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Grammar/Sentence Correction - Asyndeton

Languages evolve over centuries and are dynamic even today. What was not acceptable a few years ago, may become a part of common parlance tomorrow and what was acceptable a couple of decades ago may be too old school today. Your standardised tests focus of business English - the formal, current usage and hence, their questions keep evolving too. 


There are certain laguage constructs that  we come across when we read a lot of high quality literature, current affair publications etc. These constructs are exceptions to the general "rules" of Grammar and without extensive reading, you will find it difficult to identify them. Case in point - this official question:


Question: Sartre, an inadvertent guru, had an opinion on everything, painfully considered, elaborately reasoned, often changed.

(A) often changed
(B) and it was usually changed
(C) that was often changed
(D) changing often
(E) one he often changed


The question tests parallelism - "painfully considered, elaborately reasoned, often changed" is a list fo three elements modifying "opinion". Only in option (A) are they parallel but test takers often dislike option (A). 

The issue - Where is the conjunction "and" before "often changed"? It seems to be an error to many. But it is not. People who do not read much miss out on the usage of "asyndeton" (the absence of a conjucntion where it is usually present). It doesn't matter whether you know the term - in fact, I will be plesantly surprised if you do. But there are enough popular examples such as  "a government of the people, by the people, for the people" to make you realise that skipping the conjunction is acceptable. 


But why do we do use it? 

* When a writer or speaker uses asyndeton, she eliminates conjunctions like "and" or "but." This rhetorical device works to make a speech more dramatic and effective by speeding up its rhythm and pace.

* Public speakers use asyndeton when they want to emphasize the gravity or drama of their topics. Abraham Lincoln used asyndeton when he talked about "a government of the people, by the people, for the people..." without including the conjunction "and."

* A list of items or characteristics that's not slowed down or divided by the usual conjunction feels more immediate and momentous, particularly in spoken rhetoric.

Another example:  “He has provided the poor with jobs, with opportunity, with self-respect.”


We hope you understand asyndeton now - the what, the why, the how!


*Excerpts from vocabulary.com


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