What Is a Hendiadys?

Megan Shoop

Hendiadys is a literary device used to emphasize the meaning and drama of a sentence or phrase. When translated from the Greek, hendiadys literally means “one through two.” It involves joining two nouns together with the conjunction and instead of simply listing a noun and a descriptive adjective. From the time the Greeks coined this phrase, authors have used this device to underscore their works with a double-punch of meaning instead of just using modifiers. Not all nouns joined by conjunctions are examples of hendiadys.

Many authors avoid hendiadys unless the situation calls for something really dramatic.
Many authors avoid hendiadys unless the situation calls for something really dramatic.

It is important, when studying literature, to be able to separate the examples of hendiadys from simple lists of words. For instance, when Shakespeare writes “sound and fury” in Macbeth, this phrase could be rewritten to become “furious sound.” One of the words in these phrases can always be turned into a modifier, and this is a simple way to identify them. “Vigor and verve” instead of “vigorous verve” and “nice and warm” instead of “nicely warm” are two well-known examples of this device.

The phrase “cheese and crackers” is not an example of this device because neither 'cheese' nor 'crackers' can be turned into a modifier. One might say “cheesy crackers,” but this paints the picture of cheese-flavored crackers while “cheese and crackers” brings to mind a picture of crackers topped with slices of cheese. When using hendiadys, the conjoined phrase and the modifier phrase it could become mean the same thing. In the above example “sound and fury” and “furious sound” both help the reader picture some great explosion or violent storm.

Authors who believe in concise writing may not be fans of hendiadys because it stretches out phrases that could otherwise be condensed. In modern, realistic writing, this literary device is not often used. When it is, it is often carefully placed around the climax of the work to heighten the drama of the moment. Separating a modifier phrase into two separate nouns seems to split the meaning of the phrase, giving it double the power. While authors in centuries past sometimes used this device with abandon, many modern authors eschew it unless the situation calls for something really dramatic.

The Bible contains hundreds of cases of hendiadys, the majority of them pushing the prose forward and infusing it with semantic meaning. For instance, the verse “For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory,” actually creates a phrase with two possible modifiers. The sentence could become “Thy glorious and powerful kingdom” or “Thy gloriously powerful kingdom." This example of extended hendiadys is relatively rare, usually the phrase only includes two nouns.

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