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Enallage (/ɛˈnælə/; Greek: ἐναλλαγή, enallagḗ, "interchange") is a figure of speech used to refer to the use of tense, form, or person for a grammatically incorrect counterpart.[1][2]


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. In the opening lines of the Aeneid, Virgil speaks of the “walls of lofty Rome.” Daniel Mendelsohn, in The New Yorker, cites this as an example of enallage: "The poet knew what he was doing—'lofty walls' is about architecture, but 'lofty Rome' is about empire."[3]

Another noted example is when professional prize fight manager Joe Jacobs cried, We was robbed!, after his fighter lost a decision in 1932. Through this utterance Arthur Quinn claimed Jacobs "achieved for himself linguistic immortality."[4]

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.


Limhi, a king in the Book of Mormon, gave a good example of enallage by switching persons during one of his discourses. Limhi began his discourse by addressing his people using the second person pronouns ye and you: "O ye, my people, lift up your heads and be comforted" (Mosiah 7:18). However, later in his discourse Limhi shifted to the third person when addressing his people: "But behold, they would not hearken unto his words; but there arose contentions among them, even so much that they did shed blood among themselves" (Mosiah 7:25). One possible reason why Limhi performed this second-person to third-person pronoun shifting was to create distance between his people and their actions, allowing them to become objective observers of their own behavior.

At the conclusion of his discourse Limhi switched back to the second person: "And now, behold, the promise of the Lord is fulfilled, and ye are smitten and afflicted. But if ye will turn to the Lord with full purpose of heart, and put your trust in him, and serve him with all diligence of mind, if ye do this, he will, according to his own will and pleasure, deliver you out of bondage" (Mosiah 7:32–33). Switching back to the second-person allowed Limhi to personalize the message of deliverance to his people, allowing them to understand that even though they had committed grave errors, they could still repent and be delivered out of bondage.


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."[5] Linguists use it in a much more specific sense, however. Speakers of a language have in their heads a set of rules,[6] 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.
  • Spendlove, Loren Blake. [1]. Limhi’s Discourse: Proximity and Distance in Teaching. Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 8 (2014): 1-6.
  1. ^ a b Silva Rhetoricae (2006). Enallage Archived 2006-02-11 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ Bernard Marie Dupriez (1991). A Dictionary of Literary Devices: Gradus, A-Z. University of Toronto Press. p. 154. ISBN 978-0-8020-6803-3.
  3. ^ Mendelsohn, Daniel (October 15, 2018). "Is the Aeneid a Celebration of Empire—or a Critique?". The New Yorker.
  4. ^ Quinn, Arthur (1982). Figures of Speech: 60 Ways to turn a phrase (1st ed.). Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith. p. 5.
  5. ^ Jeremy Butterfield, (2008) Damp Squid: The English Language Laid Bare, Oxford University Press, Oxford. 978-0-19-923906. p. 142.
  6. ^ 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"