Figure Name syllepsis
Source Isidore 1.36.5-6; Mosellanus ("syllepsis' "conglutinata conceptio") a5r; Sherry (1550) 30 ("silepsis," "concepcio"); Peacham (1577) F1r; Putt. (1589) 176 ("sillepsis," "the double supply"); Day 1599 82 ; Silva Rhetoricae (; JG Smith (1665) ("syllepsis"); Macbeth (1876)("syllepsis," "oratorical syllepsis"); De Mille (1882) ("synesis," "syllepsis"); Bullinger (1898) ("syllepsis; or, change in concord")
Earliest Source None
Synonyms sillepsis, silepsis, syllempsis, conceptio, conglutinata conceptio, concepcio double supply, change in concord, synesis, synthesis
Etymology from Gk. syn, "together" and lepsis, "taking"
Type Scheme
Linguistic Domain Semantic

1. When a single word that governs or modifies two or more others must be understood differently with respect to each of those words. A combination of grammatical parallelism and semantic incongruity, often with a witty or comical effect. Not to be confused with zeugma. (Silva Rhetoricae)

2. Syllepsis, Comprehension: a figure of construction, when a nominative plural is joyned to a verb singular; or on the contrary: Or it is a comprehension of the more unworthy under the more worthy, &c.; SYLLEPSIS, Comprehensio, Comprehension, derived from [syllambano] comprehendo, to comprehend or contain. A figure of Construction, and is when a Nominative case plural is joyned to a Verb singular, or a Nominative singular to a Verb plural: or it is a comprehension of the more unworthy under the more worthy. (JG Smith)

3 a) Syllepsis is that figure in which a word is construed syntactically according to its meaning or import, not according to its mere narrow grammatical characteristics. It is also termed synesis or synthesis: "The adapting of the construction to the sense of the word, rather than to its gender or number," as when the Saviour is spoken of as "the Rock on whom we trust," instead of "in which." (Macbeth)

3 b)Oratorical Syllepsis must next be enumerated: a very delicate, beautiful figure when happily used; consisting in the employing of a word in two different senses at once, the one literal, the other figurative. (Macbeth)

4 a) 210. SYNESIS.
Synesis is an adaptation of the construction to the sense of words rather than to their grammatical character:
"My paternal home was made desolate, and he himself was sacrificed."
It is play that "he himself" refers to father as an antecedent; that word, however, has not been expressed, but is implied in the word paternal. (De Mille)

4 b) 123. OTHER FIGURES.
There are several other figures which may be named here: Syllepsis, paronomasia, annominatio, and antanaclasis. These are all of the nature of tropes, and by allowing some particular term to be taken in two senses-literal or metaphorical-they give rise to what is called a "play on words." They all have the same general characteristics, and will be considered farther on. (De Mille)

5. Grammatical Syllepsis, by which there is a change in the Ideas rather than in actual words, so that the concord is logical rather than grammatical... It is a figure by which one word, or the meaning of one word, is taken with another; or, when one word is used, and another idea is meant. When involving addition of words, or sense, it has already been described in Div. II. (Bullinger, 699-699)


1. [In the following example, "rend" governs both objects, but the first rending is figurative; the second, literal:]
Rend your heart, and not your garments. Joel 2:13 (Silva Rhetoricae)

1. You held your breath and the door for me
—Alanis Morissette (Silva Rhetoricae)

1. "Fix the problem, not the blame." —Dave Weinbaum
[The verb "fix" governs both "problem" and "blame." In its first instance, "fix" means "solve," but this verb shifts its meaning when applied to its second object, where the understood "fix" = "assign."] (Silva Rhetoricae)

2. Syllepsis is threefold: viz.

(1) Of the Person: as, I and my father are safe.; Neither I nor you are wise.; Hear thou what I and the people with me do desire.
(2) Of the Gender: as, The King and the Queen be blest.
(3) Of the Number: as, I with my brother are white. (JG Smith)

3 a) "While Providence supports,
Let saints securely dwell;
That Hand which bears all Nature up,
Shall guide his children well." - Dr. Philip Doddridge (Macbeth)

3 b) Lear says of one of his daughters:
"Turn all her mother's pains and benefits
To laughter and contempt, that she may feel
How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is
To have a thankless child." (Macbeth)

5. John 16:13, 14. -"When he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you unto all truth," etc. Here, though the word pneuma "Spirit," is neuter, the word ekeinos "He" is masculine; agreeing with the Divine Person rather than with the actual word "Spirit." (Bullinger, 699)

Kind Of Omission
Part Of
Related Figures zeugma, ellipsis, metaphor, synthesis, figures of syntax
Notes Note: Originally, syllepsis named that grammatical incongruity resulting when a word governing two or more others could not agree with both or all of them; for example, when a singular verb serves as the predicate to two subjects, singular and plural ("His boat and his riches is sinking"). In the rhetorical sense, syllepsis has more to do with applying the same single word to the others it governs in distinct senses (e.g., literal and metaphorical); thus, "His boat and his dreams sank." (Silva Rhetoricae)
Confidence Unconfident
Last Editor Ioanna Malton
Confidence Unconfident
Editorial Notes There are two entries in the db for "syllepsis" - sam
Reviewed No