How to Write a Zeugma
One exercise for writing an effective zeugma is to start with the linking word.
Let’s use this example:
He lost his briefcase, then his job, then his mind
The whole story orbits around the word “lost.” Maybe you can come up with a similar story – think of a verb that could be used in multiple senses and write a one-sentence story that uses that verb in several ways.
On reaching the summit, they basked in sunlight and a sense of accomplishment.
He was looking for a new apartment, a new identity, and love.
I flew into Tampa and off the handle.
Make sure that the linking word makes some kind of sense when put next to the items it’s attached to (“grew potatoes…grew peanuts…grew bored” or “lost his briefcase…lost his job…lost his mind”). If the linking word sounds weird when you place it right next to the items in the zeugma, the zeugma won’t work! It will simply result in confusion for the reader.
When to use Zeugma
Since zeugma makes your sentences more complicated, it’s best to use it sparingly. Whenever you employ zeugma in your writing, you take the risk that your reader won’t interpret the sentence in the way you intend, which may create confusion, especially if the device is used too frequently. It’s best to save it for those sentences that really need a little extra “punch.”
Be especially careful with zeugma in your formal essays! The possibility of confusion becomes particularly problematic in formal writing, where the goal is always to be as clear and direct as possible. It might work in sentences that need to stand out – for example the opening “hook” or concluding sentence of a paper – but try to avoid it in sentences of real structural importance, such as the thesis statement and topic sentences of paragraphs.