syl·​lep·​sis | \sə-ˈlep-səs \
plural syllepses\sə-​ˈlep-​ˌsēz \

Definition of syllepsis 

1 : the use of a word to modify or govern syntactically two or more words with only one of which it formally agrees in gender, number, or case

2 : the use of a word in the same grammatical relation to two adjacent words in the context with one literal and the other metaphorical in sense

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from syllepsis

sylleptic \sə-​ˈlep-​tik \ adjective

Did You Know?

Charles Dickens made good use of syllepsis in The Pickwick Papers when he wrote that his character Miss Bolo "went straight home, in a flood of tears and a sedan chair." Such uses are humorously incongruous, but they’re not grammatically incorrect. Syllepsis as defined at sense 1, however, is something to be generally avoided. For example, take this sentence, "She exercises to keep healthy and I to lose weight." The syllepsis occurs with the verb exercises. The problem is that only one subject, "she" (not "I"), agrees with the verb. The word syllepsis derives from the Greek syllēpsis, and ultimately from syllambanein, meaning "to gather together." It has been used in English since at least 1550.

First Known Use of syllepsis

circa 1550, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for syllepsis

Latin, from Greek syllēpsis, from syllambanein

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about syllepsis

Listen to Our Podcast about syllepsis

Dictionary Entries near syllepsis








Statistics for syllepsis

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for syllepsis

The first known use of syllepsis was circa 1550

See more words from the same year

More from Merriam-Webster on syllepsis

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with syllepsis

Comments on syllepsis

What made you want to look up syllepsis? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


the figure or shape of a crescent moon

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Late Autumn 2018 Words of the Day Quiz

  • frosted-autumn-leaves
  • Which is a synonym of yahoo?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

Add Diction

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!