Understanding Anacoluthon (Syntactic Blend) in English Grammar

The glossary of grammatical and rhetorical terms

quote from John Hollander, <i>Rhyme&#39;s Reason: A Guide to English Vers (Yale University Press, 1989)


A syntactic interruption or deviation: that is, an abrupt change in a sentence from one construction to another which is grammatically inconsistent with the first. Plural: anacolutha. Also known as a syntactic blend.

Anacoluthon is sometimes considered a stylistic fault (a type of dysfluency) and sometimes a deliberate rhetorical effect (a figure of speech).

Anacoluthon is more common in speech than in writing. Robert M. Fowler notes that the "spoken word readily forgives and perhaps even favors anacoluthon" (Let the Reader Understand, 1996).

Etymology: From the Greek, "inconsistent"

Pronunciation: an-eh-keh-LOO-thon

Also Known As: a broken sentence, syntactic blend

Examples and Observations

  • "Anacoluthon is common in spoken language when a speaker begins a sentence in a way that implies a certain logical resolution and then ends it differently."
    (Arthur Quinn and Lyon Rathbun in the Encyclopedia of Rhetoric and Composition, ed. by Theresa Enos. Routledge, 2013)
  • "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."
    (William Shakespeare, King Lear)
  • "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."
    (Gertrude Stein, "A Portrait of Mabel Dodge," 1912)
  • "John McCain's maverick position that he's in, that's really prompt up to and indicated by the supporters that he has."
    (Sarah Palin, Vice Presidential debate, Oct. 2, 2008)
  • "Sleepy reporters commit anacoluthon in this kind of sentence: 'The patrolman said he had never seen "an accident so tragic in all his career."' The patrolman surely said 'my career.'"
    (John B. Bremner, Words on Words. Columbia University Press, 1980)
  • " . . . I could have brought him in his breakfast in bed with a bit of toast so long as I didn't 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 . . ."
    (from Molly Bloom's monologue in Chapter 18 of Ulysses by James Joyce)
  • A Figure of Style or a Stylistic Weakness?
    "[Heinrich] Lausberg's definition makes anacoluthon a figure of style rather than a (sometimes expressive) stylistic weakness. As an error in style it is not always obvious. Ex: 'He couldn't go, how could he?' Anacoluthon is only frequent in spoken language. A speaker begins a sentence in a way implying a certain logical resolution and then ends it differently. A writer would begin the sentence again unless its function were to illustrate confusion of mind or spontaneity of reporting. Both functions are characteristic of interior monologue, and to the extent that Molly Bloom's monologue [in Ulysses, by James Joyce] consists of a single unpunctuated sentence, it contains hundreds of examples of anacoluthon."
    (B. M. Dupriez and A. Halsall, Dictionary of Literary Devices. University of Toronto Press, 1991)
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Understanding Anacoluthon (Syntactic Blend) in English Grammar." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/anacoluthon-syntactic-blend-1689087. Nordquist, Richard. (2021, February 16). Understanding Anacoluthon (Syntactic Blend) in English Grammar. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/anacoluthon-syntactic-blend-1689087 Nordquist, Richard. "Understanding Anacoluthon (Syntactic Blend) in English Grammar." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/anacoluthon-syntactic-blend-1689087 (accessed March 27, 2023).