English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

An anacoluthon <...> is a rhetorical device that can be loosely defined as a change of syntax within a sentence <...>. Grammatically, anacoluthon is an error; however, in rhetoric it is a figure that shows excitement, confusion, or laziness.

Apart from poetry and rhetoric, can you give examples of anacoluthon nowadays? Is this technique widely used in popular media?

My thought is since anacoluthon is an intentional grammatical error it would rather appear in newspaper headlines (where everybody understands will never be errors) than in article text? Can you give examples?

share|improve this question
I can't give any examples, but the structure is familiar to me in that I think I use it when I try to explain things to people. I didn't realize there was a name for the construct though! – morganpdx Jan 14 '11 at 21:42
@morganpdx: do you intentionally make errors when explain things to people? – pmod Jan 14 '11 at 21:58
No, I don't. – morganpdx Jan 14 '11 at 22:00
@morganpdx: So it's not anacoluthon – pmod Jan 14 '11 at 22:15
It is. I don't think intentionality is a requirement. – morganpdx Jan 14 '11 at 22:28
up vote 4 down vote accepted

I'd never heard the term anacoluthon before but after reading about it, it seems to be the very common phenomenon of when you begin a sentence with a particular syntactic structure and then halfway through uttering it realize that your thought can't be expressed within the confines of the structure already uttered. You can either hesitate and restart, or just finish the sentence as though you had begun it with a different syntactic structure. The latter option is anacoluthon. This happens all the time in speech, and is a type of speech error, or slip of the tongue.

Now, when composing written language, you are generally expected to fix mistakes like this by deleting or crossing out the incompatible syntax and writing a sentence that is syntactically valid. If you don't do this, it is either because you want to, to achieve some effect—typically to represent some aspect of spoken speech—or because you don't realize you made an error.

share|improve this answer
I know this is late, but I just happened to notice you referred to this as a speech error. Correcting oneself mid-sentence is in fact a classical rhetorical device, and has been used by some of the best orators and writers since antiquity. – Robusto Feb 25 '12 at 4:06
Wikipedia does define speech error as "conscious or unconscious deviations from the apparently intended form of an utterance. They can be subdivided into spontaneously and inadvertently produced speech errors and intentionally produced word-plays or puns." – nohat Mar 10 '12 at 18:00
I guess if you define a deliberate, successful strategy as an error, then so must it be. – Robusto Mar 10 '12 at 18:18

Sure, I can give you an example of such a — wait, why should I?

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.