Parataxis (grammar and prose style)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

This simple sentence illustrates polysyndetic parataxis.

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Parataxis is a grammatical and rhetorical term for phrases or clauses arranged independently—a coordinate, rather than a subordinate, construction. Adjective: paratactic. Contrast with hypotaxis.

Parataxis (also known as the additive style) is sometimes used as a synonym for asyndeton—that is, the coordination of phrases and clauses without coordinating conjunctions. However, as Richard Lanham demonstrates in Analyzing Prose, a sentence style may be both paratactic and polysyndetic (held together with numerous conjunctions).

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

From the Greek, "placing side by side"

Examples and Observations

  • "I came; I saw; I conquered."
    (Julius Caesar)
  • "Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better—splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one another's umbrellas, in a general infection of ill-temper, and losing their foothold at street corners."
    (Charles Dickens, Bleak House, 1852-1853)
  • "In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels."
    (Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms, 1929)
  • "I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun."
    (Raymond Chandler, Farewell, My Lovely, 1940)
  • Joan Didion's Paratactic Style
    "I remember walking across 62nd Street one twilight that first spring, or the second spring, they were all alike for a while. I was late to meet someone but I stopped at Lexington Avenue and bought a peach and stood on the corner eating it and knew that I had come out of the West and reached the mirage. I could taste the peach and feel the soft air blowing from a subway grating on my legs and I could smell lilac and garbage and expensive perfume and I knew that it would cost something sooner or later . . .."
    (Joan Didion, "Goodbye to All That." Slouching Towards Bethlehem, 1968)
  • Toni Morrison's Use of Parataxis
    "Twenty-two years old, weak, hot, frightened, not daring to acknowledge the fact that he didn't know who or what he was . . . with no past, no language, no tribe, no source, no address book, no comb, no pencil, no clock, no pocket handkerchief, no rug, no bed, no can opener, no faded postcard, no soap, no key, no tobacco pouch, no soiled underwear and nothing nothing nothing to do . . . he was sure of one thing only: the unchecked monstrosity of his hands."
    (Toni Morrison, Sula, 1973)
  • Natalie Kusz's Use of Parataxis
    "I packed some books and a portable typewriter, drove to Homer on the coast, and rented a cabin near the beach. Something about the place, or its fishy air, or my aloneness in the middle of it, worked somehow, and I breathed bigger there in my chest and wrote more clearly on the page. I had forgotten about tides and about the kelp and dried crabs that came in with them, and every morning I shivered into a sweater, put combs in my hair, and walked out to wade and to fill my pockets with what I found. I liked it best when the wind was blowing and the sky was gray, and the sounds of seagulls and my own breathing were carried out with the water."
    (Natalie Kusz, "Vital Signs." The Threepenny Review, 1989)
  • Walt Whitman's Paratactic Style
    "Nothing is ever really lost, or can be lost,
    No birth, identity, form—no object of the world.
    Nor life, nor force, nor any visible thing;
    Appearance must not foil, nor shifted sphere confuse thy brain.
    Ample are time and space--ample the fields of Nature.
    The body, sluggish, aged, cold—the embers left from earlier fires,
    The light in the eye grown dim, shall duly flame again;
    The sun now low in the west rises for mornings and for noons continual;
    To frozen clods ever the spring's invisible law returns,
    With grass and flowers and summer fruits and corn."
    (Walt Whitman, "Continuities")
  • Characteristics of Paratactic Prose
    - "In paratactic prose, clauses are loosely connected, creating a lopping discourse of here's another thing and another thing and another thing. . . . Paratactic prose occurs more frequently in narrative and explanation, and hypotactic prose more frequently in explicit arguments."
    (Jeanne Fahnestock, Rhetorical Style: The Uses of Language in Persuasion. Oxford University Press, 2011)
    - "When clauses are linked in a relationship of equality, we say that the relationship is paratactic. Parataxis is the relationship between units of equal status. . . . Paratactic linking is often treated as equivalent to coordination . . .; more exactly, coordination is one type of parataxis, others being juxtaposition and linking by conjunctions such as so and yet."
    (Angela Downing and Philip Locke, A University Course in English Grammar. Prentice Hall, 1992)
    - "A series of short phrases or clauses equalized by parataxis seems almost to invite these repetitive openings [anaphora]. We are reminded, on the one hand, of Scripture's ritual iterations—a list of 'Thou shalt nots' or 'begats.' On the other hand, the humble laundry list comes to mind. When you think of it, ordinary workaday prose is often taken up with lists. They represent parataxis par excellence. . . .
    "But parataxis can be a contrived, patterned, self-conscious style, one whose syntax can carry . . . an allegorical meaning of its own. It is easy to write a laundry list, but not so easy to write like Hemingway without falling into parody. Try it."
    (Richard A. Lanham, Analyzing Prose, 2nd ed. Continuum, 2003)
    - "Parataxis allows for the coherence of a narrative's themes to be independent of the sequential organization of the story elements. Use of paratactic ordering is common in folksongs and even myths where the rearrangement of story elements in their order of presentation does not damage or confuse the story. For example, switching verses three and five of a seven-verse paratactic song would not alter the theme or tale presented, since linear progression is not an essential component of these works."
    (Richard Neupert, The End: Narration and Closure in the Cinema. Wayne State University Press, 1995)
  • A Difficult Style to Master
    "Although it might seem as if writing in the additive style is just a matter of putting one thing after another in no particular order (how can that be hard?), it is in fact the far more difficult style to master; for the relative absence of formal constraints means that there are no rules or recipes for what to do because there are no rules or recipes for what not to do."
    (Stanley Fish, How to Write a Sentence. Harper Collins, 2011)
  • A. Bartlett Giamatti on the Paratactic Style of Baseball
    "Here the oft-told tale that is the game is told again. It is told always in the present tense, in a paratactic style that reflects the game's seamless, cumulative character, each event linked to the last and creating the context for the next—a style almost Biblical in its continuity and instinct for typology."
    (A. Bartlett Giamatti, Take Time for Paradise: Americans and Their Games. Summit Books, 1989)

Pronunciation: PAR-a-TAX-iss

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Nordquist, Richard. "Parataxis (grammar and prose style)." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Nordquist, Richard. (2021, February 16). Parataxis (grammar and prose style). Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Parataxis (grammar and prose style)." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 31, 2023).