syl·​lep·​sis | \ sə-ˈlep-səs How to pronounce syllepsis (audio) \
plural syllepses\ sə-​ˈlep-​ˌsēz How to pronounce syllepses (audio) \

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

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Other Words from syllepsis

sylleptic \ sə-​ˈlep-​tik How to pronounce sylleptic (audio) \ 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

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The first known use of syllepsis was circa 1550

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Cite this Entry

“Syllepsis.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 7 December 2019.

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