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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.


  • One classical example of aposiopesis in Virgil occurs in Aeneid 1.135.[2] Neptune, the Roman god of the Sea, is angry with the winds, whom Juno released to start a storm and harass the Trojan hero and protagonist Aeneas. Neptune berates the winds for causing a storm without his approval, but breaks himself off mid-threat:
Aeneid 1.132-141
Latin English

Iam caelum terramque meō sine nūmine, ventī,
miscēre et tantās audētis tollere mōlēs?
quōs ego—sed mōtōs praestat compōnere flūctūs.

Now, winds, you dare to embroil the sky and the earth without my approval,
and raise up such a mass?
You whom, I—! But it is better to settle the agitated waves.

  • Another example in Virgil occurs in the Aeneid 2.100.[3] 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 lied to spur on the war.
Vergil, Aeneid 2.97-101
Latin English

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—
sed quid ego haec autem nequiquam ingrata revoluo?

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—
But why should I go through this cruel story in vain?

  • For an example from classical Latin theater, this occurs multiple times in one speech in Terence's Adelphoe, lines 159–140.[4] In the play, Demea has two sons. He has given one to his brother Micio to raise. In the following scene, Demea has worked himself up in anger over his brother's laxer parenting style. The following speech provides multiple examples of aposiopesis:
Terence, Adelphoe 135-140
Latin English

iam si uerbum unum posthac—
An non credis? repeton quem dedi?
aegrest; alienus non sum; si obsto—em desino.
unum uis curem? curo. et est dis gratia,
quom ita ut uolo esse est; tuos iste ipse sentiet
posterius—nolo in illum grauius dicere.

Now, if one single word ever again—
But do you not believe me? Am I asking for my child back, whom I gave?
This troubles me. I am no stranger. If I'm in the way—look, I'm not in the way.
You want me to care for one [child]? I care [for one child]. And, thanks to the gods, he is
one as I want him to be. He, that son of yours, he is going to experience
some day—I don't want to speak harshly against him.

  • 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)

“Still it behoveth us to win the fight,”
Began he; “else . . . Such offered us herself . . .
O how I long that some one here arrive!”

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 the trailing off of thought, it is never directly followed by a period, which would effectively result in four consecutive dots.[6][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.[5]


  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. ^ "Vergil, Aeneid I 132-141 | Dickinson College Commentaries". dcc.dickinson.edu. Retrieved 2020-05-06.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ "P. TERENTI AFRI ADELPHOE | The Latin Library". thelatinlibrary.com. Retrieved 2022-10-02.
  5. ^ "Psalm 27:13". Blue Letter Bible (Young's Literal Translation). Archived from the original on 25 February 2016. Retrieved 25 February 2016.
  6. ^ Herbert Weir Smyth (1920). Greek Grammar. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. p. 674. ISBN 978-0-674-36250-5.