Figure Name anacoluthon
Source Silva Rhetoricae (; Macbeth (1876); De Mille (1882); Bullinger (1898) ("anacoluthon; or, non-sequence"); Johnson (1903) ("anacoluthon")
Earliest Source None
Synonyms non-sequence
Etymology None
Type Scheme
Linguistic Domain Syntactic

1. A grammatical interruption or lack of implied sequence within a sentence. That is, beginning a sentence in a way that implies a certain logical resolution, but concluding it differently than the grammar leads one to expect. Anacoluthon can be either a grammatical fault or a stylistic virtue, depending on its use. In either case, it is an interruption or a verbal lack of symmetry. Anacolouthon is characteristic of spoken language or interior thought, and thus suggests those domains when it occurs in writing. (Silva Rhetoricae)

2. Anacoluthon may be catalogued as a species of catachresis: such a change in the construction as involves bad grammar; as when in S., " Henry V.," in his speech to his soldiers, cries:
" Rather, proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he who hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made-
We would not die in that man's company." (Macbeth)

Anacoluthon is a disagreement in construction between the latter and the former part of a sentence. The proposition is left unfinished, and something else is introduced to complete the sentence. (De Mille)

4. A breaking off the sequence of Thought... This figure is so-called, because the construction with which a proposition begins is abandoned; and either for the sake of perspicuity, emphasis, or elegance, the sentence proceeds in a matter, different from that in which it set out. (Bullinger, 714)

5. Anacolu'thon.—This word denotes a lack of sequence in a sentence, the two parts not having the same grammatical relation or government. (Johnson, 25)


1. Athletes convicted of drug-related crimes —are they to be forgiven with just a slap on the wrist? (Silva Rhetoricae)

2."Tempest," act i., scene ii., Prospero's 3d and 10th speech. (Macbeth)

3. The emphatic force of this figure arises from its suggestion of emotion on the part of the speaker:
"If thou be'st he-but 0, how fallen, how changed
From him who in the happy realms of light,
Clothed with· transcendent brightness, didst outshine
Myriads, though bright!" (De Mille)

4. Luke 21:6. -Here, the Lord says: "These things which ye behold": and then He turns off, and says: "There will come days." So that we must supply the words "As to" these things. etc. (Bullinger, 714)

5. Thus, for a simple example: "Going down the street, the sky grew dark." If the meaning were that the sky was going down the street when it grew dark, this sentence would be correct. But as the meaning is that while the speaker was going down the street the sky grew dark, the form of expression is an instance of anacoluthon. It is not difficult to find examples of this solecism in the work of good writers. Prescott, in his Conquest of Mexico, writes : "They continued their march along the dike. Though broader in this northern section, the troops found themselves much embarrassed by the throng of Indians." If he had inserted the words it was between "though" and "broader," the sentence would be correct. In a newspaper sketch of an eminent man we read : "When about fourteen years of age his father died, and a short time afterward he shipped on a whaling-craft." Lecky, in his History of England, Volume III, page 60, writes : " His Whitefield's person was unusually graceful and imposing, and, like Chatham, the piercing glance of a singularly brilliant eye contributed in no small measure to the force of his appeals." Lecky means that Whitefield's eye was like Chatham's eye in its piercing glance, but that is not what he says. Holmes, in his Life of Emerson, Chapter XVI, writes: "In driving home over a wild tract of land, his hat and wig blew off." The Doctor does not exactly mean that the hat and wig were driving
home, but that is exactly what he says. An example of the deliberate use of this figure, for rhetorical effect, is afforded by the speech of
Addison's Cato:

This trial-
Here I devote your Senate ! I've had wrongs
To stir a fever in the blood of age.
Or make the infant's sinews strong as steel.

This figure usually indicates or accompanies strong emotion or rapid action. Another example may be seen in Stanza LXXXVIII of the third
canto of Childe Harold:

Ye stars ! which are the poetry of heaven,
If in your bright leaves we would read the fate
Of men and empires—'tis to be forgiven
That in our aspirations to be great
Our destinies o'erleap their mortal state
And claim a kindred with you ; for ye are
A beauty and a mystery, and create
In us such love and reverence from afar
That fortune, fame, power, life, have named themselves a
star. (Johnson, 25-27)

Kind Of Opposition
Part Of
Related Figures figures of grammar, figures of interruption, anapodoton, catachresis
Notes The Type of figure is opposition because it is opposed to what is grammatically expected.
Confidence Unconfident
Last Editor Ioanna Malton
Confidence Unconfident
Editorial Notes
Reviewed No