Zeugma (from the Greek word "ζεύγμα", meaning "yoke") is a figure of speech describing the joining of two or more parts of a sentence with a single common verb or noun. A zeugma employs both ellipsis, the omission of words which are easily understood, and parallelism, the balance of several words or phrases. The result is a series of similar phrases joined or yoked together by a common and implied noun or verb. In a modern sense, the zeugma has been classified as a synonym for syllepsis, a particular kind of zeugma, although there is a clear distinction between the two in classical treatises written on the subject. Henry Peacham praises the “delight of the ear” in the use of the zeugma in rhetoric, but stresses to avoid “too many clauses.” The zeugma is categorized according to the location and part of speech of the governing word.


The prozeugma (also called the "Synezeugmenon" or the Latin "praeiunctio") is a zeugma where a verb in the first part of a sentence governs several later clauses in series.

*“Vicit pudorem libido, timorem audacia, rationem amentia” (Cicero, Pro Cluentio, VI.15) :“Lust conquered shame, audacity fear, madness reason.” (Also an example of a tricolon)

*“Povertie hath gotten conquest of thy riches, shame of thy pride, danger of thy safetie, folly of thy wisedome, weakenesse of thy strength, and time of thy imagined immortalitie. [sic] ” (Henry Peacham)

*“Mr Jones took his coat and his leave”

*“He [Mr. Finching] proposed seven times once in a hackney-coach once in a boat once in a pew once on a donkey at Tunbridge Wells and the rest on his knees.” [Flora Finching] - (Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit, Chapter 24)


The mesozeugma is a zeugma where a verb in the middle of the sentence governs several parallel clauses on either side.

*Both determination and virtue will prevail; both dedication and honor, diligence and commitment.

*“What a shame is this, that neither hope of reward, nor feare of reproch could any thing move him, neither the perswasion of his friends, nor the love of his countrey. [sic] ”--Peacham


The hypozeugma, also called an "adjunctio" in Latin, is a zeugma where a verb falls at the end of a sentence and governs several parallel clauses that precede it.

*"Aut morbo aut vetustate formae dignitas deflorescit."—"Rhetorica ad Herennium":"Either with disease or age, physical beauty fades"

*”through rain or sleet or dark of night, the mail must get through.”—motto of postal carriers (also contains a rhetorical bracketing and repetition of the word “through”)

*"Nihilne te nocturnum praesidium palatii, nihil urbis vigilae, nihil timor populi, nihil concursus bonorum omnium, nihil hic munitissimus habendi senatus locus, nihil horum ora vultusque moverunt?" —Cicero "In Catilinam I-IV". :"Does not the nightly watch of the Palatine, Does not guard of the city, Does not the fear of the people, Does not the union of all good men, Does not the holding of the senate in this most defensible place, Do not the looks and faces of these people move you?"

By suspending the verb until the end, the listener is unable to determine what action the atrocities will cause, which is precisely the point Cicero intends to make. In this manner, the hypozeugma lends itself well to the forming of a periodic sentence.

*"Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears."—William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

*"Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride, Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride:On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere."- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "Paul Revere’s Ride"

*"The foundation of freedome, the fountaine of equitie, the safegard of wealth, and custodie of life, is preserved by lawes."—Peacham

Following a hypozeugma with a prozeugma can create a chiasmus(The foundation of freedom and the fountain of equity is preserved by laws. Our lawless acts destroy our wealth and threaten our custody of life.)


The diazeugma is a zeugma where a noun governs two or more verbs. Latin rhetoricians further divide the diazeugma according to the placement of the subject and verbs.

;Diazeugma DisjunctionThe subject appears at the beginning of the sentence and each verb follows in its respective clause.
*"Populus Romanus Numantiam delevit, Kartaginem sustulit, Corinthum disiecit, Fregellas evertit."—"Rhetorica ad Herennium":The Roman people destroyed Numantia, razed Carthage, demolished Corinth, and overthrew Fregella.
*"Formae dignitas aut morbo deflorescit aut vetustate extinguitur"—"Rhetorica ad Herennium’’: Physical beauty: with disease it fades; with age it dies.

;Diazeugma ConjunctionThe subject appears in the middle of a sentence and may take the place of a conjunction.
*Stands accused, threatens our homes, revels in his crime, this man guilty of burglary asks for our forgiveness.
*Despairing in the heat and in the sun, we marched, cursing in the rain and in the cold.


The Hypozeuxis is the opposite of a zeugma, where each subject has its own verb.

*The parents scowled, the girls cried, and the boys jeered while the clown stood confused.
*"We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the fields, and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender!"—Winston Churchill
*"Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering" - Yoda, .


Syllepsis is a particular type of zeugma in which the clauses are not parallel either in meaning or grammar. The governing word may change meaning with respect to the other words it modifies. This creates a semantic incongruity which is often humorous. Alternatively, a syllepsis may contain a governing word or phrase which does not agree grammatically with one or more of its distributed terms. This is an intentional construction bending the rules of grammar for stylistic effect.

Distributed term changes meaning

The governing term can change meaning in its distribution, sometimes to comical effect.

:"alter cum res gestas tum etiam stadium atque auris adhibere posset."—Cicero, Pro Archia Poeta, (62):the other was able to lend not only his achievements, but also his support and ears

:"Here thou, great Anna! whom three realms obey,:"Dost sometimes counsel take - and sometimes tea.:Alexander Pope, The Rape of the Lock (Pope was speaking of Queen Anne and Kensington Palace; note that in Pope's time, "tea" was pronounced "tay" and thus rhymed with "obey.")

:"He carried a strobe light and the responsibility for the lives of his men.:Tim O'Brien, The Things They Carried

Syllepsis can be used with idiomatic phrases to achieve a similar result:

*"You held your breath and the door for me." :Alanis Morissette, Head over Feet
*"I took her hand and then an aspirin in the morning,":Eve 6, "Girl Eyes"
*"Oh, flowers are as common here, Miss Fairfax, as people are in London." (from "The Importance of Being Earnest" by Oscar Wilde) Cecily is making a catty remark to Miss Fairfax, a Londoner, by using "common" in two senses, namely "numerous" and "vulgar".
*"The Russian grandees came to Elizabeth's court dropping pearls and vermin." Macaulay tells us here in one short phrase a great deal about the Russian grandees.
*"Are you getting fit or having one?" (from the television program M*A*S*H)
*"You are free to execute your laws, and your citizens, as you see fit." (from the television program )
*"She was a thief, you got to believe: she stole my heart and my cat." (from the film So I Married an Axe Murderer)

yllepsis with ambiguous grammar

A syllepsis may contain a governing word which does not agree grammatically with one or more of the words or clauses to which it is distributed.

*"Loud lightning and thunder shook the temple walls.":Here, neither "loud" nor "shook" agree with "lightning", a purely visual effect.
*"The sky and my hopes are falling."
*"Our son's diaper and your excuses is stinking." :The first subject is brought to our attention more ominously by the verb with which it agrees.

Examples of syllepsis

* [She] went straight home in a flood of tears, and a sedan chair. - Charles Dickens
*He said, as he hastened to put out the cat, the wine, his cigar and the lamps... : She lowered her standards by raising her glass, her courage, her eyes and his hopes: When he asked, "What in Heaven?" she made no reply, up her mind, and a dash for the door - Flanders and Swann, "Madeira M'Dear"
*Just a dissipated creep who wears a Rolex on his wrist/On her nerves, too much cologne, and down her power to resist.: Did she turn down the wrong hallway, his advances, or the sheet? - Bob Kanefsky, "The Girl Who Had Never Been ..."
*... and covered themselves with dust and glory. - Mark Twain, "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer"
*You can leave in a taxi. If you can't get a taxi, you can leave in a huff. If that's too soon, you can leave in a minute and a huff. - Groucho Marx, from "Duck Soup"
*Come the (computer) revolution, all persons found guilty of such criminal behavior will be summarily executed, and their programs won't be!--"Numerical Recipes"
*My teeth and ambitions are bared; be prepared! - Scar, from "The Lion King" with lyrics by Tim Rice
*The levees were broken and so were the promises. - Anderson Cooper, "Dispatches from the Edge"
* The word “Arms” would have two different meanings at once: “weapons” (as the object of “keep”) and (as the object of “bear”) one-half of an idiom. It would be rather like saying “He filled and kicked the bucket” to mean “He filled the bucket and died.” Grotesque. - Justice Scalia's majority opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller, rejecting the notion that the phrase "bear arms" was used as an idiom in the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution.554 U.S. ____ (2008), slip op. at 13.

ee also

*Figure of Speech


*Pseudo-Cicero, ‘’Rhetorica ad Herennium’’ (with an English translation by Harry Caplan 1954) Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, (ISBN 0-674-99444-2)
*Quintillian, "Institutio Oratoria : Books I-III" (edited by H. E. Butler 1980) Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, (ISBN 0-674-99138-9)
*Henry Peacham, "The Garden of Eloquence" Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, Inc. 1977 (ISBN 0-8201-1225-9)
*Dr. Gideon O. Burton, [http://humanities.byu.edu/rhetoric/Figures/Z/zeugma.htm "Silva Rhetoricae"] , websource 2003

External links

* [http://www.wunderland.com/WTS/Alison/lexophilia/sub-things/zeugma.html Some examples of zeugma as a synonym for syllepsis]
* [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu Perseus Project with links to original sources on rhetoric]

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