An Introduction to Tmesis

Tmesis (derives from the Ancient Greek word τμῆσις “tmēsis”, literally “a cutting”), is a rhetorical device solely for the rearrangement of compound words by separating the parts which would ordinarily stuck together; usually with another word inserted between them.

Most often, tmesis is applied to compounds of “ever”; For instance:

    ‘However dearly parted’ becomes:
  • “How dearly ever parted,” (dearly cutting in-between “However”);
    ‘Whatsoever things,’ becomes:
  • “What things soever,” (things cutting in-between “Whatsoever”);
    ‘Whichsoever man refer it’ becomes:
  • “which way sover man refer it”, (way cutting in-between “Whichsoever”)
See other examples:
    In the following sentence the word “appear” occurs between the two words that make up the compound “hereafter.”
  • This is the place where Christ will come, as will here appear after.
    In the following sentence, “whatsoever” has been interrupted with “man”:
  • He shall be punished, what man soever offendeth.
    In the following passage, “heinous” interrupts “howe'er”:
  • If on the first, how heinous e'er it be,
    To win thy after-love I pardon thee.
  • Shakespeare, Richard II 5.3.34-35
Further Readings:
Silver Rhetoricae: TmesisOpens in new window