A zeugma is a figure of speech that joins two or more clauses together in a way that allows you to omit the key verb or noun in all but one of the clauses. The word comes via Latin from the Greek ζεύγμα (zeugma) – yoke.
Here are examples of different kinds of zeugma:
Prozeugma or Synezeugmenon
The verb in the first part of this zeugma governs subsequent parts.
- Some people like cats, some dogs, some crocodiles.
- We ate octopus on Monday, camel on Tuesday and ostrich on Wednesday.
- I speak sense, you nonsense.
In hypozeugmas the verb appear at the end of a number of clauses. This results in a sense of suspense in listeners and readers until they reach the end of the sentence.
- Neither rain nor fog nor dragons will slow this knight on his quest.
- Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears. (William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar)
A syllepsis joins clauses with different meanings together with a common verb, the meaning of which changes for each clauses. It can be used for comic effect due to the unusual connections and ambiguity involved.
- She went home in a huff and a taxi.
- I left my heart and my wallet in San Francisco.
- Don’t forget to put out the cat and the lights before going to bed.
- He had to eat his words and his lunch.