Definition of Enthymeme

An argumentative statement in which the writer or the speaker omits one of the major or minor premises, does not clearly pronounce it, or keeps this premise implied is called enthymeme. However, the omitted premise in enthymeme remains understandable even if is not clearly expressed. For instance, “Where there is smoke, there is fire.” (The hidden premise: The smoke causes fire.)

Enthymeme is a rhetorical device like syllogism, and is known as truncated or rhetoric syllogism. Its purpose is to influence the audience and allow them to make inferences. They can be easily recognized, as these statements comes after “because.”

Enthymeme Vs. Syllogism

Enthymeme is like syllogism, however both are different. The difference is that a syllogism is a deductive logic that contains three parts and in which both premises have valid conclusion such as,

  • All reptiles are cold-blooded animals. (Major premise)
  • Lizard is a cold-blooded animal. (Minor premise)
  • Therefore, lizard is a reptile. (Conclusion)

Whereas in enthymeme, writers keep one premise implied, which means both premises do not have valid conclusions. It is an incomplete argument such as,

  • He could not have committed this heinous crime. (Major premise)
  • I have known him since he was a child. (Minor premise)

(The hidden premise: He is innocent by nature and, therefore, can never be a criminal)

Popular Examples of Enthymene

  • “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.” — Lloyd Bentsen to Dan Quayle in US Vice-Presidential debate in 1988. (The hidden premise: Jack Kennedy was a great man, but you are not.)
  • He is a US citizen, so he is entitled to due process. (The hidden premise: All the citizens of US are entitled to due process.)
  • With a name like Bonanza, it has to be good. (The hidden premise: Bonanza is a prestigious company therefore it is good)

Examples of Enthymeme from Literature

Example 1

Plebian: “Mark’d ye his words? He would not take the crown. Therefore ‘tis certain he was not ambitious.”

(Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare)

From the above given of Julius Caesar, it is clear that Brutus is an ambitious and honorable man. Thus, a major hidden premise is that all honorable and respectable men are ambitious.

Example 2

“The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September the 11th, 2001, and still goes on. . . . With those attacks, the terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States. And war is what they got.”

(George Bush, May 2, 2003, New York Times)

This is an example of classic enthymematic argumentative speech by US President Bush. He gave the reason why US declared war against Iraq because US was attacked on Sept 11, 2001. However, the missing piece in this argument is—Saddam was the culprit and involved in 9/11.

Example 3

“[M]y parents decide to buy my brothers guns. These are not ‘real’ guns. They shoot ‘BBs,’ copper pellets my brothers say will kill birds. Because I am a girl, I do not get a gun.

(“Beauty: When the Other Dancer Is the Self” by Alice Walker)

In this example, the speaker omits that major premise that her parents have not given her a gun. However, she directly lets the readers know the reason why she does not have the gun.

Example 4

“The gun has the defendant’s fingerprints on the trigger. He is clearly guilty!”

(Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student by Edward P.J. Corbett and Robert J. Connors)

In this example, the hidden premise is that since fingerprints on an object show who has used it, therefore the defendant’s fingerprints on gun proves he is guilty.

Function of Enthymeme

The usage of enthymeme is very common in advertisements, political speeches and literature. It makes the readers work out their own conclusions and nudges them further to read the text to get a clearer picture of the premise or an idea. By forcing the readers to take a final step, it strengthens the argument of the writer. Often enthymemes help to hide the underlying idea upon which a major argument relies. In addition, the purpose of using an enthymeme is to persuade the readers by using implied arguments.

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3 comments for “Enthymeme

  1. G.Gettinger
    January 4, 2016 at 7:57 am

    ‘Smoke causes fire’? No. The other way round!!!

  2. Bill
    March 8, 2017 at 3:11 pm

    This needs a lot of clean-up. Most of the logic is wrong. e.g. the syllogism example is invalid: major premise must be “all cold blooded animals are reptiles” (false but it makes it valid). Same with much of the unstated assumptions. They are not what you think they are.

  3. Klapaucius
    March 16, 2017 at 11:05 am

    Agree with Bill – that syllogism about the lizard is not logically sound. Here would be a correct way to state it:
    All reptiles are cold-blooded animals. (Major premise)
    A lizard is a reptile. (Minor premise)
    Therefore, a lizard is cold-blooded. (Conclusion)

    Also, with reference to the Julius Caesar excerpt, “He would not take the crown” is in reference to Caesar, not Brutus. The enthymeme’s hidden premise is that an ambitious man would surely accept the crown that was offered

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