Figure Name aposiopesis
Source Silva Rhetoricae (http://humanities.byu.edu/rhetoric/Silva.htm); Ad Herennium 4.30.41 ("praecisio"); Quintilian 9.2.54-55; Aquil. 5 ("aposiopesis," "reticentia"); Susenbrotus (1540) 25 ("aposiopesis," "reticentia," "praecisio," "obticentia," "interruptio") ; Peacham (1577) E4r, N1v; Putt. (1589) 178 ("aposiopesis," "figure of silence"); Day 1599 81 ; JG Smith (1665) ("aposiopesis"); Ad Herennium (331); Garrett Epp (1994) ("praecisio," "aposiopesis"); Peacham 1593; Vinsauf (1967) ("praecisio"); Macbeth (1876); Vinsauf (1967) ("aposiopesis"); Gibbons (1767) 149 ("aposiopesis"); Holmes (1806) ("aposiopesis"); De Mille (1882) ('aposiopesis," "interruptio"); Bullinger (1898) ("aposiopesis; or sudden-silence"); Norwood (1742) ("aposiopesis"); Vickers (1989) ("aposiopesis (or praecisio)")
Earliest Source None
Synonyms praecisio, reticentia, obticentia, interruptio, figure of silence, sudden silence
Etymology from Gk. aposiopao "to be silent after speaking, observe a deliberate silence"
Type Chroma
Linguistic Domain Lexicographic

1. Breaking off suddenly in the middle of speaking, usually to portray being overcome with emotion. (Silva Rhetoricae)

2. An holding ones peace: a figure when through vehemency, the course of the sentence begun is so stayed, as thereby some part of the sentence not being uttered, may be understood. Aposiopesis (This is also a kind of Revocation),reticentia, a holding ones peace, derived from,[apo] post, after; and[siopao] obticeo, to hold ones peace or be silent. Aposiopesis is a form of speech whereby the speaker through some affection, as either of sorrow, bashfulnesse, fear, anger, or vehemency, breaks off his speech before it be all ended. A figure, when speaking of a thing, we yet seem to conceal it, though indeed by this means we aggravate it; or, When the course of the sentence begun is so stayed, as thereby some part of the sentence, not being uttered, may be understood. (JG Smith)

3. Aposiopesis occurs when something is said and then the rest of what the speaker had begun to say is left unfinished (Ad Herennium)

4. The breaking off of a sentence, for emotional effect or implication. (Garrett Epp)

5. Aposiopesis is a forme of speech by which the Orator through some affection, as either of feare, anger, sorrow, bashfulnesse or such like, breaketh off his speech before it be all ended. (Peacham)

6. If a mode of expression both easy and adorned is desired, set aside all the techniques of the dignified style and have recourse to means that are simple, but of a simplicity that does not shock the ear by its rudeness. Here are the rhetorical colours with which to adorn your style: (Vinsauf)

6. Recently in another's chamber... but I will not say it. In this way I break off my words, and I do not say that man, but a man of such-and-such and age, or of a certain appearance. (Vinsauf)

7. Sudden Silence, Aposiopesis-"the Greeks," says old Puttenham, "call him the figure of Silence;" it is the leaving of a sentence unfinished in consequence of some emotion or perception of the mind suddenly and powerfully intruding upon us. (Macbeth)

8. "a Figure whereby a person, often through the power of some passion, as anger, sorrow, fear, &c. breaks off his speech without finishing the sense." (Gibbons)

9. Aposiopesis leaves imperfect sense; Yet such a silent pause speaks eloquence. (Holmes)

10 a) 212. APOSIOPESIS.
Aposiopesis is very similar to the last [Anacoluthon]. IT is a sudden pause in the course of a sentence by which the conclusion is left unexpressed:
"For there I picked up on the heather,
And there I put within my breast,
A moulted feather, an eagle's feather
Well-I forget the rest."-BROWNING. (De Mille)

10 b) 214. INTERRUPTIO.
Another figure of the same kind is found in interruptio, where a speaker interrupts himself in the course of his thought and turns away to something else. But, as in the preceding cases, the unuttered words are left to the imagination, and thereby gain a greater force:
"Spite of the weak heart so have 1
Lived ever, and so fain would die,
Living and dying thee before,
But if thou leavest me-
Less or more
I suppose that I had spoken thus
When-have mercy, Lord, on us!
The whole face turned upon me full."

11. The name of this figure may be represented in English by SUDDEN-SILENCE. The Latins named it RETICENTIA, which means the same thing. It is the sudden breaking off of what is being said (or written), so that the mind may be the more impressed by hat is too wonderful, or solemn, or awful for words: or when a thing may be, as we sometimes say, "better imagined than described."
Its use is to call our attention to what is being said, for the purpose of impressing us with its importance.
It has been divided under four heads, according to the character of the subject:-
1. Promise.
2. Anger and Threatening.
3. Grief and Complaint.
4. Enquiry and Deprecation.
(Bullinger, 163)

12. APOSIOPESIS. Aposiopesis, a Greek word; and I have more manners, than to pretend to give you the derivation of it.
This Figure, through some violent passion, either of sorrow, fear, shame or anger, obligeth us to break off our discourse, and though we seem to conceal some part of it; yet, through the excess of. passion, we do but the more sensibly discover our resentments. (Norwood, 84)

13. Aposiopesis (or praecisio), breaking off a sentence with the sense incomplete. (Vickers 492)


1. In Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Antony interrupts his own speech at Caesar's funeral:
O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason. Bear with me,
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.
—Shakespeare, Julius Caesar 3.2.104-107 (Silva Rhetoricae)

3. " The contest between you and me is unequal because, so far as concerns me. The Roman people — I am unwilling to say it, lest by chance some one think me proud. But you the
Roman people has often considered worthy of disgrace." (Ad Herennium)

3. "You dare to say that, who recently at another's home—I shouldn't dare tell, lest in saying things becoming to you, I should seem
to say something unbecoming to me." (Ad Herennium)

4. But ere they came - O let me say no more!
Gather the sequel by that went before. (Errors 1.1 qtd. in Garrett Epp)

2. Much more might be said, but I dare not utter all my minde. (JG Smith)

5. An example of Poetry: How doth the childe Ascanius, whom tymely Troy to thee: breaking off by the interruption of sorrow. (Peacham)

5. Another: I am loth to utter that with my mouth which is now in my minde, staying from further provocation. (Peacham)

5. Modesty bids me stay, here bashfulnesse is the cause of silence. (Peacham)

6. (praecisio) How great an event was this! And what... but I let the word pass, for no word can be found adequate to so great a marvel. (Vinsauf)

7. "Ye winds, whom I - but it is better to calm the billows." - Virgil (Macbeth)

8. "And again, Neptune, in his rage against the winds for having raised a tempest without his orders, says, 'Whom I--but let me still the boiling waves.'" (Gibbons)

9. Whom I — But it is better, to compose the swelling waves. (Holmes)

11. [Promise:] "And Moses returned unto the LORD, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of golds. Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin-; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written." -Ex. 32:31,32 (Bullinger, 163)

11. [Anger and Threatening:] "And now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever - Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden," etc. -Gen. 3:22 (Bullinger, 164)

11. [Grief and Complaint:] "If it be so, why am I thus - ?" -Gen. 25:22 (Bullinger, 164)

11. [Enquiry and Deprecation:] "Give them, O LORD: what wilt thou give - ?" -Hos. 9:14 (Bullinger, 165)

12. 1 Kings 21. 7. And Jezebel his wife said unto him, dost thou now govern the kingdom of Israel? The words are spoken with a mighty emphasis, and signify much more than is there expressed; dost thou,
or art thou worthy of the name of a king? Thou that art so mean spirited, as to grieve thyself upon this refusal of Naboth's vineyard: and, where is thy princely power and authority? Dost thou now govern the kingdom of Israel? Is this any mark of thy regal office? Is this a sign of thy indispensible power? Thus tamely to sit down, thus to submit to such a denial; dost thou now govern? (Norwood, 85)

13.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, but they shall be
The terrors of the earth!
--Shakespeare, King Lear, 2.4.281 (Vickers 492)

Kind Of Omission
Part Of
Related Figures anapodoton, adynaton, figures of pathos, figures of interruption, figures of permission, epanorthosis
Notes Would this be a type of 'Omission' since one would normally expect the speaker to continue without breaking off?
Confidence Unconfident
Last Editor Daniel Etigson
Confidence Unconfident
Editorial Notes
Reviewed No