Tuesday Terminology: Polysyndeton

Last week we discussed a great literary device (asyndterm) that lets you eschew normal grammar rules for the sake of art. To be honest, many of these Tuesday terms do just that. The more you know; the more rules you can break.

This week we’ll look at the opposite: polysyndeton. Instead of leaving out the connectives, polysyndeton adds excessive ones on purpose.

The wind and the waves and the rain came crashing in.

Notice the rhythm in that sentence. Polysyndeton often provides resonance to the phrase for literary impact, which is why it’s useful for poetry or poetic passages or just descriptions that benefit from the sound.

Wikipedia has a great example of how this device can be used from Ernest Hemingway’s After the Storm (emphasis added):

I said, “Who killed him?” and he said “I don’t know who killed him, but he’s dead all right,” and it was dark and there was water standing in the street and no lights or windows broke and boats all up in the town and trees blown down and everything all blown and I got a skiff and went out and found my boat where I had her inside Mango Key and she was right only she was full of water.”

Is this a run-on sentence? Definitely. Can he do that? He did. Many editors may object, but there are times when this device works. As with any such “trick,” however, use with care.

Any other favorite uses of polysyndeton you’d like to share—even from your own writing?


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