Polysyndeton and Asyndeton

Despite their formidable names, polysyndeton and asyndeton are nothing more than different ways of handling a list or series. Polysyndeton places a conjunction {and, or) after every term in the list (except, of course, the last). Asyndeton uses no conjunctions and separates the terms of the list with commas. Both differ from the conventional treatment of lists and series, which is to use only commas between all items except the last two, these being joined by a conjunction (with or without ^^^mia—it is optional):

CONVENTIONAL We stopped on the way to camp and bought supplies: bread, butter, cheese, hamburger, hot dogs, and beer.

POLYSYNDETON We stopped on the way to camp and bought supplies: bread and butter and cheese and hamburger and hot dogs and beer. ASYNDETON We stopped on the way to camp and bought supplies: bread, butter, cheese, hamburger, hot dogs, beer.

The conventional treatment of a series emphasizes no particular item, though the last may seem a little more important. In polysyndeton emphasis falls more evenly upon each member of the series, and also more heavily:

It was bright and clean and polished. Alfred Kazin

It is the season of suicide and divorce and prickly dread, whenever the wind blows. Joan Didion

In asyndeton too the series takes on more significance as a whole than it does in the conventional pattern. But the stress on each individual item is lighter than in polysyndeton, and the passage moves more quickly:

His care, his food, his shelter, his education—all of these were byproducts of his parents' position. Maigaret Mead

Polysyndeton and asyndeton do not necessarily improve a series. Most of the time the usual treatment is more appropriate. However, you do wish a different emphasis remember that polysyndeton and asyndeton exist.

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  • Atso Polvi
    How to use asyndeton or polysyndeton?
    8 years ago

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