About Writing

Poly Vs. A

Now that I have your attention, I’m talking about




These are two literary terms/ rhetorical techniques that writers can use for emphasis, or maybe just to ass spice to your words, but like any spice, a little is great. Too much spoils the whole dish.

Polysyndeton is the repeated use of coordinating conjunctions to link elements in a sentence. (Reminder: coordinating conjunctions connect equal elements –> FANBOYS. For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So). Most often, nouns, but they don’t have to be. Here’s a literary example:

“If there be cords, or knives, poison, or fire, or suffocating streams, I’ll not endure it.”
(William Shakespeare, Othello III.3)

The elements should be similar, and using polysendeton emphasizes each item on the list. Polysendeton expands sentences. I used to point out to my freshmen that this is what you wanted to use when your mom asks what you did all day.

“I walked the dog and loaded the dishwasher and made my bed and folded the laundry and read my book.”

A clever writer can juxtapose opposite–but still similar–elements.

“The lunchroom exploded. Volleys of chicken nuggets and trays and hand sanitizer and pencils and math worksheets smacked the opposing walls.”

Polysyndeton emphasizes the chaos. The elements are different, instead of just food, but they’re all things likely to be in a student’s bag and used as fodder for a food fight.

Why not just use a list? Well, I could (so could Shakespeare), but I wanted to emphasize each element. It’s easy for the brain to skip/blend together items in a list. It also leads the reader to believe a lot more was tossed than the five listed. Read aloud, it gives the text a deliberate cadence, which can be manipulated by the writer to highlight a scene. But as noted above, use this sparingly.

Oh, one other thing, editors and editing programs don’t like polysyndeton.

They aren’t fans of Asyndeton, either.

Asyndeton is the inverse of polysyndeton. It’s the lack of coordinating conjunction(s) on purpose to create a desired effect.

The most famous example comes from history

“I came, I saw, I conquered. (Julius Caesar.)

Caesar’s use makes the protracted waging of war seem cut and dried, simple even. The verbs are strong and direct. I can almost imagine him following this statement with, “Moving on…”

Here’s one from Aladdin:

“I can show you the world/ Shining, shimmering, splendid…”

Did you spot the asyndeton? (and perhaps the alliteration?) Like polysyndeton, asyndeton moves a reader (or in this case, listener) in order to achieve a specific effect. The above uses sibilant, sleepy sounds to emphasize nighttime. Breaking the sentence with “and” would counter that effect. (and add too many notes!)

If you pay attention, I bet you’ll hear more examples in daily life of both techniques. Please share your favorites in the comments.

And one more thing, in case you’ve forgotten, I used the slash (/) in the above example to indicate a line break. This is used when writing lines in prose format.

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