Figures of Speech – Zeugma and Syllepsis

Figures of Speech – Zeugma and Syllepsis

Figures of Speech: Zeugma and Syllepsis – Examples and Key Points

Figures of speech are powerful linguistic tools that add depth, creativity, and complexity to language. Two such intriguing figures of speech are Zeugma and Syllepsis. In this blog, we will explore these two rhetorical devices, providing examples and key points to remember when using them in your writing or speech.


Definition: Zeugma is a figure of speech where a single word, often a verb or an adjective, governs or modifies two or more words in a sentence, typically in a surprising or unexpected way.


  1. She stole my heart and my wallet.
    • In this sentence, “stole” applies to both “heart” and “wallet” in different senses: emotional and literal theft.
  2. He broke the window and my confidence.
    • “Broke” is used figuratively with “confidence” and literally with “window,” creating a clever juxtaposition.
  3. The storm sank the ship and my hopes.
    • Here, “sank” is applied both to the ship’s literal sinking and the figurative sinking of hopes.

Key Points to Remember for Zeugma:

  1. Surprising Connections: Zeugma often creates a surprise by linking two disparate ideas or objects with a common verb or adjective.
  2. Wordplay: It’s a fantastic tool for wordplay, allowing you to convey complex meanings or emotions concisely.
  3. Context Matters: The effectiveness of zeugma relies on the reader’s ability to decipher the intended meaning based on the context.


Definition: Syllepsis is a figure of speech where a single word is used with two other words or phrases in a way that makes sense grammatically with one but only logically with the other.


  1. She stole my heart and my blanket.
    • In this example, “stole” works grammatically with both “heart” and “blanket,” but it makes sense logically only with “heart.”
  2. He lost his keys and his temper.
    • “Lost” makes grammatical sense with both “keys” and “temper,” but it logically fits better with “keys.”
  3. They covered the distance and themselves in glory.
    • “Covered” grammatically applies to both “distance” and “themselves,” but it conveys a logical sense only with “distance.”

Key Points to Remember for Syllepsis:

  1. Logical vs. Grammatical: Syllepsis hinges on the contrast between logical and grammatical correctness. The humor or insight often arises from this disparity.
  2. Precision: It allows you to be precise in your expression, emphasizing one aspect while subtly referencing another.
  3. Contextual Awareness: Syllepsis requires readers or listeners to be aware of the broader context to appreciate the clever wordplay.


Figures of speech like Zeugma and Syllepsis are valuable tools for writers and speakers seeking to add depth and nuance to their language. They create memorable and impactful expressions by playing with words, challenging the reader’s expectations, and inviting them to engage more deeply with the text. Remember the key points we’ve discussed, and you’ll be well-equipped to wield these figures of speech effectively in your writing and communication

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

36 Figures of Speech Types Simile Metaphor Etc With Examples
36 Figures of Speech Types Simile Metaphor Etc With Examples

List of Figures of Speech in English Language – Literary Devices

Accumulation Climax Metalepsis
Adjunction Dysphemism Metaphor
Adnomination Ellipsis Metonymy
Alliteration Euphemism Simile
Allusion Epigram Syncdoche
Anaphora Epiphora (or epistrophe) Tautology
Antanaclasis Hyperbole Understatement
Anticlimax Hypophora Zeugma and syllepsis
Antiphrasis Irony
Antithesis Litotes
Apostrophe Oxymoron
Assonance Personification
Cataphora Puns
Chiasmus Merism

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