Enallage: Definition and Examples

Enallage (derives from Greek signifying “commutation” , “change” , or “exchange”), is a figure of speech which prevails in the form of a word play; as when a part of speech or a particular modification is exchanged for another.

In general sense, it is a substitution of one tenseOpens in new window, numberOpens in new window, or personOpens in new window for another (tense, number, or person). Sometimes it could involve a change of a particular caseOpens in new window, genderOpens in new window, or moodOpens in new window for another. (Lanham p.40)

Enallage differs from MetonymyOpens in new window (the exchange of one noun for another noun).

However, while Enallage involves AnthimeriaOpens in new window (a change of one part of speech for another); or HeterosisOpens in new window (a substitution of one tense, mood, person, or number for another); and AntiptosisOpens in new window (changing one case for another); it certainly does not exchange one noun for another noun.

Examples Showing Different Ways of Using Enallage

There are specific methods of using enallage to achieve varying expressions by switching terms that are equivalent in meaning, as follows:

I.   Using Enallage as when twisting sentences:

A rather common means of using enallage is by adding twist to a sentence giving it an improper form quite deliberately. In the Book “2nd Henry IV, I, ii” Shakespeare wrote, thus:

  1. “Is there not wars?
    Is there not employment?”

In the above lines, Shakespeare uses enallage to achieve parallel structure. Another example is when Byron stated:

  1. “The idols are broke in the temple of Baal.”

Here Byron used the past tense form of break instead of the past participle, broken, which should have been used.

II.   Using Enallage as when substituting persons or noun for pronoun:

Limhi, a king in the Book of Mormon, gave a good example of enallage by switching persons during one of his discourses. Here, Limhi began his discourse by addressing his people using the second person pronouns ye and you; as in:

  1. “O ye, my people, lift up your heads and be comforted”

    (Mosiah 7:18)

However, later in the discourse Limhi shifted to the third person when addressing his people:

  1. “But behold, they would not hearken unto his words; but there arose contentions among them, even so much that they did shed blood among themselves

    (Mosiah 7:25).

One possible reason why Limhi performed this second-person to third-person pronoun shifting was to create distance between his people and their actions, allowing them to become objective observers of their own behavior.

III.   Using Enallage as when changing from active verb to passive verb:

Switching tensesOpens in new window from the active verb to the passive is another common form of applying enallage, and it also amounts to same degree of responsibility.

  1. “I kicked the ball”

    (active verb)

  2. “The ball was kicked by me”

    (passive verb)

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  • References
    • Theresa Enos, Encyclopedia of Rhetoric and Composition: Communication from Ancient Times To The Information Age)

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