacoluthon is one of them, a stylistic device that interrupts a grammatical sequence. In literary writing, this device displays language style employed in streams of consciousness and depicts thoughts and regular conversations. In this article, we discuss the meaning, usage, and examples of this literary device.

What is anacoluthon?

Anacoluthon is a literary device that employs syntactic deviation and interruption from one structure to another in a sentence. This interruption omits the expected grammar sequence, breaking the grammatical flow of sentences to begin more sentences. It comes from the Greek word "anakolouthos," meaning “lacking sequence.” Here is an example:

“Or what man is there of you, whom if his son asks bread, will he give him a stone?” (Jesus, Matthew 7:9 KJV).

Anacoluthon usage in writing

In anacoluthon, a sentence may begin with a supposed subject, but a verb doesn't follow; instead, a substitute word or thoughts follows. For example: "The friends that so gladly jump ship, I can't wait to see them sink." This usage is also known as nominativus pendens.

Anacoluthon can recast a sentence as it proceeds. Here, a sentence begins with a subject, then gets interrupted and continues with a rephrasing of this subject. For example, "If you choose to leave town tonight, as you are planning to — if that's your choice, I will not stop you." This usage is also known as anapodoton.

Anacoluthon is also a figure of style, which is frequent in spoken language. A speaker starts a sentence to suggest a certain logical explanation but concludes it differently. It is effective in expressing a character's interior monologue and employed in portraying streams of consciousness. A good example is Molly Bloom's monologue, in Ulysses by James Joyce, which comprises a single unpunctuated sentence. 

Writers commonly use anacoluthon to replicate a thought or speech and then redirect the crucial information towards the beginning of the sentence. It depicts casual conversations in literary writing, imitating ungrammatical, confused, and informal speech.

Examples of anacoluthon in literature.

Here are some examples of anacoluthon in popular literature:

1. James Joyce, Ulysses (1922).

"I could have brought him in his breakfast in bed with a bit of toast so long as I didn't do it on the knife for bad luck or if the woman was going her rounds with the watercress and something nice and tasty there are a few olives in the kitchen he might like I never could bear the look of them in Abrines I could do the criada the room looks all right since I changed it the other way you see something was telling me all the time I'd have to introduce myself not knowing me from Adam very funny wouldn't it." 

2. Gertrude Stein, A Portrait of Mabel Dodge (1912).

"A plank that was dry was not disturbing the smell of burning and altogether there was the best kind of sitting there could never be all the edging that the largest chair was having."

3. William Shakespeare, King Lear (1608).

"I will have such revenges on you both, That all the world shall—I will do such things, What they are, yet I know not.”

4. Lewis Carrol, The Walrus and the Carpenter (1871).

"The time has come,’ the Walrus said, ‘To talk of many things:

Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax — And cabbages — and kings — And why the sea is boiling hot — And whether pigs have wings.'”


James Joyce, Ulysses, Shakespeare and Company, 1922.

Written by Readers’ Favorite Reviewer Frank Stephen