Enthymeme - Definition and Examples

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Jeff Bridges as The Dude in The Big Lebowski
The Dude's enthymeme: "Does this place look like I'm . . . married? The toilet seat's up, man!" Jeff Bridges as The Dude in The Big Lebowski.

 Universal Studios, 1988

In rhetoric, an enthymeme is an informally stated syllogism with an implied premise. Adjective: enthymemic or enthymematic. Also known as a rhetorical syllogism.

"Enthymemes are not merely truncated syllogisms," says Stephen R. Yarbrough. "Rhetorical enthymemes reach probable, not necessary conclusions—and they are probable, not necessary, simply because they cannot be governed by the relation of implication, as are all syllogisms" (Inventive Intercourse, 2006).

In the Rhetoric, Aristotle observes that enthymemes are "the substance of rhetorical persuasion," though he fails to offer a clear definition of the enthymeme.


From the Greek enthymema, "piece of reasoning"

Examples and Observations

  • "With a name like Smucker's, it has to be good."  (slogan of Smucker's jams, jellies, and preserves)
  • "[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."
    (Alice Walker, "Beauty: When the Other Dancer Is the Self." In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens. Harcourt Brace, 1983)
  • "If you have been healed or saved or blessed through TBN and have not contributed . . . you are robbing God and will lose your reward in heaven."  (Paul Crouch, co-founder of the Trinity Broadcasting Network, quoted by William Lobdell, The Week, Aug. 10, 2007)
  • "One of the Soviet Georgia's senior citizens thought Dannon was an excellent yogurt. She ought to know. She's been eating yogurt for 137 years."  (1970s television advertisement for Dannon Yogurt)
  • "If it's Borden's, it's got to be good."  (advertising slogan)
  • "Want him to be more of a man? Try being more of a woman!"  (advertising slogan for Coty perfume)

An Abbreviated Syllogism

"In modern times, the enthymeme has come to be regarded as an abbreviated syllogism--that is, an argumentative statement that contains a conclusion and one of the premises, the other premise being implied. A statement like this would be regarded as an enthymeme: 'He must be a socialist because he favors a graduated income-tax.' Here the conclusion (He is a socialist) has been deduced from an expressed premise (He favors a graduated income-tax) and an implied premise (either [a] Anyone who favors a graduated income-tax is a socialist or [b] A socialist is anyone who favors a graduated income-tax)." (Edward P.J. Corbett and Robert J. Connors, Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student, 4th ed. Oxford University Press, 1999)

The Persuasive Power of the Enthymeme

"Aristotle appreciated the persuasive power of enthymeme because he was well aware that when it comes to everyday speaking and writing, an argument doesn’t have to be watertight to be taken seriously. In his treatise On Rhetoric, he offered three important tips to would-be persuaders. What your audience thinks of you really matters--if they don’t trust you, you’re toast [ethos]. What you say, or write, has to make people feel something [pathos]. And your argument must be put together with a particular audience in mind because an argument aimed at every target inevitably misses all of them.

"The guess what’s in my head component of enthymeme makes listening to a speech fun for an audience. And by inviting them to supply the missing piece of an argument, enthymeme fosters a bond of intimacy between speaker--or writer--and audience. An audience that is actively involved in the creation of a shared message--especially one that reflects their beliefs and prejudices--is much more likely to feel the rightness of what is being argued than one that isn’t.

"For Aristotle, enthymeme was 'the flesh and blood of proof.' Little wonder professional persuaders of all flavors just can’t get enough of them." (Martin Shovel, "Enthymeme, or Are You Thinking What I'm Thinking? The Guardian [UK], April 9, 2015)

Antony's Enthymeme in Julius Caesar

"In that form of enthymeme in which one of the premises is omitted, there is a strong tendency to accept the conclusion without scrutinizing the missing premise on which the argument rests. For example, the plebians, swayed by Antony speaking of Caesar, readily take for granted the conclusion he desires:

Plebian: Mark'd ye his words? He would not take the crown. Therefore 'tis certain he was not ambitious.
[William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar III.ii]

They do not question the implicit major premise, A man who refuses a crown is not ambitious. They regard the conclusion as certain." (Sister Miriam Joseph, Shakespeare's Use of the Arts of Language, 1947. Reprinted by Paul Dry Books, 2005)

President Bush's Enthymeme

"In an enthymeme, the speaker builds an argument with one element removed, leading listeners to fill in the missing piece. On May 1, speaking from the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, President Bush said, '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.' This is classic enthymematic argumentation: We were attacked on Sept. 11, so we went to war against Iraq. The missing piece of the argument--'Saddam was involved in 9/11'--didn't have to be said aloud for those listening to assimilate its message." (Paul Waldman, Washington Post, September, 2003)

The Daisy Commercial

"In 1964, politics flip-flopped, and the choice became 'Vote Democratic or Die.' One of the most controversial commercials ever made showed a pretty little girl, all innocence, picking petals off a daisy in a field. In a small, sweet voice, she counts the petals as she pulls them off, 'One, two, three...' When she gets to ten, the picture is frozen, and a man's grim voice begins to count back down from ten (as in a nuclear blast countdown). At zero, the scene dissolves into a nuclear holocaust. Over the mushrooming cloud President, Lyndon Johnson's voice is heard: 'These are the stakes--to make a world in which all God's children can live or go into the dark. We must either love each other or we must die.' Voters got the message: A vote for Johnson's opponent Goldwater is a vote for dead little girls. At last count, partisans of dead little girlhood did not constitute a large percentage of the electorate." (Donna Woolfolk Cross, Mediaspeak: How Television Makes Up Your Mind. Coward-McCann, 1983)

Pronunciation: EN-tha-meem

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Nordquist, Richard. "Enthymeme - Definition and Examples." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/what-is-an-enthymeme-in-rhetoric-1690654. Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). Enthymeme - Definition and Examples. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-an-enthymeme-in-rhetoric-1690654 Nordquist, Richard. "Enthymeme - Definition and Examples." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-an-enthymeme-in-rhetoric-1690654 (accessed May 30, 2023).