Rhetorical Devices: Anastrophe

This post is part of a series on rhetoric and rhetorical devices. For other posts in the series, please click this link.

Device: Anastrophe

Origin: From the Greek ἀναστροφή (anastrophē), meaning “a turning back or about”.

In plain English: Changing the syntax (structure) of a sentence such that the subject, object, verb, adjectives, etc. are in an unusual grammatical order.

Effect:

  • The unusual word order forces us to think a bit longer to understand the sentence, giving it a wiser, more profound quality.
  • By inverting the normal order of the words, a speaker can give added emphasis to a particular word; e.g., “I value liberty the most.” vs “Liberty, I value the most.”

Notes:

  • Anastrophe is more common in poetry than in prose. Poets often use it to maintain the rhythm or rhyme scheme of a poem.
  • Anastrophe should be used rarely when speaking. Unless it fits perfectly, it will sound pretentious or just plain silly.
  • Yoda is a master of anastrophe (and also of anadiplosis).

Examples:

Sure I am of this, that you have only to endure to conquer.

— Winston Churchill, 14 September 1914

———

Pointy-haired Boss: “From now on, I’ll be using the chaos theory of management.”

Wally: “And this will be different how?”

Pointy-haired Boss: “Now there’s a name for it.”

Dilbert Comic Strip, 5 March 1998

———

Yoda

Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is.”

“Adventure. Excitement. A Jedi craves not these things.”

Patience you must have, my young Palawan.

Left behind, no one will be.”

“Bring him here. Question him we will.”

Powerful you have become. The dark side I sense in you.”

“When nine hundred years old you reach, look as good you will not.”

— Yoda

———

Paul Bratter: “I want to know why you want a divorce.”

Corrie Bratter: “I just told you. Because you and I have absolutely nothing in common.”

Paul Bratter: “What about those six days at the Plaza?”

Corrie Bratter: “Six days does not a week make.”

Paul Bratter: “What does that mean?”

Corrie Bratter: “I don’t know what it means.”

— Richard Thomas and Bess Armstrong, Barefoot in the Park, 1981

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About John Zimmer

International speaker, presentation skills expert, lawyer, improv performer
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