All! I've been stumped with this question for a while now. What do we call it when you use an intangible object and represent it as though it is tangible, usually coupled with tangible objects? Example: "Both my bike and my pride lay crumpled on the ground." I know there's a specific name for this literary device. Any ideas?

2 Answers 2


You may be thinking of syllepsis. Meriam Webster defines this as:

the use of a word in the same grammatical relation to two adjacent words in the context with one literal and the other metaphorical in sense.


This construct may also be referred to as zeugma. Here is the opening sentence of Wikipedia's article on Zeugma and syllepsis:

In rhetoric, zeugma and syllepsis are figures of speech in which one single phrase or word joins different parts of a sentence.


There are several examples of syllepsis in ThoughtCo's article on the topic. For example:

When I address Fred I never have to raise either my voice or my hopes.



There are better and worse uses of this device (syllepsis). If you stick with complement phrases that are regularly used with the verb, you'll be ok - pride can be crumpled or crushed figuratively just as a bike can be crushed literally - it's the same with raise - we can raise our hopes or expectations, or raise our voice, but with other words like 'pick up' we can pick up the pace (figurative) or pick up an object, these are common expressions, but we don't pick up convictions, it's just not standard use, though we might pick up an idea or an attitude. It doesn't mean it's wrong or even unacceptable, but it stands out as unusual use-case, to my ears anyway. You could test this on corpus sites like Sketch Engine. They take a little getting used to but you can quickly find common usage patterns using this tool.

  • Thanks for the tip about Sketch Engine. This is the first I've heard of it.
    – Shoe
    Commented Oct 23, 2018 at 17:57

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