AskDefine | Define aposiopesis

Dictionary Definition

aposiopesis n : breaking off in the middle of a sentence (as by writers of realistic conversations) [also: aposiopeses (pl)]

User Contributed Dictionary



Latin aposiopesis, from Greek ἀποσιώπησις, from αποσιωπαν ‘be silent’.




  1. An abrupt breaking-off in speech.
    • 1760: “My sister, mayhap, quoth my uncle Toby, does not choose to let a man come so near her * * * *” Make this dash,——‘tis an Aposiopesis.—Take the dash away, and write Backside,—’tis Bawdy. — Laurence Sterne, The Life & Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (Penguin 2003, p. 89)
    • 1982: This somewhat abrupt ending (or aposiopesis) is caused by a previous movement from the figure on the bed. (Fowles, Mantissa)

Extensive Definition

Aposiopesis (from Classical Greek, ἀποσιώπησις, "becoming silent") is the rhetorical device by which the speaker or writer deliberately stops short and leaves a statement unfinished to be supplied by the imagination, giving the impression that he/she is unwilling or unable to continue. A common example is the threat "Get out, or else—!" It often portrays the speaker as being overcome with passion (fear, anger, excitement) or modesty. To mark the occurrence of aposiopesis with punctuation editors use a double dash.
A classical example of aposiopesis in Virgil occurs in Aeneid 2.100. Sinon, the Greek who is posing as a traitor to deceive the Trojans into accepting the Trojan Horse within their city wall, is telling about how Ulixes spread false rumors at Sinon's expense. Ulixes did not stop his malicious gossiping until he caused Sinon's ruin with the help of the seer Calchas. The whole story is a lie that Sinon tells with consummate artistry in order to convince the Trojans that he deserted the Greeks to escape Ulixes's enmity. To insure the effect of his elaborate lie, Sinon at one point leaves a crucial statement unfinished (Aen. 2.97-100):
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 more modern example of aposiopesis occurs in Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer'': "Well, I lay if I get ahold of you I'll—."
Another modern example occurs in Star Wars: A New Hope, in which Darth Vader says of Obi-Wan, "I sense something; a presence I have not felt since-"
A biblical example is found in Psalm 27, verse 13. The Hebrew, written by King David (c. 1005–965 BCE), says in English: "Unless I had believed I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living . . . " The implication is that David does not know what he would have done.
In syntax, an aposiopesis arises when the 'if- clause' or protasis of a condition is stated without an ensuing 'then- clause' or apodosis.


  • Greek Grammar
  • A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms
aposiopesis in German: Aposiopese
aposiopesis in Spanish: Reticencia
aposiopesis in Galician: Reticencia
aposiopesis in Italian: Aposiopesi
aposiopesis in Dutch: Aposiopesis
aposiopesis in Polish: Zamilknięcie
aposiopesis in Tagalog: Aposiopesis
aposiopesis in Ukrainian: Апосіопеза
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