Hypallage in Grammar

Drawing of William Shakespeare
Drawing of William Shakespeare.

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A figure of speech in which an adjective or participle (an epithet) grammatically qualifies a noun other than the person or thing it is actually describing is called hypallage.

Hypallage is sometimes defined more broadly as the inversion or radical rearrangement of normal word order, an extreme type of anastrophe or hyperbaton.

Examples and Observations:

  • "I lighted a thoughtful cigarette and, dismissing Archimedes for the nonce, allowed my mind to dwell once more on the ghastly jam into which I had been thrust by young Stiffy's ill-advised behaviour."
    (P.G. Wodehouse, The Code of the Woosters, 1938)
  • "Winter kept us warm, covering
    Earth in forgetful snow, feedingA little life with dried tubers."
    (T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land)
  • "anyone lived in a pretty how town(with up so floating many bells down)"
    (E.E. Cummings, "anyone lived in a pretty how town")
  • "There one goes, unsullied as yet, in his Pullman pride, toying--oh, boy!--with a blunderbuss bourbon, being smoked by a large cigar, riding out to the wide open spaces of the faces of his waiting audience."
    (Dylan Thomas, "A Visit to America." Quite Early One Morning, 1968)
  • [I]n short, 'tis of such a nature, as my father once told my Uncle Toby, upon the close of a long dissertation upon the subject: "You can scarce," said he, "combine two ideas together upon it, brother Toby, without an hypallage."--What's that? cried my uncle Toby.The cart before the horse, replied my father.
    (Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, 1759-1767)
  • "Like enallage, hypallage is an apparent mistake. All changes of grammatical function are not valid cases of hypallage. Puttenham, who calls hypallage the changeling, points out that the user of this figure perverts meaning by shifting the application of words: ' . . . as he should say for . . . come dine with me and stay not, come stay with and me and dine not.'
    "The mistake becomes a figure by expressing a meaning, albeit an unexpected one. According to Guiraud (p. 197), 'The device is related to the aesthetics of vagueness; by suppressing the relationship of necessity between determined and determinant, it tends to liberate the latter.'"
    (Bernard Marie Dupriez and Albert W. Halsall, A Dictionary of Literary Devices. Univ. of Toronto Press, 1991)

Shakespeare's Use of Hypallage

"His coward lips did from their color fly."
(Cassius in William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Act 1, sc. 2)
"The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man's hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream was."
(Bottom in William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act 4, sc. 1)
"The rhetorical figure Shakespeare uses here is hypallage, often described as the transferred epithet. His rudeness so with his authorized youth did livery falseness in a pride of truth. It is the rudeness that is authorized, not the youth; hypallage transfers the modifier (authorized) from object (rudeness) to subject (youth)."
(Lisa Freinkel, Reading Shakespeare's Will. Columbia Univ. Press, 2002)

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Nordquist, Richard. "Hypallage in Grammar." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/what-is-hypallage-1690939. Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). Hypallage in Grammar. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-hypallage-1690939 Nordquist, Richard. "Hypallage in Grammar." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-hypallage-1690939 (accessed June 7, 2023).