He left in a fast car and a filthy mood.

Here, the second "in" has been left out as the first "in" can serve both parts of the sentence (I assume), but what is this device called - if indeed, it has a name!


What you have described is an example of a zeugma (pronounced ZOOG-ma).

A fairly standard (online) definition of this literary device is

a figure of speech in which a word applies to two others in different senses (e.g., John and his license expired last week ) or to two others of which it semantically suits only one (e.g., with weeping eyes and hearts ).

  • You might want to search for 'parallel structures' if the reason you are asking is so you can research when and how to do that type of thing. – Ross Murray Jan 24 '18 at 16:25
  • While you're at it, look up syllepsis... – Rob_Ster Jan 24 '18 at 16:31

If you don't want to use a word whose English pronunciation sounds like a snack food popular in a country where you can't drink the water (zeugma), you can call it semantic syllepsis. One word or part of a sentence governs or modifies at least two other parts, but in completely different senses. The construction is grammatically correct, but semantically ambiguous, which is the source of amusement with this figure of speech.

She left in a huff, a hurry, and a Honda hatchback.

  • My comment about parallel structures missed the point of the question entirely. My personal writing is mostly for humour and I twist language in ways similar to the example sentence all the time. It's so instinctive to me, and I know I can get away with things like that, I didn't even notice there is something not quite kosher in the construction. – Ross Murray Jan 24 '18 at 17:07

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