While there are countless literary techniques writers can use to spice up their writing, the polysyndeton is one the mayor may not have heard of.
Whether you know it by name or not, you’ve certainly found it in your reading. You may not have noticed it while reading, but once you understand what it is and how it works, you’ll start to see it in more places as you continue reading books.
You might even find yourself using it in your everyday life. An example might be when you are describing the day ahead to your spouse: “First I have to go to the post office and then to the grocery store and deposit my check while I’m out and finally pick up the kids from school. ”
Now, it may or may not be a tool you end up using as a writer, but the more tools you have at your disposal, the better.
In this article, we’ll go over what polysyndeton is, how to use it, why you should as a writer, and then look at some classic examples in the literature so you can see how writers use it in their books.
What is the polysyndeton?
Let’s see the definition of polysyndeton:
“polysyndeton is the deliberate insertion of conjunctions in a sentence for the purpose of[ing] increase the pace of the prose” to produce “an impressively solemn note”.
In grammar, a polysyndetic coordination is a coordination in which all sets are linked by coordinating conjunctions (usually and, but, either, neither in English).”
Even as you read, you may not pick up on the use of polysyndeton, but if you start reading sentences aloud, you’ll certainly notice.
Polysyndeton is a literary technique used to give weight to each action in a sentence. It also provides a bit of rhythm to each sentence as you read and can break up sentences in a unique way.
The word polysyndeton comes from the ancient Greeks, which essentially means “many united with.” You can imagine that that means there are many ideas, thoughts, and actions, all strung together in one sentence.
You’ll see in some examples below how authors have used this technique, but let’s dive into what you need to know before proceeding.
How to use polysyndeton
If you want to use polysyndeton, you should know that they are intentional repetitions of close conjunctions together to create an effect when reading.
If you want the reader to slow down in a particular part or make sure they focus on every single action a character takes, that’s a good reason to use the polysyndeton technique.
In school, most of us were taught that continuous sentences are “bad” writing, but that’s not always the case. Famous authors from Ernest Hemingway to Cormac McCarthy used these techniques in their writing.
While it’s not the same as a run-on sentence, just know that it can take a while to mentally undo what you were taught in school and start using advanced literary techniques in your writing.
If you’re not using it to have more effect on your writing, then it’s a continuous sentence rather than a polysyndeton.
What writers need to know about the polysyndeton
For the most part, the use of polysyndeton is a stylistic choice to be decided by each individual writer and author.
Some writers love the style and how it works as a literary techniqueand some writers think it makes sentences too long and drawn out.
It should be something you experiment with to see if it improves your writing and style or if it’s something you don’t want to use.
For example, if a paragraph or scene in your book doesn’t seem to have as much impact as you want to have, try this technique and see if it adds more impact to each individual action and thought.
Examples of polysyndeton in the literature
Cormac McCarthy, most famous for his book, The way, was a heavy user of polysyndeton in his writing. Let’s see some of his examples:
Out on the road the pilgrims sank and fell and died and the desolate and shrouded land crept past the sun and returned again trackless and as unseen as the path of any nameless brother world in the ancient dark more there.
From his book, The way
The horse neighed and reared and the Apache struggled to stay in his seat and he drew his sword and found himself staring at the black lemniscate that was the two bores of Glanton’s double rifle. […] Dust covered the wet, bare heads of the scalped who, fringes of hair beneath the wounds and tonsured to the bone, now lay like mutilated, naked monks in the blood-spattered dust, and everywhere the dying men groaned and gibbered. and the horses lay screeching. […] The judge kept writing and then he closed the book and put it aside and cupped his hands and cupped his nose and mouth and placed them palms down on his knees. […] He bows to the fiddlers and struts back and throws his head back and laughs deeply and he’s a big favorite, the judge. He waves his hat and the lunar dome of his skull passes pale under the lamps and sways and takes possession of one of the violins and pirouettes and makes a pass, two passes, dancing and playing the violin at the same time .
From his other book, blood meridian
As you read through all of these examples, take the time to read them aloud and see how they read differently or create a rhythm in each of the sentences.
A shorter example from writer James Joyce:
“They lived, laughed, loved and left.”
From his novel, Finnegan’s Stele
As you read each part, it feels like they are each separate thoughts and experiences. It’s moments in time that feel longer when they come together like this instead of “They lived, they laughed, they loved, and they were gone.”
Ernest Hemingway also used this literary technique to give us perspective on how his character feels:
“I said, ‘Who killed him?’ and he said, ‘I don’t know who killed him, but he’s dead, he’s fine,’ and it was dark and there was standing water in the street and the lights weren’t broken and the windows weren’t broken and the boats were in town and the trees were downed and It all blew up and I took a skiff and went out and found my boat where I had it inside Mango Key and I was right, it was just full of water.”
From his book, After the storm
Even poets have used polysyndeton in their work. While this is a shorter example than the others above, it will give you a good idea of the possibilities of even shorter text.
And soon it dipped slightly, rose and sank,
And dived again…
John Keats from his poem endymion
As you can see, this is a short and direct example of how you could use polysyndeton in your writing to make a line stand out or create a whole new rhythm.
What to do next
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