The others are polysyndeton and asyndeton. Syndeton is a rhetorical term that most readers are unaware of but which is used constantly. There are innumerable examples. It is so common, in fact, that one can likely open any book and find an example of syndeton almost instantly.
Definition of Syndeton
Syndeton is an incredibly common rhetorical device that occurs when a writer uses a conjunction, most commonly “and,” when they’re writing a sentence. It’s used to join together words, phrases, and clauses. Syndeton is used in everything from plays, poems, fiction, nonfiction, research papers, speeches, and everyday conversations.
What is a Conjunction?
In order to properly understand what syndeton is, it’s important to understand what a conjunction is and the role they play in sentences. A conjunction is a word used to connect clauses in a sentence. It’s also used to link a list of words or phrases. There are three different types:
- Coordinating: the most common type of conjunction. They join independent clauses, words, and phrases. For example: for, an, nor, but, or, yet, and so. These are commonly arranged in the acronym “FANBOYS.”
Example sentence: “She went to the store but forgot to buy milk.”
- Subordinating: introduces a dependent clause, connecting it to an independent clause. The former is a phrase that can’t stand alone. It needs the independent clause to make sense. There are many types of subordinating conjunctions. They include: although, as, how, since, though, until, where, and why.
Example sentence: “Because of that teacher, I never learned how to do basic math.”
- Correlative: work in pairs, and both words must be used. They connect two grammatical terms. Some pairs of correlative conjunctions are: both/and, either/or, not/but, and not only/but also.
Example sentence: “You either go to bed, or you go to time out.”
Syndetic sentences are concerned with the first type of conjunction and how it’s used to create lists. For example, “She went to the store and bought carrots, celery, and potatoes.” This is an example of a syndetic sentence because only coordinating conjunction is used.
Syndetic, Polysyndetic, and Asyndetic
To better understand syndetic sentences, it helps to gain an understanding of what polysyndeton and asyndeton are. These terms refer to other ways that conjunctions are used in sentences. Polysyndeton occurs when a writer creates a list and uses conjunctions between every element. For example: “They ran outside and jumped in the water and played with a dog and ran home.”
Asyndeton is the exact opposite. It occurs when the writer doesn’t use any conjunctions. The same sentence would look like this: “They ran outside, jumped in the water, played with a dog, ran home.” If this sentence was further altered, an example of syndeton, it would read: “They ran outside, jumped in the water, played with a dog, and ran home.” This final version is likely going to be the one that’s easiest to read and which most people are going to be familiar with.
Examples of Syndeton
From the Heights of Maccho Picchu by Pablo Neruda
‘From the Heights of Maccho Picchu’ is a beautiful poem written by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. The poem provides readers with examples of asyndeton and syndeton. Consider these lines from the end of the poem.
Give me silence, water, hope.
Give me struggle, iron, volcanoes.
Stick bodies to me like magnets.
Draw near to my veins and my mouth.
Speak through my words and my blood
The first two lines are examples of asyndeton in that there are no examples of conjunctions to separate out the lists. The following lines are examples of syndeton. The conjunction “and” is used to break up the phrases.
Read more Pablo Neruda poems.
Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
Consider the following lines from Edward Abbey’s cult classic, Desert Solitaire. Within the first pages of his book, as he’s describing arriving at Arches National Monument, he depicts his new home.
The mice are silent, watching me from their hiding places, but the wind is still blowing and outside the ground is covered with snow. Cold as a tomb, a jail, a cave; I lie down on the dusty floor, on the cold linoleum sprinkled with mouse turds, and list the pilot on the butane heater.
In these lines, readers can find an example of syndeton with the phrase:
The mice are silent, watching me from their hiding places, but the wind is still blowing and outside the ground is covered with snow.
The following sentence has another example with the phrase: “I lie down on the dusty floor, on the cold linoleum sprinkled with mouse turds, and list the pilot on the butane heater.” Abbey’s style fluctuates between using and not using conjunctions. There are many passages in his novel in which he creates lists that go on and on without a pause. There is a brief example with “Cold as a tomb, a jail, a cave.”
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Within Wuthering Heights, readers can also find numerous examples of syndeton sentences. The following quote is one of the best-known from the book and includes several phrases which are linked in different ways with “and.”
If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger.
Here, the speaker uses “and” to connect “If all else perished” and “he remained” while linking these words to other parts of the sentence. This is an interesting combination of syndeton and polysyndeton.
Read Emily Brontë’s poetry.
Why Do Writers Use Syndeton?
Writers use syndeton when they want to make a list and keep it as direct as possible. When they choose not to use it, it’s usually for stylistic purposes. If a series of words or phrases are linked without conjunction, they may want to make it feel more dramatic or drawn out. If conjunctions are used between every word or phrase, they might want the list to feel long and repetitive. These are not characteristics that every writer is going to want every list to have. Therefore, syndeton is commonly used and easily found within all literary genres and forms.
The effect is the creation of a sentence that’s direct and easy to read. With conjunctions, readers can easily comprehend the way that phrases connect to one another and why a list has been composed in a certain way.
Syndeton is very commonly used. It is used in everyday conversations among friends, family members, and colleagues as well as in within literature. Most people use it without thinking about what kind of rhetorical device it is.
Syndeton is an important rhetorical device because it’s used so commonly. It appears in all genres of literature and is the most common way to create lists and link clauses. Without syndeton, all lists would either be overly long or complex.
Polysyndeton is an expanded and repetitive version of syndeton. It occurs when “and” or another conjunction is used between every clause, phrase, or word in a list. For example, “She ran over the log and around the trees and through the river and up the hill.”
It’s easy to use syndeton. All a writer has to do is create a list and use “and” or another similar conjunction at some point in the sentence. It should appear before the last item on the list. For example, “I bought milk, eggs, and bread at the store.”
Related Literary Terms
- Coherence: refers to the properties of well-organized writing. This includes grammar, sentence structure, and plot elements.
- Colloquial Diction: conversational in nature and can be seen through the use of informal words that represent a specific place or time.
- Inference: a literary device that occurs when logical assumptions are made.
- Active Voice: used in a phrase in which the subject performs an action which is then expressed through a verb.
- Ambiguity: a word or statement that has more than one meaning. If a phrase is ambiguous, it means multiple things.