Hypotaxis: Definition and Examples

Hypotaxis is a syntactical and rhetorical technique composed of complicated syntax by which phrasesOpens in new window or clausesOpens in new window are arranged in the order that they depend upon each other in a subordinating or modifying relationship.

For example:

While walking home one dry moonless night in 1968, I was shot in the back.

In this example, there is one clause (the Head clause) which in this construction could stand alone as a sentence: “I was shot in the back”.

But the other clause, the modifying or dependent clause: “while walking home one dry moonless night in 1968” could not stand alone as a sentence. The two constitute a hypotactic clause complex.

Note that changing the order of the clauses is quite possible (although it changes the effect of the sentence), but it does not change the structural dependency:

I was shot in the back while walking home one dry moonless night in 1968.

In this variant form, the clause beginning with while is still dependent on the main clause.

Unlike paratactic clausesOpens in new window which can sometimes occur without explicit markers, almost all hypotactically dependent clauses are linked to their Head clause with explicit structural markers, either hypotactic conjunctions or relative pronouns (who, which, that). The most common hypotactic conjunctions include: ‘if,’ ‘while,’ ‘because,’ ‘when.’

Important Hint! 

Constructing sentences in hypotactic style typically allows syntax and structure to depend upon each other in a modifying way, thereby supplying useful information. Instead of simple juxtaposition of elements by way of simple and compound sentences, hypotactic structures rely more on complex sentences to establish relationships among dependent structures.

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