All terms

What is aposiopesis?

An abrupt breaking off of a thought or sentence.

The Art of Cutting Yourself Short

Aposiopesis is the art of cutting yourself short, and it's a powerful literary technique that can add a whole new dimension to your writing. By breaking off a thought or sentence before it's finished, you create a sense of tension and anticipation in your reader. It's like you're inviting them to finish the sentence for you, or daring them to guess what comes next.

But aposiopesis is about more than just leaving your sentences hanging. It's also about using punctuation to create a sense of abruptness and urgency. An ellipsis, for example, can signal that the speaker is trailing off or hesitating, while an em dash can suggest that they've been interrupted or cut off.

So when should you use aposiopesis in your writing? The answer is simple: whenever you want to create a sense of drama or tension. Maybe your character is about to reveal a secret they're struggling to keep, or maybe they're being interrupted by an unexpected event. Whatever the case may be, aposiopesis can be a powerful tool in your arsenal.

Cutting Words: Two Examples of Aposiopesis in Literature

Here are two examples of how aposiopesis has been used by skilled literary authors:

The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore - / Nameless here for evermore.

In this hauntingly beautiful poem, Poe uses aposiopesis to leave the reader hanging on the unfinished sentence, feeling the emptiness of the space where Lenore once was.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

I won't describe what I did in detail, because it was a horrid sight, and I'm not really sure how to describe it anyway, but it was pretty horrid.

In this classic novel, Salinger uses aposiopesis to communicate both the horror and ambiguity of the protagonist's actions. It's a technique that leaves the reader guessing, but also draws them in, creating a sense of intimacy and complicity.