Hyperbatons – A Word Reversal Device That Gets Attention

by | Writing | 6 comments

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Hyperbaton is a literary device in which words, phrases, and clauses are transposed from their usual order in a sentence. However, the unfamiliar order retains the gist of the message.

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These word reversals can be used in dialogue or internal dialogue when a character wants to emphasize his message or add a little drama. For example, “A juggling yellow jacket I must see.” The usual arrangement, “I must see a juggling yellow jacket,” doesn’t have the punch.

Because hyperbatons interrupt the natural flow of sentences and can be confusing, novel writers might want to sprinkle them into their stories only occasionally.

In the following sentence pairs, decide what the sentence with the hyperbaton emphasizes that the second does not. In the first example, I think a good chef is accentuated more in the first sentence than the second. The sentence is talking more about a good chef than about the cake.


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Laura rolled her eyes. “One successful cake does not a good chef make.” (One successful cake does not make a good chef.)

Carter watched Lily retreat. Her skirt and ponytail swayed in harmony. Was there no mercy? Love struck he was. (He was love struck.)

Julie worked with persistence unstoppable. (Julie worked with unstoppable persistence.)

Until his last breath, he wouldn’t, of such a deplorable conspiracy, be part. (Until his last breath, he wouldn’t be part of such a deplorable conspiracy.)

Every ache and pain known to wrestlers he suffered. (He suffered every ache and pain known to wrestlers.)

“Stupid … ugly … and incompetent you’ve made me feel.” (You’ve made me feel stupid … ugly … and incompetent.”)

Only chaos I saw around me. (I saw only chaos around me.)

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“A knife to the heart is unrequited love.” (“Unrequited love is a knife to the heart.”)

“Alone, I’ve traversed the continent.” (“I’ve traversed the continent alone.”)

“This woman you love?” (“You love this woman?”)
“Right, you are.” (“You’re right.”)

“Into this, dear cousin, you dragged me.” (“Dear cousin, you dragged me into this.”)

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” (Bible, John 14:27) (“I leave you with my peace; I give you peace.”)

Employ hyperbatons in sentences; the word reversals can emphasize words. Click to tweet.

What hyperbaton do you use in your everyday conversations?

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American Christian Fiction Writers

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  1. jeanannwilliams

    Neat! Thank you for enlightening me!

  2. Tanya Hanson

    Interesting! I think one might have to take care not to sound too Yoda-ish lol but indeed, a lot more lasting impact employing, sparingly, this technique. Excellent post as always, Zoe. xo

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      Hi Tanya, yes, since Yoda is so well known for these, we need to steer clear of coming across as a Yoda lookalike.

  3. KarlaAkins

    Yoda is the master of this! 🙂

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      Hi Karla, yes Yoda seems to be the most popular example. The last book I read had several well placed during the story.

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