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Enthymeme is an informal argumentative statement in which the speaker omits one of the minor premises.

This is because they either don’t pronounce it or simply imply it through what is pronounced. The omitted part of the argument should be understandable to those listening despite the fact that it’s not spoken aloud. Enthymemes, despite their confusing sounding definition and name, are quite common in everyday conversations.

One of the best-known is “Where there is smoke, there is fire.” This statement implies that fire causes smoke, but it doesn’t explicitly state that. The reader has to interpret it from what is shared. 

Enthymeme pronunciation: en-thuh-meem
Enthymeme definition and examples

Definition of Enthymeme

An enthymeme is a type of argument that includes an implied, minor premise. This is a phrase or clause that is not spoken aloud but has to be interpreted through what is shared. This type of reasoning is informal in that it’s based around implied statements and arguments rather than stated ones. These kinds of arguments are common in everyday conversations, speeches, books, stories, and more. For example, these famous lines from the 1988 Vice-Presidential debate: 

Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.

Here, Lloyd Bentsen was speaking to Dan Quayle, attempting to emphasize the difference between the two (despite the latter’s attempts to draw a comparison between them). The hidden or implied premise here is that Jack Kennedy was a good man, a strong leader, and someone to be admired while Quayle is not. 

Examples of Enthymeme 

In these examples of enthymemes, it’s easy to see how informal this kind of argument is. The examples do not lead to valid conclusions but are easily incorporated into everyday conversations. It’s likely that one will find themselves using an enthymeme every day. But, taking the time to consider the implied premise in an enthymeme is another matter. Below are examples and their implied premises. 

  • Susan broke her promise, so she can’t be trusted. 
  • Implied premise: Those who break promises are untrustworthy. 
  • Drinking leads to poor decision-making, so drinking is wrong. 
  • Implied premise: Making poor decisions is wrong. 
  • Birds have wings. Therefore they fly. 
  • Implied premise: If an animal has wings, it flies. 

Examples of Enthymeme in Literature 

Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare 

Throughout the works of William Shakespeare, it’s easy to find some of the best examples of a wide variety of literary techniques and devices. He coined new words, created unique scenarios and foils, and provided readers with in-depth characterizations admired to this day. In the history play Julius Caesar, readers can find an interesting, albeit brief, example of enthymeme. It appears in Act III Scene 2 in a conversation between the Plebeians. The Third Plebeian speaks first, saying: 

Has he, masters?

I fear there will a worse come in his place.

Then, using an example of an enthymeme, the Fourth Plebeian says: 

Marked ye his words? He would not take the crown.

Therefore ’tis certain he was not ambitious.

Translated into words that are clear and easier for contemporary readers to understand, the Fourth Plebeian is saying that “He,” meaning Caesar, wouldn’t take the crown. This means, as the Plebeian says, that Caesar wasn’t ambitious. Here, the speaker is suggesting that good and honorable men are going to act in a certain way. 

Explore William Shakespeare’s poetry including his 154 sonnets.

Beauty: When the Other Dancer is the Self by Alice Walker 

Another commonly cited example comes from Alice Walker’s “Beauty: When the Other Dancer is the Self.” This autobiographical story is based around an occurrence from Walker’s childhood when one of her older brothers shot her in the eye with a BB gun. When considering the fact that her brothers got guns and she didn’t, she writes: 

Because I am a girl, I do not get a gun.

This example implies that there’s something in a girl’s life or personality that makes it inappropriate for them to get a gun. But, she still has to suffer the consequences of the guns being in her life. Walker lost sight in her eye after this incident. 

Discover Alice Walker’s poetry.

Enthymeme and Syllogism

These two terms are often compared to one another, but there are several important differences between them. For instance, a syllogism is a type of logic that includes two premises with a valid conclusion. It is a three-step process, all steps of which are stated. This contrasts with enthymeme because one of the premises is not pronounced, meaning that both promises do not have valid conclusions. The smoke and fire example is a good one. 

Why Do Writers Use Enthymeme? 

Writers use enthymeme in advertisements, speeches, novels, short stories, plays, and more, as the above examples demonstrate. Despite its complex-sounding definition, it’s easily incorporated into dialogue and arguments of different kinds. It’s quite informal and easy to construct examples of. When it’s used, writers are trying to lead the reader or listener towards a specific conclusion without them explicitly stating that that’s the case. They are gently suggesting that fires cause smoke by suggesting that there can’t be one without the other. 

When the reader or listener takes that step for themselves and reaches the implied premise without the writer stating it, the argument is strengthened. It feels more genuine and believable since the audience got there on their own. 

  • Literary Modernism: originated in the late 19th and 20th centuries. It was mainly focused on Europe and North America.
  • Audience: the group for which an artist or writer makes a piece of art or writes.
  • Ad Hominem: uses irrelevant information in an attempt to discredit someone’s opinion or argument.
  • Bandwagon: a persuasive style of writing that is used to convince readers of an argument or make them understand a certain perspective.
  • Bias: undue favor or support to a particular person, group, race, or one argument over another.
  • Concession: a literary device that occurs in argumentative writing in which one acknowledges another’s point.
  • Literary Argument: the argument of a piece of literature is a statement towards the beginning of a work that declares what it’s going to be about.

Other Resources 

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