On Conjunctions (Asyndeton, Syndeton, and Polysyndeton) by Vus’umuzi Phakathi

Vus'umuzi Phakathi | October 4th, 2019 | Uncategorized | No Comments

In the basics of Grammar we find an intimate relationship, within the parts of speech, between the Conjunction and the Punctuation. The understanding of this relationship, looking into which to use, where to place it, when to omit it, when to substitute one for the other, or even when to use them together, leads to an exceptional execution of both prose and poetry.

Our focus today will be on the Conjunction.

Definition:- Conjunction is the part of speech that connects words, phrases, clauses, or sentences.

Literary Devices related to Conjunctions:

– Asyndeton

– Syndeton

– Polysyndeton


Definition: the omission of conjunctions from a series of related words, phrases, clauses, or lines.

Origin: from the Greek ἀσύνδετον (asindeton), meaning “unconnected”


– Adds speed and rhythm to a passage, or makes it more memorable or urgent.

– Places emphasis and creates a dramatic effect between the phrases or clauses.

– Leaves an impression that the list is incomplete. For example, the sentence, “I write poems, essays, and plays.” conveys the notion that I write only those three. The sentence, “I write poems, essays, plays.” On the other hand conveys that I am an avid writer and leaves open the possibility (even the likelihood) that I write other forms as well.

– Including a conjunction can sometimes create a subtle hierarchy within a listed series. When the conjunction is omitted, all elements exist on the same level, which can create interesting comparisons among objects or ideas that might not initially appear similar or comparable.


– The most common example of the Asyndeton is from Julius Caesar, shortly after the Battle of Zela, 47 BC, when he says, “I came, I saw, I conquered.” Perhaps echoing the actual Caesar’s use of this device, William Shakespeare uses it for Antony’s speech in his Julius Caesar:

ANTONY: O mighty Caesar! Dost thou lie so low? Are all thy conquests, glories, triumphs, spoils, Shrunk to this little measure? Fare thee well. —I know not, gentlemen, what you intend, Who else must be let blood, who else is rank. – (Act 3, Scene 1)

– Note how it emphasizes the relation between the concepts of conquest, glory, triumph, and spoils; note also how the device grants the passage more weight and poetic integrity.

In the opening of his iconic speech, I Am an African, we find another example from South African Former President Thabo Mbeki:

Chairperson, Esteemed President of the Democratic Republic, Honourable Members of the Constitutional Assembly, Our distinguished domestic and foreign guests, Friends,

On an occasion such as this, we should, perhaps, start from the beginning. So, let me begin

– Note how the omission of the “and” conjunction before “Friends”, leaves an impression of continuance, leaving the idea that there’s many more deserving of the protocol.

Lets also have a look at an extract from Vuyokazi Ngemntu’s Said one mistress to another:

He is not convinced you’re hurting because you’re not bleeding, He forgets you bleed monthly when not hurting, He doesn’t understand your soul speaks the moon’s language,

Applying Asyndeton to this work, Ngemntu omits the “because” conjunction giving the passage a depth of poetic integrity. It then reads:

He is not convinced you’re hurting, You’re not bleeding, He forgets you bleed monthly when not hurting, He doesn’t understand your soul speaks the moon’s language,


– Our poem of choice uses Asyndeton coupled with Anaphora (from the Greek anafora, meaning “to bring back” or “to carry back”). Anaphora is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive lines or clauses; its effect is the emphasis of keywords and ideas bringing forth great emotional pull, rhythm, and cadence.

Wizard. Witch. Sage by Sarah Godsell

 I am part wizard 
Part witch
Part sage
Part humble
Part hubris
Part book shelf
Part wine rack
Part academy
Part stage
Part classroom
Part hand-in-hand sweat
Part hidden in footsteps
Collecting the imprints
Part standing on beach
Commanding the waves
Part heart of the march
Part inch above the head
Part sleep
Part death
Part umbilical cord
Part past
Part hope
Part you’ll-never-believe-me
Part challenge me, I’ll swallow you
Part hold me, I’m hurting
Part super-human
Part dancing
Part weeping
Part wizard. Part witch. Part sage


Definition: the use of one conjunction to connect related words, phrases, clauses, or lines.

Origin: from the Greek συνδετόν “bound together with”.


– Merges ideas by merging words, phrases, and clauses.

– Brings finality to a list.

– May indicate hierarchy from the order of listing.


– The use of Syndeton is the usual manner of writing prose, and sometimes employed in poetry. We find an example again from South Africa’s Former President Thabo Mbeki’s iconic I Am an African speech:

I owe my being to the hills and the valleys, the mountains and the glades, the rivers, the deserts, the trees, the flowers, the seas, and the ever-changing seasons that define the face of our native land.

My body has frozen in our frosts and in our latter day snows. It has thawed in the warmth of our sunshine and melted in the heat of the midday sun. The crack and the rumble of the summer thunders, lashed by startling lightening, have been a cause both of trembling and of hope.


Definition: The repetition of conjunctions such as “and”, “or”, “for” and “but” in close succession, especially when most of them could be replaced with a comma.

Origin: From the Greek πολυσύνδετος (polysyndetos), meaning “bound together”


– Allows for a flow and continuity of experience.

– Slows down the pace of the passage intensifying every note.

– Adds rhythm and cadence to the passage.

– Can achieve some of the same effects of emphasis as asyndeton, however unique in its ability to layer to the point of collapse


– When having an apotheosis conversation with his best friend Iago, in a questioning response about both his wife and the best friend, Othelo begins with the Syndeton, which vehicles, in a merger, the contrast of his love and distrust, and ends with a layering of a kind of unbearable death, using Polysyndeton, to collapse the idea of a death he’s willing to accept if the distrust takes the podium.

OTHELLO: By the world, I think my wife be honest and think she is not. I think that thou art just and think thou art not. I’ll have some proof. Her name, that was as fresh As Dian’s visage, is now begrimed and black As mine own face. If there be cords or knives, Poison, or fire, or suffocating streams, I’ll not endure it. Would I were satisfied! – (Otherlo Act 3, Scene 3 by William Shakespeare)


In our poem extract of choice you’ll find a number of poetic devices in use, however pay close attention to that of the Syndeton, and Polysydeton.

To Die Before You Die 
by Modise Sekgothe

Humans are angels.
Angels are actually just humans before they are born;
Stripped off our wings, and our souls remain torn,
But feather by feather we will find,
And further and further we will fly!

The memory of the melody of our melancholy
Can be heard in the songs that we paint
And the paintings that we sing
In the sculptures that we dance
And the dances that we sculpt
In the poems that we dream
And the dreams we write
In the sketches that we beat
And the drums that we draw
In the citadels we blew
And the trumpets we built
In the cities that we drank
And the villages we spilt
In the pyramids we grew
And the sky-scrapers we planted
In all the mantras that we cast
And the spells that we chanted
In the vehicles that we flew
And the air-planes in our traffic
In the killing of the Jews
And the rising of a prophet
In the companies we sued
And the consequence of profit
In everything that we do
Is a concentrated effort.
To find the divine truth
That all of us are angels!
From murderer, to mystic,
To prostitute, to priest,
To revolutionary, to dictator,
To philanthropist, to thief,
To you the listener, and to I who speaks.

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