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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.

Another noted example is when professional prize fight manager Joe Jacobs cried, We was robbed!, after his fighter lost a decision in 1932. Arthur Quinn wrote that Jacobs achieved "linguistic immortality" through this utterance.[3]

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.


[examples needed]


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."[4] Linguists use it in a much more specific sense, however. Speakers of a language have in their heads a set of rules,[5] 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. 
  1. ^ a b Silva Rhetoricae (2006). Enallage
  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. ^ Quinn, Arthur (1982). Figures of Speech: 60 Ways to turn a phrase (1st ed.). Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith. 
  4. ^ Jeremy Butterfield, (2008) Damp Squid: The English Language Laid Bare, Oxford University Press, Oxford. 978-0-19-923906. p. 142.
  5. ^ 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"