What is Polysyndeton
Polysyndeton is a figure of speech which refers to the use of several conjunctions, especially the same conjunction, in quick succession. Polysyndeton generally refers to the use of multiple conjunctions which could have been otherwise avoided. In simple terms, it is the deliberate use of excessive conjunctions in successive words or clauses. The term polysyndeton comes from Greek poly (meaning ‘many’) and syndeton (meaning ‘bound together’)
Polysyndeton is a stylistic device that can be used to achieve several effects. It can speed or slow the pace of the rhythm. It can also create a sense of being overwhelmed. Conveying different moods such somberness, ecstasy, exuberance, etc. is another function of polysyndeton.
Polysyndeton is often contrasted with Asyndeton and Syndeton. Asyndeton is the deliberate omission of conjunctions from a succession of words or phrases. (“The air was thick, warm, heavy, sluggish.”) Syndeton is the use of one conjunction to connect series of words. This is the normal usage of conjunctions. (The air was thick, warm, heavy, and sluggish.”)
Common Examples of Polysyndeton
“In years gone by, there were in every community men and women who spoke the language of duty and morality and loyalty and obligation.” – William F. Buckley
“And Joshua, and all of Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver, and the garment, and the wedge of gold, and his sons, and his daughters, and his oxen, and his asses, and his sheep, and his tent, and all that he had.” – The Bible
“As soon as he learned that the Republican fiction writers, in Congress and out, had concocted a story that I’d left him behind on the Lucian Islands and had sent a destroyer back to find him at a cost to the taxpayers of two or three or eight or twenty million dollars, his Scot soul was furious.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Examples of Polysyndeton in Literature
“If there be cords, or knives, or poison, or fire, or suffocating streams, I’ll not endure it.” – Othello, Shakespeare
The mouths of the cans were lensed with tinted cellophane and they cast upon the sheeting a shadowplay in the lights and smoke of antic demon players and a pair of goathawks arced chittering through the partial darkness overhead. – All the Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy
“People think it’s all about misery and desperation and death and all that, which is not to be ignored, but what they forget is the pleasure of it.” – Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh
“When thou dost ask me blessing I’ll kneel down and ask of thee forgiveness. So we’ll live and pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh at gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues talk of court news, and we’ll talk with them too” – King Lear, Shakespeare
And I do not see that it brings into the islands meat or bread or beer or wine or timber or cabbages or books or instruments of music or horses or armour or anything else worth having.” – The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C. S. Lewis
Polysyndeton – Summary
- Polysyndeton is the deliberate use of excessive conjunctions in successive words or clauses.
- It is often contrasted with asyndeton.
- It can control the pace of the passage, and create different moods and emotions.