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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]


Switching a sentence from the active voice to the passive voice is a 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 is often 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."[2] However, linguists use it in a much more specific sense. Speakers of a language have in their heads a set of rules[3] for using that language. This is a grammar.


Another use of enallage is to give a sentence improper form. Shakespeare asks, “‘Is there not wars? Is there not employment?’” (2nd Henry IV, I, ii) In this case, he uses enallage to achieve parallel structure. Byron states, “The idols are broke in the temple of Baal.” Here he uses the past tense form of break instead of the past participle, broken, which should be used.

Another noted example is professional prize fight manager Joe Jacobs' 1932 cry of We was robbed! after his fighter lost a decision. Arthur Quinn writes that Jacobs achieves "linguistic immortality" through this utterance.4

A colorful Lake Charles, Louisiana, politician Johnny Myers, who has sinced passed on, was once 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 Johnny Myers' use of a good home-spun rhetorical device—known as enallage, coupled with his "dogfighting" metaphor—to make his point emphatically and effectively that he was not involved in a particular political dispute.


Enallage can also mean an unexpected change in person.[4] For example, in the Book of Exodus when God is speaking to the Israelites through Moses he uses (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). However, during the narration of the Ten Commandments, which are clearly told to the people of Israel, the singular is used: “Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal” (Exodus 20.13-15). This is done to stress the personal responsibilities of the Israelites.[5]

Enallage is also used to bring the speaker’s message more strongly to the listener. Again using a Biblical example, the female speaker 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.[6]


  • 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. ^ Jeremy Butterfield, (2008) Damp Squid: The English Language Laid Bare, Oxford University Press, Oxford. 978-0-19-923906. p. 142.
  3. ^ 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"
  4. ^ "enallage - definition and examples of enallage - rhetorical terms". Grammar.about.com. 2013-07-15. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  5. ^ Brigham Young University (2006). Enallage in the Book of Mormon
  6. ^ Brigham Young University (2006). From Distance to Proximity: A Poetic Function of Enallage in the Hebrew Bible and the Book of Mormon

4Quinn, Arthur. "Figures of Speech: 60 Ways to turn a phrase." 1st. ed. Peregrine Smith: Salt Lake City, 1982.