I. What is an Asyndeton?
Asyndeton (pronounced uh–sin-di-ton) is skipping one or more conjunctions (and, or, but, for, nor, so, yet) which are usually used in a series of phrases. Asyndeton is also known as asyndetism. This word is derived from the Greek phrase asyndetos meaning “unconnected.”
After seeing all the evidence, I agree. They disagree.
An average sentence would read this way: “After seeing all the evidence, I agree, but they disagree.” Taking out the “but” dramatizes the difference of opinion.
II. Examples of Asyndeton
Asyndeton can be used in everyday conversation as well as higher literature for a variety of effects. Here are a few basic examples of asyndeton:
We went to the park, played on the jungle gym, ran around, had a picnic… That was about it!
The asyndeton occurs where “and” would usually tie together the last: “ran around and had a picnic.” Here, the asyndeton occurs naturally as the speaker can no longer think of anything else to list.
Friends for now, forever.
In this example, the “and” is also omitted, but for a different effect: the lack of “and” makes the phrase sound more solemn and respectful of the friendship than “Friends for now and forever.”
III. The Importance of Using Asyndeton
Asyndeton is an example of how taking a typically written sentence and editing it slightly can have a powerful effect. Asyndeton can create a sense of accelerated or slowed rhythm, emotional distress or excitement, or emphasis on certain ideas by deleting conjunctions like and, but, or, and as.
IV. Examples of Asyndeton in Literature
Excerpt from “Dear Friend” by Blas Falconer
Your bags were packed
and left at the door, the vase you
filled with shells, wrapped in tissue,
your books boxed. I have the whelk
you found on shore, the small conch,
intact—the point, the fine grooves—
and keep it in a box with a picture of you
at the beach: your hair slicked back,
head cocked at an angle.
Behind you, the green jacket
you told me to throw away. Strewn
over a chair, its arms dangle
above the floor—a hole in the pocket,
the elbows thin from years of use.
In typical syndetic writing, the underlined portions would have conjunctions. In this poem, though, the lines benefit from asyndeton which relaxes and effortlessly merges the images being described in a peaceful voice.
Excerpt from “Origin & Ash” by Tina Chang
from a compact, platters full of peppermints,
a bowl of sour pudding.
A cup of milk before me tastes of melted almonds.
It is the story of the eve of my beginning. Gifts for me:
boxes of poppies, pocket knife,
an elaborate necklace
made of ladybugs.
The beginning of Chang’s poem is void of conjunctions and reads as a collection of objects that have meaning for the speaker but meaning that remains unexplained. The use of asyndeton allows these objects to stand on their own, equally important yet mysterious.
V. Examples of Asyndeton in Pop Culture
Asyndeton creates rhythm in songs, drama in fast or slow dialogue, and comedy in lists that go on forever or slowly trail off.
I can show you the world
Shining, shimmering, splendid
Tell me, princess, now when did
You last let your heart decide?
Soaring, tumbling, freewheeling
Through an endless diamond sky
The use of asyndeton in this song has two uses: it provides the song with a rhythm and it allows such marvelous adjectives to carry equal weight.
VI. Related Terms
The use of conjunctions can be complicated. For various reasons, we choose to omit them, use them in excess, or add them at will.
Here are a few examples of terms related to asyndeton:
Whereas asyndeton requires the omission of conjunctions, polysyndeton is the rapid and frequent use of conjunctions in succession. Such repetition expresses a sense of overwhelm with how many things there are or rapid speech and thought patterns. Here is an example of polysyndeton versus asyndeton:
The picnic had shrimp cocktail, and pears, and grape soda, and crackers and cheese, and some red wine, and, what else? Lots of stuff!
Clearly, polysyndeton is often used to express excitement and to highlight the large number of items in a list.
The picnic had shrimp cocktail, pears, grape soda, crackers, cheese, some red wine…
Asyndeton, on the other hand, sometimes expresses a lack of enthusiasm and a trailing off that naturally happens in everyday conversation.
Syndeton is the normal and acceptable fellow among more unusual and particular devices like polysyndeton and asyndeton. Syndeton is the usual usage of conjunctions to connect ideas and objects in a list or phrases in a sentence.
Here are a few examples of syndeton:
- We ate, went for a run, and then took a nap.
- He said he would arrive by nine, but he still isn’t here.
- I’m interesting in what he has to say at the seminar, as I recently read his book.
VII. In Closing
Asyndeton has a variety of uses in everyday conversation, literature, and pop culture. It can imply a trailing off or overwhelming feeling or it can reflect a certain mood based on the subject matter of the composition. Sometimes less is more, and asyndeton proves this is true of conjunction use.