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Enallage (/ɛˈnælə/; Greek: ἐναλλαγή, enallagḗ, "interchange") is a figure of speech used to refer to the misuse of grammar for rhetorical effect.[1]


One use of enallage is to give a sentence improper form quite deliberately. Shakespeare wrote, “‘Is there not wars? Is there not employment?’” (2nd Henry IV, I, ii) In these cases, he uses enallage to achieve parallel structure. Byron stated, “The idols are broke in the temple of Baal.” Here he used the past tense form of break instead of the past participle, broken, which should have been used.

Another noted example is when professional prize fight manager Joe Jacobs cried, We was robbed!, after his fighter lost a decision in 1932. Arthur Quinn wrote that Jacobs achieved "linguistic immortality" through this utterance.[2]

A colorful Lake Charles, Louisiana politician, Johnny Myers, once was heard to say in a political speech, "I ain't got no dogs in that fight!" Of course, this is incorrect grammar, but it was the use by Johnny Myers of a good home-spun rhetorical device—known as enallage, coupled with his "dogfighting" metaphor—that is described as his having made his point emphatically and effectively—that he was not involved in a particular political dispute.


Enallage also can mean an unexpected change or difference in person.[3] For example, in the Book of Exodus when God is speaking to the Israelites through Moses he is said to use (in the English translation of the Bible) the plural of you, ye, to refer to them: “Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians…” (Exodus 19.4). During the narration of the Ten Commandments, which are clearly told to the people of Israel, however, the singular was said to be used: “Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal” (Exodus 20.13-15). The use of the latter choice of person to address them, stresses the personal responsibilities of the Israelites.[4]

Enallage also is used to bring a speaker’s message more strongly to the listener. Again using a Biblical example, a woman says to her lover, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth…” (Song of Solomon 1.2). After addressing him in the third person, she switches to the second person: “for thy love is better than wine” (Song of Solomon 1.2). This serves to attract her lover more strongly.[5]


Switching a sentence from the active voice to the passive voice is another method of enallage.[1] “I hit Jim” is much more direct and blunt than “Jim was hit by me” and it also implies much more responsibility.

Given the definition above, this may not seem to be an example of enallage. The term grammar often is used by non-linguists with a very broad meaning. As Jeremy Butterfield puts it, "Grammar is often a generic way of referring to any aspect of English that people object to."[6] Linguists use it in a much more specific sense, however. Speakers of a language have in their heads a set of rules,[7] for using that language. This is a grammar.


  • Holy Bible: Concordance. World Publishing Company: Cleveland.
  • Cuddon, J.A., ed. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. 3rd ed. Penguin Books: New York, 1991.
  • Smyth, Herbert Weir (1920). Greek Grammar. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press. p. 678. ISBN 0-674-36250-0. 
  1. ^ a b Silva Rhetoricae (2006). Enallage
  2. ^ Quinn, Arthur (1982). Figures of Speech: 60 Ways to turn a phrase (1st ed.). Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith. 
  3. ^ "enallage - definition and examples of enallage - rhetorical terms". Grammar.about.com. 2013-07-15. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  4. ^ Brigham Young University (2006). Enallage in the Book of Mormon
  5. ^ Brigham Young University (2006). From Distance to Proximity: A Poetic Function of Enallage in the Hebrew Bible and the Book of Mormon
  6. ^ Jeremy Butterfield, (2008) Damp Squid: The English Language Laid Bare, Oxford University Press, Oxford. 978-0-19-923906. p. 142.
  7. ^ Traditionally, the mental information used to produce and process linguistic utterances is referred to as "rules." However, other frameworks employ different terminology, with theoretical implications. Optimality theory, for example, talks in terms of "constraints", while Construction grammar, Cognitive grammar, and other "usage-based" theories make reference to patterns, constructions, and "schemata"