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An anapodoton (from the Greek anapodosis: "without a main clause") is a rhetorical device related to the anacoluthon.[how?] It is a figure of speech or discourse that is an incomplete sentence, consisting of a subject or complement without the requisite object. The stand-alone subordinate clause suggests or implies a subject (a main clause), but this is not actually provided.[1]

As an intentional rhetorical device, it is generally used for set phrases, where the full form is understood, and would thus be tedious to spell out, as in "When in Rome [do as the Romans]." or "If the mountain won't come to Muhammad [Muhammed will go to the mountain]."

Anapodoton is extremely common in Classical Chinese and languages that draw from it, such as Japanese, where a long literary phrase is abbreviated to just a sufficient allusion. For example, Zhuangzi's phrase 井鼃不可以語於海者拘於虛也 "A frog in a well cannot conceive of the ocean." meaning "people of limited experience have a narrow world view" is rendered as 井底之蛙 "A frog in a well" in Modern Chinese, and as I no naka no kawazu (井の中の蛙, A frog in a well) in Modern Japanese, abbreviating I no naka no kawazu taikai o shirazu (井の中の蛙大海を知らず, A frog in a well does not know the great ocean.)

Other uses[edit]

It is also said to occur when a main clause is left unsaid due to a speaker interrupting him/herself to revise a thought, thus leaving the initial clause unresolved, but then making use of it nonetheless by recasting and absorbing it into a new, grammatically complete sentence.

Though grammatically incorrect, anapodoton is a commonplace feature of everyday informal speech. It, therefore, appears frequently in dramatic writing and in fiction in the form of direct speech or the representation of stream of consciousness.


  • "If you think I'm going to sit here and take your insults..."
(implied: "then you are mistaken")
  • When life gives you lemons..."
(implied: "you make lemonade")
  • "If they came to hear me beg..."
(implied: "then they will be disappointed") [From the Halo video game series]
  • "The only easy day..."
(implied: "was yesterday")
  • "When the going gets tough..."
(implied: "the tough get going")
  • "If you can’t stand the heat..."
(implied: "get out of the kitchen")

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Stephen Wayne Whitworth (1997). The Name of the Ancients: humanist homoerotics and the signs of pastoral. University of Michigan. p. 143.