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Hyperbaton /hˈpɜːrbətɒn/ in its original meaning is a figure of speech where a phrase is made discontinuous by the insertion of other words.[1] In modern usage the term is also used more generally for figures of speech that transpose the natural word order in sentences[2][3] (also called anastrophe).[4]


"Hyperbaton" is a word borrowed from the Greek hyperbaton (ὑπέρβατον), meaning "stepping over", which is derived from hyper ("over") and bainein ("to step"), with the -tos verbal adjective suffix. The idea is that to understand the phrase, the reader has to "step over" the words inserted in between.

Classical usage[edit]

The separation of connected words for emphasis or effect is possible to a much greater degree in highly inflected languages,[5] where sentence meaning does not depend closely on word order. In Latin and Ancient Greek, the effect of hyperbaton is often to emphasize the first word. It has been called "perhaps the most distinctively alien feature of Latin word order."[1] Donatus, in his work On tropes, includes under hyperbaton five varieties: hysterologia, anastrophe (for which the term hyperbaton is sometimes used loosely as a synonym), parenthesis, tmesis, and synchysis.


  • ὑφ' ἑνὸς τοιαῦτα πέπονθεν ἡ Ἑλλὰς ἀνθρώπου (huph' henòs toiaûta péponthen hē Hellàs anthrṓpou) (Demosthenes 18.158)
"Greece has suffered such things at the hands of only one person"

In the above example, the word "(only) one", henos, occurs in its normal place after the preposition "at the hands of" (hupo), but "person" (anthrōpou) is unnaturally delayed, giving emphasis to "only one."

  • πρός σε γονάτων (prós se gonátōn) (occurs several times in Euripides)
"[I entreat] you by your knees"

Here the word "you" (se) divides the preposition "by" from its object "knees."

  • τίνα ἔχει δύναμιν; (tína ékhei dúnamin?) (Plato, Republic 358b)
"What power does it have?"[6]

New Testament Greek[edit]

Hyperbaton is also common in New Testament Greek, for example:[7]

  • οὗτος ὁ ἄνθρωπος πολλὰ ποιεῖ σημεῖα (hoûtos ho ánthrōpos pollà poieî sēmeîa) (John 11:47)
"This man is performing many signs" (not merely a few)
  • διὰ τὸ ἐγγὺς εἶναι Ἰερουσαλὴμ αὐτόν (dià tò engùs eînai Ierousalḕm autón) (Luke 19:11)
"because of him being near Jerusalem" (not far)
  • ἴδετε πηλίκοις ὑμῖν γράμμασιν ἔγραψα τῇ ἐμῇ χειρί (ídete pēlíkois humîn grámmasin égrapsa têi emêi kheirí) (Paul, Galatians 6:11)
"See, I have written to you with big letters in my own hand" (not small ones)
  • ταλαίπωρος ἐγὼ ἄνθρωπος (talaípōros egṑ ánthrōpos) (Paul, Romans 7:24)
"I (am) a wretched man" (not a fortunate one)

In all these examples and others in the New Testament, the first word of the hyperbaton is an adjective or adverb which is emphasised by being separated from the following noun. The separating word can be a verb, noun, or pronoun.[8]



In Latin hyperbaton is frequently found, both in prose and verse. The following examples come from prose writers. Often there is an implied contrast between the first word of the hyperbaton and its opposite:[9]

  • meo tu epistulam dedisti servo? (Plautus, Pseudolus 1203)
"You gave the letter to my slave (i.e. not your own)?"
  • duas a te accepi epistulas heri (Cicero, Att., 14.2.1)
"I received two letters (duas epistulas) from you yesterday" (not just one).
  • hae permanserunt aquae dies complures. (Caesar, B.C. 1.50.1):
"This time the flood (hae aquae) lasted (permanserunt) several days" (unlike the earlier one).
  • ille sic dies (Cicero, Att. 5.1.3)
"So (passed) that day (ille dies)" (as opposed to the following one).

Sometimes the hyperbaton merely emphasises the adjective:

  • pro ingenti itaque victoria id fuit plebi. (Livy 4.54.6)
"The people saw this, therefore, as an enormous victory."[10]
  • magnam enim secum pecuniam portabat (Nepos, Hannibal, 9.2)
"for (enim) he was carrying a large sum of money (magnam pecuniam) with him (secum)".
  • magno cum fremitu et clamore (Cicero, to Atticus, 2.19.2)
"with (cum) a great deal of roaring and shouting"

The first word of the hyperbaton can also be an adverb, as in the following example:[11]

  • aeque vita iucunda (Cicero, de Finibus 4.30)
"a life (vita) equally pleasant (aeque iucunda).

In all the above examples, the first word of the hyperbaton can be said to be emphasised. The following is different, since there is no emphasis on sum "I am". Instead, the effect of emphasis is achieved by reversing the expected order ipse sum mensus to sum ipse mensus:

  • sum enim ipse mensus (Cicero, ad Quintum fratrem, 3.1.4)
"for I measured (sum mensus) it myself"

It is also possible for the noun to come first ("postmodifier hyperbaton"), as in the following:[12]

  • dies appetebat septimus (Caesar, B.G. 6.35.1)
"The seventh day was approaching"
  • Antonius legiones eduxit duas. (Cicero, ad Fam. 10.30.1)
"Antonius led out two legions."

The following even have a double hyperbaton:

  • cum ipse litteram Socrates nullam reliquisset. (Cicero, de Orat. 3.60)
"When Socrates himself didn't leave a single line of writing."
  • praeda potitus ingenti est (Livy 40.49.1)
"he took possession of an enormous amount of booty".

A hyperbaton can also be used to demonstrate a kind of picture shown in the text:

  • Hac in utramque partem disputatione habita" (Caesar, Bello Gallico 5.30)

"With the dispute being held unto either side" (showing an elegance to the dispute being on either side of the accusative prepositional phrase)

Another kind of hyperbaton is "genitive hyperbaton", in which one of the words is in the genitive case:[13]

  • contionem advocat militum (Caesar, Bellum Civile 2.32)
"He called a meeting of the soldiers."

In the following, a genitive hyperbaton and an adjectival hyperbaton are interleaved:

  • magnus omnium incessit timor animis (Caesar Bellum Civile 2.29)
"Great fear (magnus timor) overcame the minds of all of them (omnium animis)."

Another kind of hyperbaton (called "conjunct hyperbaton" by Devine and Stephens)[14] is found when a phrase consisting of two words joined by et ("and") is separated by another word:

  • Aspendus, vetus oppidum et nobile (Cicero, Verr. 2.1.53)
"Aspendus, an old town, and a noble one".
  • Faesulas inter Arretiumque (Livy, 22.3.3)
"Between Faesulae and Arretium".


In poetry, especially poetry from the 1st century BC onwards, hyperbaton is very common; some 40% of Horace's adjectives are separated from their nouns.[15]

Frequently two hyperbata are used in the same sentence, as in the following example:

  • quam Catullus unam/ plus quam se atque suos amavit omnes (Catullus 58a)
"whom alone (quam unam) Catullus loved (amavit) more than himself and all his own (suos omnes)."

Often two noun phrases are interleaved in a double hyperbaton:

  • saevae memorem Iunonis ob iram (Virgil, Aeneid, 1.5)
"on account of the mindful anger (memorem iram) of cruel Juno (saevae Iunonis)".
  • lurida terribiles miscent aconita novercae (Ovid, Metamorphoses, 1.147)
"Fearsome stepmothers (terribiles novercae) mix lurid aconites (lurida aconita)."

The above type, where two adjectives are followed by a verb and then two nouns in the same order as the adjectives, is often referred to as a "golden line".

In the following line, a conjunct hyperbaton is interleaved with another noun phrase:

venator cursu canis et latratibus instat.[16]
"the hunting dog (venator canis) threatens him with running and barking (cursu et latratibus)."

In other cases one hyperbaton is inserted inside another:

  • in nova fert animus mutatas dicere formas / corpora (Ovid, Metamorphoses 1.1)
"My spirit leads me to tell of forms transformed (mutatas formas) into new bodies (nova corpora)."
  • ab Hyrcanis Indoque a litore silvis (Lucan 8.343)
"from the Hyrcanian forests (Hyrcanis silvis) and from the Indian shore (Indo litore)."

In such cases, the placing of two adjectives together may highlight a contrast between them, for example, in the following sentence from Horace, where the fragility of the boat is contrasted with the roughness of the sea:[17]

  • qui fragilem truci commisit pelago ratem (Horace, Odes, 1.3.10f)
"who committed a fragile boat (fragilem ratem) to the rough sea (truci pelago)"

Similarly in the example from Ovid below "transparent" is contrasted with "dense":

  • et liquidum spisso secrevit ab aere caelum (Ovid, Metamorphoses 1.23)
"and He separated the transparent heaven (liquidum caelum) from the dense atmosphere (spisso aere)."

Usually the adjective in a discontinuous noun phrase comes first, as in the above examples, but the opposite is also possible:

  • cristāque tegit galea aurea rubrā (Virgil, Aeneid 9.50)
"And a golden helmet with a red crest (crista rubra) covers him."
  • silva lupus in Sabina (Horace, Odes, 1.22)
"a wolf (lupus) (lurking) in the Sabine forest (silva Sabina)."

The above example illustrates another occasional feature of hyperbaton, since the word "wolf" (lupus) is actually inside the phrase "Sabine forest" (silva Sabina). This kind of word-play is found elsewhere in Horace also, e.g. grato, Pyrrha, sub antro "Pyrrha, beneath a pleasant grotto", where Pyrrha is indeed in a grotto; and in the quotation from Horace Odes 1.5 below, the girl is surrounded by the graceful boy, who in turn is surrounded by a profusion of roses:[18]

  • quis multa gracilis te puer in rosa (Horace, Odes, 1.5)
"what graceful boy (gracilis puer) (is embracing) you (te) amidst many a rose (multa rosa)?"

Other languages[edit]

The classical type of hyperbaton is also found in Slavic languages such as Polish:[19]

  • Piękny Markowi kupili obraz
(beautiful for Mark they bought painting)
"They bought a beautiful painting for Mark."

Certain conditions are necessary for hyperbaton to be possible in Polish: (1) Discontinuous noun phrases typically contain just one modifier; (2) The noun and modifier must be separated by a verb (and not, for example, by the indirect object Markowi alone).[19]

Similar constructions are found in other languages too, such as Russian, Latvian, and modern Greek (from which the following example comes):[20]

  • Το κόκκινο είδα το φόρεμα.
"It is the red dress (το κόκκινο φόρεμα) that I saw."

Ntelitheos (2004) points out that one condition enabling such constructions is that the adjective is in contrastive focus ("the red dress, not the blue one").

English usage[edit]

In English studies, the term "hyperbaton" is defined differently, as "a figure of speech in which the normal order of words is reversed, as in cheese I love" (Collins English Dictionary)[21] or "a transposition or inversion of idiomatic word order (as echoed the hills for the hills echoed)" (Merriam-Webster online dictionary).[22] Some examples are given below:

See also[edit]


  • Aubrey, Mike. Discontinuous Syntax in the New Testament part 3.
  • Devine, Andrew M. & Laurence D. Stephens (1999), Discontinuous Syntax: Hyperbaton in Greek. Oxford University Press. Review by M.C. Beckwith.
  • Devine, Andrew M. & Laurence D. Stephens (2006), Latin Word Order. Structured Meaning and Information. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Pp. xii, 639. ISBN 0-19-518168-9: Ch. 7 "Hyperbaton", pp. 524–610.
  • Nisbet, R. G. M. (1999). "The Word-Order of Horace's Odes". Proceedings of the British Academy, 93, 135-154.
  • Ntelitheos, Dimitrios (2004). Syntax of Elliptical and Discontinuous Nominals. University of California, Los Angeles, M.A. thesis.
  • Powell, J. G. (2010) "Hyperbaton and register in Cicero", in E. Dickey and A. Chahoud (eds.), Colloquial and Literary Latin, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 163–185.
  • Siewierska, A. (1984). "Phrasal Discontinuity in Polish", Australian Journal of Linguistics 4, 57–71.
  • Spevak, Olga (2010). Constituent Order in Classical Latin Prose. Studies in Language Companion Series (SLCS) 117. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2010. Pp. xv, 318. ISBN 9789027205841: pp. 23–26.


  1. ^ a b Andrew M. Devine, Laurence D. Stephens, Latin Word Order: Structured Meaning and Information (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 524.
  2. ^ Merriam-Webster online dictionary: hyperbaton
  3. ^ Stephen Cushman; Clare Cavanagh; Jahan Ramazani; Paul Rouzer (26 August 2012). The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics: Fourth Edition. Princeton University Press. p. 647. ISBN 978-1-4008-4142-4.
  4. ^ Merriam-Webster online dictionary: anastrophe
  5. ^ Ntelitheos (2004), p. 65.
  6. ^ Example from Devine and Stephens (1999).
  7. ^ Aubrey, Mike: Discontinuous Syntax in the New Testament part 3.
  8. ^ Aubrey, Mike: Discontinuous Syntax in the New Testament part 1.
  9. ^ Pinkster, H. (1990), Latin Syntax and Semantics, p. 186.
  10. ^ Pinkster, H. (1990): Latin Syntax and Semantics, p. 170.
  11. ^ A.M. Devine, L.D. Stephens (2006), Latin Word Order, p. 582.
  12. ^ Devine and Stephens (2006), p. 531–540.
  13. ^ Devine and Stephens (2006), pp. 525–31.
  14. ^ Devine and Stephens (2006), p. 586.
  15. ^ Nisbet (1999), p. 137.
  16. ^ Virgil, Aeneid 12.751.
  17. ^ Nisbet (1999), p. 139.
  18. ^ Nisbet (1999), p. 140.
  19. ^ a b Spevak (2010), p. 23, citing Siewierska, A. (1984).
  20. ^ Ntelitheos (2004), p. 38.
  21. ^ Collins English Dictionary (online) "hyperbaton".
  22. ^ Merriam-Webster online dictionary "hyperbaton".

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