I. What is Hyperbaton?
Hyperbaton is a figure of speech in which the typical, natural order of words is changed as certain words are moved out of order. The word hyperbaton (pronounced hahy-pur-buh-ton) is derived from the Greek phrase hyperbatos meaning “transposed” or “inverted.”
II. Examples of Hyperbaton
Hyperbaton can be dramatic or strange or it can be subtle and poetic.
Sweet, she was.
In changing “She was sweet” to “Sweet, she was,” the writer emphasizes sweetness in a unique hyperbatonic sentence structure.
Ever so lost and confused, I felt just then!
Similar to the above example, this hyperbaton emphasizes lostness and confusion.
He was as he was strange, insane, confusing and complained! Piece of what an interesting fellow I met and said hello.
This third example is jumbled, fun, and intriguing as words are flipped and moved around hyperbatically.
III. The Importance of Using Hyperbaton
Hyperbaton is unique because it is a device that allows writers to bypass typical grammatical expectations and rules in order to create sentences and phrases that are more complex, intriguing, and challenging for the reader. This can be as complicated as a sentence entirely rewritten and jumbled or as simple as the movement of one adjective or noun.
IV. Examples of Hyperbaton in Literature
Excerpts from “anyone lived in a pretty how town” by E.E. Cummings:
anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn’t he danced his did.
Women and men(both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain
Cummings’ poem is covered in hyperbatons. In the phrase “a pretty how town” how is used as an adjective. Bells “up so float” and “down” when up and down are used as verbs. People sing “didn’ts” and dance “dids.” “Isn’ts” and “sames” are sowed. Words typically used in different orders and forms are jumbled in this strange yet interesting poem. Here is a second example:
Excerpts from “nothing false and possible is love” by E.E. Cummings:
nothing false and possible is love
(who’s imagined,therefore is limitless)
love’s to giving as to keeping’s give;
as yes is to if,love is to yes
must’s a schoolroom in the month of may:
life’s the deathboard where all now turns when
(love’s a universe beyond obey
or command,reality or un-)
proudly depths above why’s first because
(faith’s last doubt and humbly heights below)
kneeling,we-true lovers-pray that us
will ourselves continue to outgrow
all whose mosts if you have known and i’ve
only we our least begin to guess
The first line usually written as “Love is nothing false and possible” has been hyperbatically rearranged. “Life’s the deathboard where now all turn when” has been written hyperbatically as “Life’s the deathboard where all now turns when.” This poem plays with language in numerous ways, one of which is the hyperbaton.
V. Hyperbaton in Pop Culture
Always with you it cannot be done. You do nothing that I say. You must unlearn what you have learned. Try not! Do. Or do not. There is no try.
In this scene, “It always cannot be done with you” is turned into a hyperbatonic phrase. “Don’t try!” becomes “Try not!” Yoda’s strange way of speaking gives him a unique way of speaking that highlights his wisdom.
(Oona-a-aya) I’m talking to the sea (tamara ooha)
I’m singing to the stars
(shana too aya) change we must
(lay mi) to live again
(Oona-a-aya) coming to the earth to the moon
(tamara ooha) I’m singing on the sky to the earth
(shana too aya) change we must, change we must
(lay mi) live again
This song emphasizes change through hyperbaton: “Change We Must” by Jon and Vangelis.
VI. Related Terms
Anastrophe is a specific type of hyperbaton in which the adjective appears after the noun rather than before it. Here are a few examples of anastrophe:
- Past time à time past
- She was gracious à Gracious, she was
- He was hurried à Hurried, he was.
Tsmesis also involves unique and typically grammatically incorrect constructions. Tsmesis is the separation of a word into numerous words in order to emphasize the idea. Here are a few examples of tsmesis:
- Impossible à Possible.
- I disagree à I dis agree.
- Never à Ne! ver!
Like hyperbaton and anastrophe, Tsmesis shows that breaking the rules can sometimes create interesting and exciting formations.