Figures of Speech - Zeugma and Syllepsis

What is zeugma?

Zeugma (from the Greek, "a yoking, a bond") is a figure of speech in which a word, usually a verb or an adjective, joins different parts of a sentence. It is sometimes differentiated from syllepsis.

Here are some differences according to wikipedia

Grammatical syllepsis

Grammatical syllepsis, which is also sometimes called zeugma, occurs when a single word is used in relation to two other parts of a sentence although the word grammatically or logically applies to only one. According to prescriptivists, this type of syllepsis is grammatically "incorrect":


  • "He works his work, I mine" (Tennyson, "Ulysses")
  • "They saw lots of thunder and lightning."

In the first example, the verb "works" agrees with the subject pronoun "he", but not "I".

In the second example, the verb "saw" may collocate with the word "lightning" but not "thunder".

However, from the point of stylisticians, grammatical syllepsis is sometimes intentional because the writer wants to violate the rules of grammar for stylistic effect.


Zeugma which is often also called syllepsis, or semantic syllepsis, is a construction where a single word is used with two other parts of a sentence but must be understood differently in relation to each.


  • He took his hat and his leave.
  • She broke his car and his heart.

The above structures are grammatically correct: "took" collocates with both "hat" and "leave" and "broke" collocates with both "car" and "heart".

But these constructions create their stylistic effect by seeming, at first hearing, to be incorrect by exploiting multiple shades of meaning in a single word or phrase.

More on Zeugma and syllepsis on wikipedia

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