Definition of Anacoluthon

Anacoluthon is derived from a Greek word anakolouthos which means “lacking sequence”. It is a stylistic device and is defined as a syntactic deviation and interruption within a sentence from one structure to another. In this interruption, the expected sequence of grammar is absent. The grammatical flow of sentences is interrupted in order to begin more sentences.

Characteristics of Anacoluthon

It is employed intentionally, unintentionally or as a rhetorical device. In rhetoric, anacoluthon is also known as a figure of disorder in which syntax of a sentence does not correlate with whatever is expected. However, it should not to be mixed-up with hyperbaton (also involves the change in normal position of words, phrases and sentences. Anacoluthon is the interruption within a sentence from one construction to another against the expected logical order of the sentence. This change can occur within a sentence or in the form of tense.

Examples of Anacoluthon from Literature

Example #1

“ . . . I could have brought him in his breakfast in bed with a bit of toast so long as I didnt 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 . . …”

(Ulysses by James Joyce)

This is one of the examples of anacoluthon where stream of consciousness makes its use easy. Since the thoughts are not coherent and lacks grammatical sequence, it makes readers stop and think about sentence order.

Example #2

“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…..”

(King Lear by William Shakespeare)

In the above example, King Lear talks about exacting revenge. However, he himself does not know how he will exact revenge because he is in a confused state of mind. This excerpt can be considered as one of the good anacoluthon examples as there is interruption from one sentence to another and such interruption is done to attract the readers’ attention.

Example #3

“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….”

(A Portrait of Mabel Dodge by Gertrude Stein)

In this case, Gertrude has taken deviation from one sentence to another. In the beginning, he talks about a plank and its smell. Then more sentences are added and the result is that the grammatical order is changed.

Example #4

“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.”

(The Walrus and the Carpenter by Lewis Carroll)

Here, Walrus proclaims to all listening oysters that the time has come to speak about many things. ”the sea is boiling hot”; then, there is an interruption in the grammatical flow of the sentences through a sudden change and insertion of conjunctions.

Function of Anacoluthon

The common use of anacoluthon is to imitate a thought or speech and then shift the necessary information towards the start of the sentence. It is frequently used in literary writings and in casual speeches. In casual conversation, it is used in such a way that the sentence would not be considered correct grammatically. In written works, however, it is employed to imitate ungrammatical, confused and informal speech and draw the attention of readers.

Anacoluthon is used extensively in poetry, plays and dramatic monologues. In addition, this technique is well-suited to the stream of consciousness writing style that is planned to signify thoughts in proximity to one another, because the thoughts are not always consistent and hardly grammatically correct.

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