Polyptoton Definition and Examples

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What is Polyptoton?
Polyptoton definition and examples

Polyptoton Definition and Examples

Polyptoton is a stylistic device where a word is repeated in a sentence in different forms. This repetition involves using the same root word but with different endings or in different grammatical forms. The purpose of polyptoton is to emphasize a particular idea or theme, create a poetic or rhetorical effect, and make the expression more memorable. By varying the form of the word, the speaker or writer can draw attention to the word itself and its significance within the context.

For example, in the phrase “We would like to see the differences and differentiate between the two,” the word “different” is used in both its noun (“differences”) and verb (“differentiate”) forms, showcasing the versatility and depth of the concept being discussed. Polyptoton enriches the language by adding layers of meaning and enhancing the stylistic quality of the text.


Polyptoton Examples in Literature

  1. William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”:
    • “With mirth in funeral and with dirge in marriage, In equal scale weighing delight and dole.”
      • Here, Shakespeare uses the words “delight” and “dole” to play on the contrast of emotions, employing different forms of emotional expression (joy and sorrow) to deepen the thematic complexity of the scene.
  2. John Milton’s “Paradise Lost”:
    • “Who overcomes by force, hath overcome but half his foe.”
      • Milton uses the word “overcome” in two different forms to emphasize the notion of victory and the incomplete nature of a victory achieved solely through force.
  3. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”:
    • “Love her, and she loves you.”
      • Fitzgerald uses different forms of the verb “to love” to emphasize the reciprocal nature of love between characters, highlighting the intensity and complexity of their relationships.
  4. William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”:
    • “But Brutus says he was ambitious, And Brutus is an honorable man.”
      • Shakespeare employs polyptoton with “ambitious” and “ambition” to question the integrity of Brutus’s claim and to ironically underscore the manipulation of rhetoric.
  1. George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”:
    • “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
      • Orwell’s use of “equal” in different forms underscores the irony and critique of political hypocrisy and the corruption of ideals in the story.
  2. Virgil’s “Aeneid” (translated into English):
    • “I fear the Greeks, even when they bring gifts.”
      • This example, often quoted in its Latin form (“Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes”), uses “Greeks” and “gifts” to highlight a deep mistrust, emphasizing the idea through repetition with slight variation.
  3. Alexander Pope’s “An Essay on Criticism”:
    • “True wit is nature to advantage dressed; What oft was thought, but ne’er so well expressed.”
      • Pope uses “expressed” and “thought” to emphasize the skill of conveying familiar ideas in uniquely effective ways, underscoring the essence of true wit.
  4. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech:
    • “No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
      • King uses “satisfied” in a repeated structure to emphasize the continuous struggle for civil rights and equality, driving home the urgency and the unfulfilled desire for justice.
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