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Definition and Examples of Hyperbaton

Hyperbaton is a rhetorical device which involves violations of the conventional order of words or ideas.

Hyperbaton refers to any deviation from conventional order of words or clauses, which may be altered by improper placement, or transposition from the plain order of construction.

Hyperbaton can tweak the normal order of a sentence to make parts stand out or to put the entire sentence in a troubled order. This can be seen in terms of the gradual transition from the earlier to the later syntactic arrangement (subject-verb-object) usually for a specific effect; although with the sentence still similar in its original sense. As with this Churchill’s expression:

This is the kind of impertinence up with which I will not put.

Notice the transition in the word order that alters the syntactic relation of words in this sentence, as against:

This is the kind of impertinence which I will not put up with.

One of the most common ways to use hyperbaton is by placing an adjective after the noun it modifies, rather than before it. Of course, this might be a normal word order in other European languages like French, in English it tends to give an air of mystery to a sentence. Sometimes a verb may be transposed all the way at the end of the sentence, rather than between the subject and the object.

Compare the following:

Example I

Hyperbatonic syntax order

Piece of what an interesting fellow I met and said hello.

Normal syntax order

I met an interesting fellow, and I said a piece of hello.

Example II

Hyperbatonic syntax order

Why should their liberty than ours be more?

Normal syntax order

Why should their liberty be more than ours?

Example III

Hyperbatonic syntax order

Rings the world with the vain stir.

Normal syntax order

The world rings with the vain stir.

Example IV

Hyperbatonic syntax order

He wanders earth around.

Normal syntax order

He wanders around earth.

Example V

Hyperbatonic syntax order

Will ourselves continue to outgrow.

Normal syntax order

Will continue to outgrow ourselves.

Below is an Example in Litterature (“Anyone Lived In A Pretty How Town” by E.E. Cummings):

  1. Anyone lived in a pretty how
    (with up so floating many bells down)
    Spring summer autumn winter
    he sang his didn’t he danced
    his did.

    Women and men (both little and small)
    Cared for anyone not at all
    they sowed their isn’t they
    reaped their Same
    Sun moon stars rain
    children guessed(but only a few
    and down they forgot as up
    they grew…
    when by now and tree by leaf
    she laughed his joy she cried
    his grief
    bird by snow and stir by still
    anyone’s any was all to her
    someones married their
    laughed their cryings and did
    their dance
    (sleep wake hope and then) they
    Said their nevers they slept
    their dream…
Important Hint! 

A judicious use of this figure should add strength and a bit of flair to your writing. However, care should be given not to take it too far, so it doesn’t become absurd.

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  • References
    • Ad Herennium (Transgressio) 4.32.44; Susenbrotus (hyperbaton, transgression) 1540/31
    • Thomas Horne | Rhetoricae compendium, Latino-Anglice (1651);
    • John Newton’s | An Introduction to the Art of Rhetorick (1671)

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