Syllepsis: An Unfought Battle in the Language Wars

Alex Segal


Syllepsis (in one meaning of the term) is most commonly thought of as an ungrammatical construction which can in certain contexts function as a figure of speech. Yet the common view is at odds with syllepsis occurring in well-written prose that we experience neither as ungrammatical nor as figurative; and with its being largely ignored by literary and rhetorical analysis. As well as arguing against the common view, the paper considers why the view is so uncontroversial, so common.

Keywords: syllepsis, ellipsis, grammar, figure of speech

Full Text:



Adams, A., & Adams, J. (2007). My dearest friend: Letters of Abigail and John Adams. Boston, MA: Harvard University Press.

Addison, J. (1864). The works of Joseph Addison (Vol. 2). New York, NY: Harper & Brothers.

Arnold, T. (1843). Christian life, its hopes, its fears, and its close (2nd ed.). London: B. Fellowes.

Arrowsmith, S., Linarelli, J., & Wallace, D. (2000). Regulating public procurement: National and international perspectives. The Hague: Kluwer Law International.

Austen, J. (1966). Pride and prejudice. New York, NY: Norton.

Austen, J. (2003). Northanger Abbey. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Bacon, F. (2008). The essays or counsels, civil and moral, of Francis Bacon. Rockville, MD: Arc Manor.

Baldick, C. (2008). The Oxford dictionary of literary terms Oxford: Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

Beall, R. (2013). Thoughts and gleanings. Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press.

Bilton, H. (1994). The nursery class garden: Designing and building an outdoor environment for young children. Early Years: An International Research Journal, 14(2), 34-37.

Breen, E. (2013). The human mind and belief. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse.

Brontë, A. (2009). The tenant of Wildfell Hall. Toronto, ON: Broadview.

Brontë, C. (1909). Villette. London: Dent.

Brown, K., & Miller, J. (2013). The Cambridge dictionary of linguistics Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Kindle edition.

Burke, E. (1834). The works of the Right Hon. Edmund Burke. London: Holdsworth & Ball.

Burke, E. (2000). On empire, liberty and reform: Speeches and letters (D. Bromwich Ed.). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Byron, L. (1849). The works of Lord Byron; in verse and prose. Hartford: S. Andrus.

Byron, L. (1995). Selected poetry and prose. London: Routledge.

Charnock, S. (1864). The complete works of Stephen Charnock (Vol. 1). Edinburgh: James Nichol.

Cockburn, J. (1829). A review of the general and particular causes which have produced the late disorders and divisions in the Yearly meeting of Friends, held in Philadelphia. Philadelphia, PA: Philip Price.

Conrad, J. (1925). The mirror of the sea. Edinburgh: John Grant.

Corwin, T. (1844). On the Mexican War, Speech to the American Senate The Whig almanac and United States register for 1844. New York, NY: Greeley and McElrath.

Devlin, P. (1965). The enforcement of morals. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Doyle, W. (1974). The Parlement of Bordeaux and the end of the Old Régime, 1771-1790. London: Ernest Benn.

Dryden, J. (1808). The works of John Dryden (W. Scott Ed.). London: William Miller.

Edwards, R., Nicoll, K., Solomon, N., & Usher, R. (2004). Rhetoric and educational discourse: Persuasive texts. London: Routledge.

Eliot, G. (1998). The mill on the floss. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Emerson, R. W. (2008). Emerson: Political writings (K. S. Sacks Ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

English, L. M., Guthrie, J., Broadbent, J., & Laughlin, R. (2010). Performance audit of the operational stage of long-term partnerships for the private sector provision of public services. Australian Accounting Review, 20(1), 64-75.

Eyres, H. (2013). Horace and me: Life lessons from an ancient poet. London: Bloomsbury.

Farnsworth, W. (2011). Farnsworth's classical English rhetoric. Boston, MA: David R. Godine, Kindle Edition.

Faulkner, W. (1978). A fable. New York, NY: Random House.

Feminist perspectives on public law. (2013). (S. Millns & N. Whitty Eds.). London: Routledge.

Figure [Def. 21]. (n.d.). Oxford English online dictionary. Retrieved 25 September, 2014, from

Forsyth, M. (2013). Elements of eloquence: How to turn the perfect English phrase. London: Icon Books, Kindle edition.

Fowler, H. W. F., Francis George. (1906). The King's English. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Garner, B. (2009). Garner's modern American usage (3rd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Giddins, G. (2010). Warning shadows: Home alone with classic cinema. New York, NY: Norton.

Ginsburg, M. P. (1987). Truth and persuasion: The language of realism and of ideology in Oliver Twist. Novel: A Forum on Fiction, 20(3), 220-236.

Griffin, D. R. (1976). God, power, and evil: A process theodicy. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.

Griffith, R., & Griffith, E. (1757). A series of genuine letters between Henry and Frances. London: W. Johnston.

Hayes, K. J. (2000). Poe and the printed word. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hazelwood, M. (2014). The world system equals the Beast of Revelation. Bloomington, IN: Archway Publishing.

Hazlitt, W. (1817). Characters of Shakespear's plays. London: R. Hunter.

Hernández , A. C. (2007). Gapping as a syntactic dependency. Lingua, 117(12), 2106–2133. doi: 10.1016/j.lingua.2007.01.004

Hunter, J. (1869). Shakespeare's Henry the Eighth. London: Longmans, Green and Company.

Jackson, Z. (1819). Shakspeare's genius justified. London: J. Johnson.

James, H. (1981). The turn of the screw and other short fiction. New York, NY: Random House.

Jebb, J. (1840). The divine economy of the church. London: Duncan and Malcolm.

Johnson, S. (2009). Samuel Johnson: Selected writings (P. Martin Ed.). New York, NY: Harvard University Press.

Joseph, M. (1947). Shakespeare's use of the arts of language. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Joyce, J. (1992). A portrait of the artist as a young man. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Jungnickel, C., & McCormmach, R. (1996). Cavendish. Philadelphia, PA: American Philosophical Society.

Keats, J. (2006). Ode on a grecian urn. In J. Stillinger (Ed.), The Norton anthology of English literature (8th ed., Vol. D, pp. 906-906). New York, NY: Norton.

Klinge, P. L. (1974). American education in the electric age: New perspectives on media and learning. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology.

Lang, A. (1863). Practical exposition of the first chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews verses 5-9. The Evangelical repository. London: Jackson, Walford & Hodder.

Lawrence, D. H. (1995a). The rainbow. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Lawrence, D. H. (1995b). Women in love. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Lever, C. J. (1898). Roland Cashel. London: Downey & Company.

Lovejoy, A. (1942). The communism of Saint Ambrose. Journal of the History of Ideas, 3(4), 458-468.

Mansfield, K. (1981). The collected stories. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Melville, H. (1855). Mardi: And a Voyage thither. New York, NY: Harper & Brothers.

Melville, H. (1971). Pierre, or the ambiguities. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.

Mills, M. S. (2013). Concise handbook of literary and rhetorical terms: Esteps-Nichols Publishing, Kindle edition.

The new Fowler's modern English usage. (1996). (R. W. Burchfield Ed. 3rd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Newman, J. H. (1870). An essay in aid of a grammar of assent (2nd ed. Vol. 1). London: Burns & Oates.

Oberhaus, D. H. (1995). Emily Dickinson's fascicles: Method and meaning. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press.

Owen, J. (2013). My thesis. Arrant pedantry. Retrieved 1 October, 2014, from

Pavlac, B. A. (2011). A concise survey of Western Civilization: Supremacies and diversities throughout history. Plymouth: Rowman & Littlefield.

Poe, E. A. (1835). Review of Norman Leslie. Southern Literary Messenger, 2(1), 54-57.

Pope, A. (2012). The rape of the lock. In J. Black, L. Conolly & K. Flint (Eds.), The Broadview anthology of British literature (2 ed., Vol. 3, pp. 555-568). Toronto, ON: Broadview Press.

The Princeton encyclopedia of poetry and poetics. (2012). (R. Greene & S. Cushman Eds. 4th ed.). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Quarles, F. (2003). My beloved is mine and I am his. In G. Rowell (Ed.), Love's redeeming work: The Anglican quest for holiness (pp. 162-163). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Radzinowicz, M. A. (1990). Reading paired poems nowadays. Lit: Literature Interpretation Theory, 1(4), 275-290.

Read, S. (2007). Puns: Serious wordplay. In S. Adamson, G. Alexander & K. Ettenhauer (Eds.), Renaissance figures of speech (pp. 81-94). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Reade, C. (1871). Peg Woffington, Christie Johnstone: and other stories. Boston, MA: Fields, Osgood & Co.

Rogers, S. (1869). A funeral The poetical works of Samuel Rogers (pp. 359-362). London: Routledge.

Rossetti, D. G. (2012). Willowwood 1. In P. Negri (Ed.), English Victorian poetry: An anthology (pp. 152-153). Mineola, NY: Dover Publications.

Russell, B. (1999). Russell on ethics: Selections from the writings of Bertrand Russell (C. Pigden Ed.). Abingdon: Routledge.

Scruton, R. (2009). Beauty. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Seth, V. (1999). An equal music. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Shakespeare, W. (1993). Antony and Cleopatra (J. Andrews Ed.). London: Dent.

Shakespeare, W. (2007). Henry VIII The complete works of William Shakespeare. Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions.

Shakespeare, W. (2009). Love's labour's lost (W. Carroll Ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Shakespeare, W. (2010). Richard II (J. Bate & E. Rasmussen Eds.). Basingstoke: Macmillan.

Sidney, P. (1831). The defence of poesy. Cambridge: Hilliard & Brown.

Sidney, P. (2005). Sonnet 49, Astrophel and Stella. In R. Blaisdell (Ed.), Elizabethan poetry: An anthology (pp. 141-142). Mineola,, NY: Dover Publications.

Siegel, J. (2006). Safety considerations in IGIV utilization. International Immunopharmacology, 6(4), 523-527.

Strunk, W., & White, E. B. (2001). The elements of style (4th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Syllepsis [Def. 1]. (n.d.). Oxford English online dictionary. Retrieved 25 September, 2014, from

Tallis, R. (2014). Reflections of a metaphysical flaneur: And other essays. London: Routledge.

Tennyson, A. (2007). Ulysses. In C. Ricks (Ed.), Tennyson: A selected edition (Revised ed., pp. 138-145). London: Routledge.

Thoreau, H. D. (1975). Early essays and miscellanies. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Waterman, D. (2006). Identity in Doris Lessing's space fiction. Youngstown, OH: Cambria Press.

Watt, A. (2011). The Cambridge introduction to Marcel Proust. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Woolf, V. (2008). Selected essays. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wordsworth, W. (1963). Preface to Lyrical ballads. In W. Sutton & R. Forster (Eds.), Criticism: Theory and practice (pp. 14-27). Indianopolis, IN: Odyssey Press.

Wright, F. (1829). Course of popular lectures; with 3 addresses on various public occasions, and a reply to the charges against the French reformers of 1789 London: James Watson.

Zeugma. (n.d.-a). Oxford English online dictionary. Retrieved 25 September, 2014, from

Zeugma. (n.d.-b). Wikipedia. Retrieved 25 September, 2014, from

Zimmerman, B. (2005). Edgar Allan Poe: Rhetoric and style. Montreal, QC: McGill-Queen's University Press.

Zwicky, A. (2009). Agreement with disjunctive subjects. Language Log. Retrieved December 1, 2014, from


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

2010-2019 (CC-BY) Australian International Academic Centre PTY.LTD.

Advances in Language and Literary Studies

You may require to add the '' domain to your e-mail 'safe list’ If you do not receive e-mail in your 'inbox'. Otherwise, you may check your 'Spam mail' or 'junk mail' folders.