Parataxis is a literary device in which two or more sentences are linked together without the conjunctions.

Parataxis – Definition

Parataxis is a term used in linguistics to refer to the use of a simple, direct form of sentence structure in which clauses or phrases are placed next to each other without the use of conjunctions.

This creates a sense of immediacy and emphasis, as the clauses or phrases are presented in a stark, unadorned manner.

In contrast to parataxis, which is a form of syntactical arrangement, hypotaxis refers to the use of dependent clauses and subordinate conjunctions, which creates a more complex and nuanced form of sentence structure.

While hypotaxis is often used to create more sophisticated and nuanced forms of expression, parataxis can be a powerful tool for creating emphasis and immediacy.

Examples of Parataxis In Use

An example is Mr. Jingle’s speech in Chapter 2 of The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens.

“Come along, then,” said he of the green coat, lugging Mr. Pickwick after him by main force, and talking the whole way. “Here, No. 924, take your fare, and take yourself off—respectable gentleman—know him well—none of your nonsense—this way, sir—where’s your friends?—all a mistake, I see—never mind—accidents will happen—best regulated families—never say die—down upon your luck—Pull him UP—Put that in his pipe—like the flavour—damned rascals.” And with a lengthened string of similar broken sentences, delivered with extraordinary volubility, the stranger led the way to the traveller’s waiting-room, whither he was closely followed by Mr. Pickwick and his disciples.

Samuel Beckett’s opening to his monologue “Not I” is another example:

Mouth: …. out … into this world … this world … tiny little thing … before its time … in a godfor– … what? .. girl? .. yes … tiny little girl … into this … out into this … before her time … godforsaken hole called … called … no matter … parents unknown … unheard of … he having vanished … thin air … no sooner buttoned up his breeches … she similarly … eight months later … almost to the tick … so no love … spared that … no love such as normally vented on the … speechless infant … in the home … no … nor indeed for that matter any of any kind … no love of any kind … at any subsequent stage …

One of the most famous examples of parataxis can be found in the Gettysburg Address, in which President Abraham Lincoln uses this technique to great effect.

In the following excerpt from the speech, Lincoln uses parataxis to create a sense of urgency and simplicity:

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

In this excerpt, Lincoln uses parataxis to create a sense of urgency and simplicity, presenting each clause or phrase in a stark and unadorned manner.

This creates a sense of immediacy and emphasis, as the clauses or phrases are presented without the use of conjunctions or dependent clauses.

Another example of parataxis can be found in the poetry of Walt Whitman, who was known for his use of this technique.

In the following excerpt from “Song of Myself,” Whitman uses parataxis to create a sense of immediacy and intimacy:

“I celebrate myself, and sing myself, And what I assume you shall assume, For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you. I loaf and invite my soul, I lean and loaf at my ease observing a spear of summer grass. My tongue, every atom of my blood, form’d from this soil, this air, Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same, I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin, Hoping to cease not till death.”

Parataxis is a literary device that links two or more sentences together. It is used to link two or more sentences without the use of conjunctions, but rather through the use of other words.

The following examples also illustrate parataxis:

  • A man and his dog were walking along the beach when they came upon a large piece of driftwood. They looked at the piece, then looked at each other, shook their heads in agreement, and continued on their way.
  • A woman was laying on her bed reading when her sister knocked on her door and asked if she wanted to go out for dinner with them later that night. “No thanks,” said the woman as she kept reading her book.”

Usage of Parataxis

Parataxis is a literary device that’s often used to create lists. It can also be used to avoid repetition and, when used with other devices like anaphora (repetition of words or phrases at the beginning of sentences), it can create pauses in your writing.

In addition, paratactic lists can be used to show contrast between things (like good vs bad) or ideas that are similar but different (like who vs what).

Parataxis is a literary device that consists of two or more sentences linked together without the use of conjunctions.

In paratactic writing, ideas are connected with just simple words such as and, but, so, etc., instead of using conjunctions like and, or, but also a conjunction.

Parataxis – Conclusion

Parataxis is a literary device in which two or more sentences are linked together without the conjunctions.

The first sentence serves as an introduction to the second, which is then followed by another sentence that summarizes the previous one.

This pattern is repeated until both parts create a complete thought.

Because of its simplicity and effectiveness, parataxis has been used in many different forms of writing. It can be found in poetry (as well as prose), as well as songs, speeches and even tweets!