Definition of Asyndeton

Asyndeton is derived from a Greek word asyndeton which means unconnected. It is a stylistic device used in literature and poetry to intentionally eliminate conjunctions between the phrases and in the sentence, yet maintain the grammatical accuracy. This literary tool helps in reducing the indirect meaning of the phrase and presents it in a concise form. It started to be seen in Greek and Latin literature.

Types of Asyndeton

Asyndeton examples may be classified into two types

A. One type of asyndeton is used between words, phrases and a sentence.
For example: “Are all thy conquests, glories, triumphs, spoils, Shrunk to this little measure?”
(Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 1 by William Shakespeare)

B. Second type is used between sentences or clauses.
For example: Without looking, without making a sound, without talking
(Oedipus at Colonus by Sophecles)

Difference between Syndeton and Asyndeton

Syndeton and asyndeton are opposite to each other. Syndeton includes addition of multiple conjunctions such as in “He eats and sleeps and drinks.” On the other hand, asyndeton is the elimination or leaving out of conjunctions such as in “He eats, sleeps, drinks.”

Both create a completely different effect. Syndeton slows down the rhythm of speech and makes it moderate whereas asyndeton speeds up the rhythm of the speech.

Examples of Asyndeton from Literature

Example #1

Call up her father.
Rouse him. Make after him, Poison his delight,
Proclaim him in the streets. Incense her kinsmen,
And, though he in a fertile climate dwell,

(Othello by William Shakespeare)

In this extract, Shakespeare has eliminated conjunctions deliberately. There is shortage of “and, for, or, but” which are required to join the sentences. Due to this, the words have been emphasized and feelings of anger and jealousy are articulated explicitly.

Example #2

Go, shepherd, and untie the wattled cotes!
No longer leave thy wistful flock unfed,
Nor let thy bawling fellows rack their throats,
Nor the cropp’d herbage shoot another head…..
Thou hast not lived, why should’st thou perish, so?
Thou hadst one aim, one business, one desire;
Else wert thou long since numbered with the dead……!

(The Scholar-Gipsy by Matthew Arnold)

This is a good example of asyndeton. The conjunctions are missing in the sentences, such as the second and sixth lines are not connected with adjoining words, like and, are, so etc. However, it produces speed in the poem.

Example 3

“Is whispering nothing?
Is leaning cheek to cheek? is meeting noses?
Kissing with inside lip? stopping the career
Of laughter with a sigh? (a note infallible
Of breaking honesty!) horsing foot on foot?…”

(The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare)

In this excerpt, we can observe both types of asyndeton are employed. The first type (between the words) such as “from” is removed between the words “leaning” and “cheek” and similarly the second type (between the sentences) with the sentences not being joined by conjunctions.

Example 4

“This is the villain among you who deceived you, who cheated you, who meant to betray you completely…….”

(Rhetoric by Aristotle)

The word “and” is not featured in the given lines, which could have functioned as a conjunction here. Aristotle believed that asyndeton could be effective if used in the ending of the texts. Here he himself employed this device.

Example 5

“Consciousness of place came ebbing back to him slowly over a vast tract of time unlit, unfelt, unlived…..”

(A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce)

Joyce has also used this device and omitted the conjunctions in order to give rhythm and pace in the text. Here we can see the elimination of conjunctions such as “and” “or” etc. which could have joined the words; “unlit, unfelt, unlived”. These are creating a frantic and hurried effect.

Function of Asyndeton

Asyndeton helps in speeding up the rhythm of words. Mostly this technique is employed in speech but can be used in written works too. It helps in attracting the readers to collaborate with the writers, since it suggests that words, phrases and sentences are incomplete and the readers would have to do some work to deduce meanings. This version creates immediate impact and the readers are attuned to what the author is trying to convey.
Asyndeton are applied often intentionally in order to give a unique emphasis to the text, thereby drawing the attention of readers towards a particular idea the author wants to convey.

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