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What Is Anastrophe?

By Angie Bates
Updated May 17, 2024
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Anastrophe is a technique in which a writer changes the word order of a sentence to add emphasis. As one form of a hyperbaton, or a figure of speech in which the normal word order of sentences or phrases is rearranged, an instance of anastrophe is sometimes referred to as a hyperbaton. Generally, anastrophes are formed in one of three ways: placing the adjective behind the noun that it modifies, moving an object to the front of a sentence or inverting the subject and verb.

Placing the adjective behind the noun that it modifies is the most popular use of anastrophe. In normal English syntax, sentence structure places an adjective in front of the word that it modifies — for example, "yellow leaf" or "fragrant flower." In these phrases, "yellow" and "fragrant" are the adjectives. The phrases would not make immediate sense if the adjectives were placed behind the noun: "leaf yellow" or "flower fragrant."

Anastrophe, however, does place the adjectives behind the nouns. For example, in the normally structured sentence, "my friend gave me a fragrant, yellow flower," the reader understands that the friend gave the speaker a gift of a flower, but the reader might gloss over the adjectives used to describe that flower. By using anastrophe, however, the writer can force the reader's attention to the description of the flower: "My friend gave me a flower, fragrant and yellow."

Objects usually occur at the end of a sentence. Moving an object to the front of a sentence is another use of anastrophe. One of the most well known uses of this type of anastrophe is by the character Yoda in the Star Wars movies. Yoda frequently speaks in anastrophe, making his words both unique and memorable.

For example, in Return of the Jedi, Yoda tells Luke Skywalker, "When 900 years old you reach, look as good you will not." This sentence inverts the object and subjects twice. The first part, "when 900 years old you reach," places the object "900 years old" in front of the subject and verb "you reach." The second half, "look as good you will not," also switches positions between the object and the subject-verb combination. Stating this sentence with normal syntax removes the uniqueness from the words and ends up sounding bland: "When you reach 900 years old, you will not look as good."

Anastrophe also can be used by inverting the subject and verb. Most often found in poetry, this version of anastrophe draws attention to the verb and adds interest to less-exciting sentences. For example, the sentence "the rabbit hops down the lane," can be changed to read "hops the rabbit down the lane."

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