I have observed that many native English speakers (esp. American English, in my experience) tend, within the same sentence, to start a new clause whose subject is an element of the previous clause. Here is an example:

That is what fascinated me about programming—is that it changes the way you think about the world.

In this sentence, "what fascinated me about programming" is used as an object in the first clause, but then gets reused as the subject of the second clause.

Other examples:

  • This is something we talk about a lot—is the size of the community is substantially smaller than the React community [...]


  • This is what I think went wrong is what Trump did very effectively is tap the angst and the anger and the hurt and the pain that millions of working-class people are feeling.


I have only noticed this phenomenon in spoken English, as opposed to written English. What are its name and origins?

Note: I'm aware of the double copula (a.k.a. "double is"); this is related, but different.

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    – tchrist
    Commented Oct 18, 2016 at 13:59

1 Answer 1


As a figure of speech, this is called anacoluthon—when you break the grammatical structure of a sentence and begin a new construction or a fragment of a construction. This Greek word means "that which does not follow". The term is less used outside of a literary context, but it is the same phaenomenon.

It is commonly indicated in writing by a dash (although not all dashes indicate an anacoluthon: they can also be used for parenthesis, which means that the grammar is only temporarily interrupted, to be resumed afterwards).

I have to say, though, that your example strikes me as ugly. A good anacoluthon is used for rhetorical effect; when that is not the case, it is often simply considered an error. As to when it is considered an error and when it's not, that is very difficult to define.

  • 1
    [...] your example strikes me as ugly [...] We can agree on that. I listen to a lot of podcasts, and many hosts and guests use this figure of speech, which I find very disruptive. I will try to find other examples in the podcasts I listen to and will link to the exact timestamp in my question.
    – jub0bs
    Commented Oct 16, 2016 at 17:37
  • Shucks, I would have just called it "losing the thread" but this is just plain fancier.
    – The Nate
    Commented Oct 19, 2016 at 16:25
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    Isn't this also a by-product of a speaker constructing their sentences "on the fly"? I have found myself making is/are errors in my speech purely because halfway through the sentence I changed what I was going to say. I can certainly imagine someone losing track of what they just said and breaking the grammatical structure as a result.
    – user77261
    Commented Nov 15, 2016 at 15:20
  • @stanri: Yes, absolutely. It can be either an error or a more or less conscious figure of speech. Commented Nov 15, 2016 at 17:28

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