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Synesis

Synesis is a rhetorical device that occurs when the writer structures a sentence based on its “sense” rather than its grammatical structure.

Synesis results in the sentence’s meaning becoming more important than how traditional syntax works. When a writer uses this, they’re highlighting the most important part of the sentence by rearranging the words. 

Synesis pronunciation: Seh-nee-sis
Synesis definition and examples


Definition of Synesis 

Synesis is a type of grammatical structure that agrees with the sense rather than the syntactic form. When the word “agree” is used in reference to grammar, it refers to what happens when a word changes form. How and when it changes depends on the words it relates to. For example, “They are” and “He is” are natural and grammatically correct, whereas “He are” and “They is” are not. The verb and subject have to agree. The third person pronoun matches with the third person verb tense. 

Types of Synesis 

There are two different kinds of synesis. They are: 

  • Notional concord: also known as notional agreement. It is one type of grammatical agreement in which the agreement is concerned with the meaning of a noun. The normal syntax is disregarded. 
  • Situational agreement: occurs when both singular and plural forms of a word are the same. The tense depends on the writer’s emphasis/interpretation.


Examples of Synesis 

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain 

Below, readers can find a good example of synesis from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. 

What’s the use you learning to do right, when it’s troublesome to do right and it ain’t no trouble to do wrong, and the wages is just the same?

This quote comes from Chapter 16. Twain writes “waves” rather than “wage.” He combines this with “is” rather than “are” this disagreement is grammatically incorrect. But, with its use, Twain is able to emphasize the dialect of the speaker. There is another example in the following quote: 

Sometimes you gwyne to git hurt, en sometimes you gwyne to git sick; but every time you’s gwyne to git well agin.

In addition to being a great example of how Twain uses dialect in his novel, this quote also provides another example of synesis. Consider the agreement, or disagreement, with the word “you’s.” Here, he is combining “you” and “is” rather than “you” and “are.” 

Explore Mark Twain’s poetry.

1984 by George Orwell 

In Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece, 1984, there are a few examples of the same type of synesis. The following quote can be found in the first book, Chapter VII. Winston is looking at a children’s history book and considering how completely the Party controls the minds of his fellow citizens. Specifically, he’s thinking about mental manipulation. He emphasizes this in the following quote: 

In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality was tacitly denied by their philosophy.

The first line contains an example of synesis. Winston thinks, “the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it.” This is one instance in which Orwell phrases a similar-sounding sentence. There is another example in the following lines: 

For, after all, how do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works?

By using the phrase this way, they are arranged according to logic rather than their syntactic form. Despite the different grammatical structures, the lines are still easy to understand. They also stand out, ensuring the reader doesn’t miss the importance of the Party’s manipulation. 

“King Lear” by William Shakespeare 

One of the best and most commonly cited examples of synesis in Shakespeare’s plays comes from “King Lear.” Consider these lines from Act II, Scene 4: 

I will have such revenges on you both,

That all the world shall–I will do such things,

What they are, yet I know not, but they shall be 

The terrors of the earth. You think I’ll weep? 

No, I’ll not weep. 

In this excerpt, Lear uses the word “revenges,” an ungrammatical construction. By using this rather than “such revenge,” he’s suggesting that revenge is going to be a process. He’s not going to do one thing and be satisfied with that. He’ll have “revenges.” 

Read William Shakespeare’s poetry.

Why Do Writers Use Synesis? 

Synesis is an interesting literary device that can clearly be used in a wide variety of ways, as the examples above prove. It could be employed to create a character’s dialect and therefore make them sound like their from a different region of the world, and even suggest something about their education. It might also be used to place emphasis on a specific part of the sentence. When it’s rearranged, writers are able to make sure the reader focuses on one part. Such as in the 1984 example. 

FAQs 

What is synesis?

Synesis is a rhetorical device that occurs when a sentence agrees in accordance with its sense rather than syntactic structure.

Why is synesis important? 

Synesis is an important literary device due to its origins and the fact that it can be used quite cleverly on occasion. The above examples prove that writers can use it to their advantage. 

Why do writers use synesis? 

Writers purposefully use synesis when they want the reader to focus on a different part of the sentence or mark the sentence out as important. 

Is it okay to use synesis? 

It depends on the context, but usually, writers want to avoid using synesis. When it’s used in an academic paper or any other kind of formal writing, it’s likely one will be marked down for it or asked to rearrange the sentence. 

What is an example of synesis? 

In 1984, George Orwell used an example of synesis when he wrote: “For, after all, how do we know that two and two make four?”


  • Coherence: refers to the properties of well-organized writing. This includes grammar, sentence structure, and plot elements.
  • Hypotaxis: the arrangement of constructs in grammar. It refers to the placement of functionally similar although unequal constructions.
  • Parataxis: a literary term used to describe the equal importance of a writer’s chosen words, phrases, or sentences.
  • Passive Voice: a generally disliked grammatical construction of sentences in which the “object” comes before the “subject.”
  • Slang Diction: contains words that are very specific to a region and time and have been recently coined.


Other Resources 

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