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This complex sentence is an example of hypotaxis.


An arrangement of phrases or clauses in a dependent or subordinate relationship. (Contrast with parataxis.) Adjective: hypotactic.

See also:


From the Greek, "subjection"

Examples and Observations:

  • "One December morning near the end of the year when snow was falling moist and heavy for miles all around, so that the earth and the sky were indivisible, Mrs. Bridge emerged from her home and spread her umbrella."
    (Evan S. Connell, Mrs. Bridge, 1959)

  • "Let the reader be introduced to Joan Didion, upon whose character and doings much will depend of whatever interest these pages may have, as she sits at her writing table in her own room in her own house on Welbeck Street."
    (Joan Didion, Democracy, 1984)

  • "When I was around nine or ten I wrote a play which was directed by a young, white schoolteacher, a woman, who then took an interest in me, and gave me books to read, and, in order to corroborate my theatrical bent, decided to take me to see what she somewhat tactlessly referred to as 'real' plays."
    (James Baldwin, "Notes of a Native Son," 1955)

  • "After the lions had returned to their cages, creeping angrily through the chutes, a little bunch of us drifted away and into an open doorway nearby, where we stood for a while in semi-darkness watching a big brown circus horse go harumphing around the practice ring."
    (E. B. White, "The Ring of Time")

  • Virginia Woolf's Hypotactic Style
    "Considering how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings, how astonishing when the lights of health go down, the undiscovered countries that are then disclosed, what wastes and deserts of the soul a slight attack of influenza brings to view, what precipices and lawns sprinkled with bright flowers a little rise of temperature reveals, what ancient and obdurate oaks are uprooted in us by the act of sickness, how we go down into the pit of death and feel the waters of annihilation close above our heads and wake thinking to find ourselves in the presence of the angels and the harpers when we have a tooth out and come to the surface in the dentist’s arm-chair and confuse his 'Rinse the mouth--rinse the mouth' with the greeting of the Deity stooping from the floor of Heaven to welcome us--when we think of this, as we are so frequently forced to think of it, it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love and battle and jealousy among the prime themes of literature."
    (Virginia Woolf, "On Being Ill." New Criterion, Jan. 1926)

  • Oliver Wendell Holmes's Use of Hypotaxis
    "If you have advanced in line and have seen ahead of you the spot you must pass where the rifle bullets are striking; if you have ridden at night at a walk toward the blue line of fire at the dead angle of Spottsylvania, where for twenty-four hours the soldiers were fighting on the two sides of an earthwork, and in the morning the dead and dying lay piled in a row six deep, and as you rode you heard the bullets splashing in the mud and earth about you; if you have been in the picket-line at night in a black and unknown wood, have heard the splat of the bullets upon the trees, and as you moved have felt your foot slip upon a dead man's body; if you have had a blind fierce gallop against the enemy, with your blood up and a pace that left no time for fear--if, in short, as some, I hope many, who hear me, have known, you have known the vicissitudes of terror and triumph in war; you know that there is such a thing as the faith I spoke of."
    (Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., "The Soldier's Faith." Harvard University, May 30, 1895)

    "Holmes, a thrice-wounded officer of the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteers, knew whereof he spoke, certainly. The passage [above] is drawn up like lines of battle, 'If' clauses (the protasis) that one has to pass one-by-one before reaching the 'Then' clause (the apodosis). The 'syntax' is, in the literal sense of the Greek, a line of battle. The sentence . . . seems to map a series of Civil War skirmish lines. This is hypotactic arrangement for certain."
    (Richard A. Lanham, Analyzing Prose, 2nd ed. Continuum, 2003)

  • Characteristics of Hypotactic Prose
    "Hypotactic style allows syntax and structure to supply useful information. Instead of simple juxtaposition of elements by way of simple and compound sentences, hypotactic structures rely more on complex sentences to establish relationships among elements. Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca (1969) observed, 'The hypotactic construction is the argumentative construction par excellence. . . . Hypotaxis creates frameworks [and] constitutes the adoption of a position' (p. 158)."
    (James Jasinski, Sourcebook on Rhetoric: Key Concepts in Contemporary Rhetorical Studies. Sage, 2001)

    "The subordinating style orders its components in relationships of causality (one event or state is caused by another), temporality (events and states are prior or subsequent to one another), and precedence (events and states are arranged in hierarchies of importance). 'It was the books I read in high school rather than those I was assigned in college that influenced the choices I find myself making today'--two actions, one of which is prior to the other and has more significant effects that continue into the present."
    (Stanley Fish, How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One. HarperCollins, 2011)
Pronunciation: hi-po-TAX-is

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