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Aposiopesis (/ˌæpəs.əˈpsɪs/; Classical Greek: ἀποσιώπησις, "becoming silent") is a figure of speech wherein a sentence is deliberately broken off and left unfinished, the ending to be supplied by the imagination, giving an impression of unwillingness or inability to continue.[1] An example would be the threat "Get out, or else—!" This device often portrays its users as overcome with passion (fear, anger, excitement) or modesty. To mark the occurrence of aposiopesis with punctuation, an em-rule (—) or an ellipsis (…) may be used.


  • A classical example of aposiopesis in Virgil occurs in the Aeneid 2.100.[2] Sinon, the Greek who is posing as a defector to deceive the Trojans into accepting the Trojan Horse within their city wall, tells about how Ulixes

hinc mihi prima malis labes, hinc semper Vlixes
criminibus terrere nouis, hinc spargere uoces
in uulgum ambiguas et quaerere conscius arma.
nec requieuit enim, donec Calchante ministro—

This was the time when the first onslaught of ruin began for me.
Ulixes kept terrifying me with new accusations,
kept spreading ambiguous rumors among the people,
and kept looking for quarrel.
Nor did he in fact ever stop, until with the help of Calchas—

  • A biblical example is found in Psalm 27, verse 13.[nb 1] it says: "Unless I had believed I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living …" The implication is that the author does not know what he would have done.
  • King Lear, overcome by anger at his daughters, says:

No, you unnatural hags,
I will have such revenges on you both,
That all the world shall— I will do such things,—
What they are, yet I know not: but they shall be
The terrors of the earth. (Shakespeare, King Lear, II.iv)

  • Aposiopesis also occurs at the agitated climax of Mercutio's "Queen Mab" speech, resulting in a calming intervention by Romeo:

Mercutio. This is the hag, when maids lie on their backs,
              That presses them and learns them first to bear,
              Making them women of good carriage:
              This is she—

Romeo. Peace, peace, Mercutio, peace!

              Thou talk'st of nothing. (Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, I.iv)

Grammatical definition[edit]

In syntax, an aposiopesis arises when the "if" clause (protasis) of a condition is stated without an ensuing "then" clause, or apodosis. Because an aposiopesis implies a trailing off of thought, it is never directly followed by a period, which would effectively result in four consecutive dots.[4][example needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Other English translations insert extra words, example "I had fainted, unless" (King James Version). Another example is "Yet I am confident that" (New Living Translation). Only the Hebrew conjunction "unless" appears – translators add the extra words to make the phrase appear as a complete thought.[3]


  1. ^ Richard A. Lanham (1991). A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms. Berkeley; Los Angeles, Calif.; London: University of California Press. p. 20. ISBN 978-0-520-07669-3.
  2. ^ Steven Justice (2013). "Chaucer's History-Effect". In Frank Grady (ed.). Answerable Style: The Idea of the Literary in Medieval England. Interventions: New Studies in Medieval Culture. Andrew Galloway. Ohio State University Press. pp. 169–194. ISBN 978-0-8142-1207-3.
  3. ^ "Psalm 27:13". Blue Letter Bible (Young's Literal Translation). Archived from the original on 25 February 2016. Retrieved 25 February 2016.
  4. ^ Herbert Weir Smyth (1920). Greek Grammar. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. p. 674. ISBN 978-0-674-36250-5.