"Despite their formidable names, polysyndeton and asyndeton are nothing more than different ways of handling a list or a series. Polysyndeton places a conjunction (and, or) after every term in the list (except, of course, the last). Asyndeton uses no conjunctions and separates the terms of the list with commas. Both differ from the conventional treatment of lists and series, which is to use only commas between all items except the last two, these being joined by a conjunction (with or without a comma--it is optional)."
(Thomas S. Kane, The New Oxford Guide to Writing. Oxford University Press, 1988)
- Coordinate Clause
- Hemingway's Repetitions
- Joan Didion's Use of Polysyndeton
- Polysyndeton in "Sad-Grand Moment"
Etymology:From the Greek, "bound together"
Examples and Observations:
- "[I]t is respectable to have no illusions--and safe--and profitable--and dull."
(Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim, 1900)
- "Most motor-cars are conglomerations (this is a long word for bundles) of steel and wire and rubber and plastic, and electricity and oil and petrol and water, and the toffee papers you pushed down the crack in the back seat last Sunday."
(Ian Fleming, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: The Magical Car, 1964)
- "He pulled the blue plastic tarp off of him and folded it and carried it out to the grocery cart and packed it and came back with their plates and some cornmeal cakes in a plastic bag and a plastic bottle of syrup."
(Cormac McCarthy, The Road. Knopf, 2006)
- "Let the whitefolks have their money and power and segregation and sarcasm and big houses and schools and lawns like carpets, and books, and mostly--mostly--let them have their whiteness."
(Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, 1969)
- "I don't care a fig for his sense of justice--I don't care a fig for the wretchedness of London; and if I were young, and beautiful, and clever, and brilliant, and of a noble position, like you, I should care still less."
(Henry James, The Princess Casamassima, 1886)
- "Standing still, I can hear my footsteps
Come up behind me and go on
Ahead of me and come up behind me and
With different keys clinking in the pockets,
And still I do not move."
(W.S. Merwin, "Sire." The Second Four Books of Poems. Copper Canyon Press, 1993)
- "There was much game hanging outside the shops, and the snow powdered in the fur of the foxes and the wind blew their tails. The deer hung stiff and heavy and empty, and small birds blew in the wind and the wind turned their feathers. It was a cold fall and the wind came down from the mountains."
(Ernest Hemingway, "In Another Country," 1927)
- "But Fryeburg is where some of my wife's ancestors lived, and is in the valley of the Saco, looking west to the mountains, and the weather promised to be perfect, and the premium list of the agricultural society said, 'Should Any Day Be Stormy, the Exercises for That Day Will Be Postponed to the First Fair Day,' and I would rather have a ringside seat at a cattle sale than a box at the opera, so we picked up and left town, deliberately overshooting Fryeburg by 175 miles in order to sleep one night at home."
(E.B. White, "Goodbye to Forty-Eighth Street." Essays of E.B. White. Harper, 1977)
- "By seven o'clock the orchestra has arrived, no thin five-piece affair, but a whole pitful of oboes and trombones and saxophones and viols and cornets and piccolos, and low and high drums. The last swimmers have come in from the beach now and are dressing upstairs; the cars from New York are parked five deep in the drive, and already the halls and salons and verandas are gaudy with primary colors, and hair shorn in strange new ways, and shawls beyond the dreams of Castile. The bar is in full swing, and floating rounds of cocktails permeate the garden outside, until the air is alive with chatter and laughter, and casual innuendo and introductions forgotten on the spot, and enthusiastic meetings between women who never knew each other's names."
(F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, 1925)
- "There were frowzy fields, and cow-houses, and dunghills, and dustheaps, and ditches, and gardens, and summer-houses, and carpet-beating grounds, at the very door of the Railway. Little tumuli of oyster shells in the oyster season, and of lobster shells in the lobster season, and of broken crockery and faded cabbage leaves in all seasons, encroached upon its high places."
(Charles Dickens, Dombey and Son, 1848)
- "He moved very fast and pain flared in my arm as the pressure came on--he was going to break it and I curved a thumb-shot for the eye and missed and struck again and missed and went on striking until his head rolled back and I felt the softness of the eye and struck and dragged my arm free and went for the throat."
(Adam Hall, The Sinkiang Executive, 1978)
- "Oh, my piglets, we are the origins of war--not history's forces, nor the times, nor justice, nor the lack of it, nor causes, nor religions, nor ideas, nor kinds of government--not any other thing. We are the killers."
(Katharine Hepburn as Eleanor of Aquitaine in The Lion in Winter, 1968)
- Polysyndeton and Asyndeton in Demosthenes
"There is an example of both these figures [polysyndeton and asyndeton] in a passage of Demosthenes.
For as to naval power, and the number of forces, and revenues, and a plenty of martial preparations, and in a word, as to other things that may be esteemed the strength of a state, these are all both more and greater than in former times; but all these things are rendered useless, inefficacious, abortive, through the power of corruption. Philippic, iiiIn the first part of this sentence, the repetition of the conjunction and seems to add to the strength of the particulars it enumerates, and each particular demands a deliberate and emphatic pronunciation in the rising inflection; but the last part of the sentence, without the particles, being expressive of the impatience and regret of the speaker, requires a swifter pronunciation of the particulars."
(John Walker, A Rhetorical Grammar, 1822)
- The Lighter Side of Polysyndeton
Count Olaf: Looks like you could use a little assistance.
Klaus Baudelaire: You're going to need assistance when we get back to town! Aunt Josephine's going to tell everyone what happened!
Count Olaf: [sarcastically] And then I'll be arrested and sent to jail and you'll live happily ever after with a friendly guardian, spending your time inventing things and reading books and sharpening your little monkey teeth, and bravery and nobility will prevail at last, and this wicked world will slowly but surely become a place of cheerful harmony, and everybody will be singing and dancing and giggling like the littlest elf! A happy ending! Is that what you had mind?
(Jim Carrey and Liam Aiken in Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, 2004)
"And she pushed St. Peter aside and took a keek in, and there was God--with a plague in one hand and a war and a thunderbolt in the other and the Christ in glory with the angels bowing, and a scraping and banging of harps and drums, ministers thick as a swarm of blue-bottles, no sight of Jim [her husband] and no sight of Jesus, only the Christ, and she wasn't impressed. And she said to St. Peter This is no place for me and turned and went striding into the mists and across the fire-tipped clouds to her home."
(Ma Cleghorn in Lewis Grassic Gibbon's Grey Granite, 1934)