Asyndeton

An Introduction to Asyndeton

Asyndeton (etymologically from the Greek word ‘asindeton’ literally “unconnected”), is a figure of speechOpens in new window which consists when one or more conjunctions are omitted between series of related clauses, either to express vehemence or speed; or sometimes it may be from a noble negligence of nice accuracy, arising from an engrossment to the delivery of ideas.

In alternative thoughts (we can say), asyndeton is the absence of a coordinating conjunctionOpens in new window where it might have been expected between related clauses. For example,

  • veni, vidi, vici
  • and its English translation,
  • "I came, I saw, I conquered".

Using asyndeton gives a drastic effect of speeding up the rhythmic pattern of a verseOpens in new window and creating long lasting memorable idea. Asyndeton is often contrasted with syndetonOpens in new window (syndetic coordination) and polysyndetonOpens in new window, which describe the use of one or multiple coordinating conjunctions, respectively.

Ways of Applying Asyndeton and Examples

Asyndeton used as Nouns and Noun Phrases:
  • Drudgery, calamity, exasperation, want, are instructors in eloquence and wisdom.”
  • — Emerson, The American Scholar (1837)

    Likewise, the same pattern may be employed with phrases:

  • “We seek to beat the life and soul out of Hitler and Hitlerism. That alone, that all the time, that to the end.”
  • — Churchill, London radio broadcast (1940)

  • “There we meet the slime of hypocrisy, the varnish of courts, the cant of pedantry, the cobwebs of the law, the iron hand of power.”
  • — Hazlitt, Mr. Gifford (1825)

    Asyndeton with phrases is used with other figures, the Hazlitt article combines asyndeton with isocolonOpens in new window (phrases with similar structure); while that of Churchil blends asyndeton with anaphoraOpens in new window (words repeated at the beginning of next clauses).

Combining Verbs
  • “My immediate purpose is to place before the world, plainly, succinctly, and without comment, a series of mere household events. In their consequences, these events have terrifiedhave torturedhave destroyed me.”
  • — Poe, The Black Cat (1843)

    Here, the effect of leaving out any conjunctions tends to suggest that each word (terrified, tortured, destroyed) adds to or perhaps improves upon the previous one; the speaker thinks better of each word uttered and substitutes a stronger choice.

  • “It is the spirit of the English Constitution, which, infused through the mighty mass, pervades, feeds, unites, invigorates, vivifies every part of the empire, even down to the minutes member.”
  • — Burke, speech on Moving His Resolutions for Conciliation with the Colonies (1775)
Asyndeton with Combination of Anaphora or Epistrophe
  • “The repeal of the sacred Missouri Compromise has installed the weapons of violence: the bludgeon, the incendiary torch, the dath-dealing rifle, the bristling cannon – the weapons of kingcraft, of the inquisition, of ignorance, of barbarism, of oppression.”
  • — Lincoln, speech at Republic can State Convention (1856)

    Here, the short phrase repeated thrice with the same start, without conjunctions, and with a different ending each time, adding a classic and sonorous pattern:

  • “The absolute monarchy was at an end. It breathed its last, without a groan, without struggle, without convulsion.”
  • — Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (1789)

  • And lastly: “Some idea, some fancy, takes possession of the brain; and however ridiculous, however distressing, however ruinous, haunts us by a sort of fascination through life.”
  • — Hazlitt, On the Past and Future (1821)
Asyndeton with Isocolon
  • “Oh God! What could I do? I foamedI raveI swore!”
  • — Poe, The Tell-Tale Heart (1843)

  • “He would make it a rule of political action for the people and all the departments of the government. I would not. By resisting it as a political rule, I disturb no right of property, create no disorder, excite no mobs.”
  • — Lincoln, speech at Spring-field (1858)
Further Readings:
Silva Rhetoricae, Figures | AsyndetonOpens in new window
Farnsworth's Classical English Rhetoric by Ward Farnsworth; Rutil. (asyndeton [1.15]);
Sherry (“dialisis,” “divisio,” “division” [1550] p 55);
Putt. (“dialisis,” “the dismembrer” [1589] p 230)