...And it was a preview of one possible future - a glimpse of our children's fate if the climate keeps changing faster than our efforts to address it. Submerged countries. Abandoned cities. Fields that no longer grow. Political disruptions that trigger new conflict, and even more floods of desperate people seking the sanctuary of nations not their own.

This was a passage from a speech given by Barack Obama. I want to describe the form of the bolded sentences and their rhetorical functions. Are they called short, truncated, or telegraphic sentences?

I have found descriptions such as:
1) Short sentences - just short ("I like reading");
2) Truncated sentences - missing something ("I like reading more than Ann [does]");
3) Telegraphic sentences - less than 5 words and missing articles, words like do, have etc., without needless qualification ("Leave on doorstep").

Another possibility is that they are fragments. But I suppose, fragments are something negative, grammatically incorrect. Are they not?

Short, truncated, and telegraphic sentences are so composed to serve a purpose, but fragments are composed only by people who do not know grammar well enough. Is that right? I'm looking for answers about rhetorical function, not whether they are grammatical or not.

As I found (http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/fragments.htm), fragments can be sentences with no subject-verb relationship. I understand that my sentences are grammatically incorrect, but that is for the purpose of rhetoric. If I analyze the rhetoric, can I analyze fragments? Or are the sentences, for example, truncated as well (feature I can analyze)?

  • 1
    They are called fragments, as you suggest yourself. They are not formally correct or grammatical sentences, but they work anyway in this context as a list of "bullet points"
    – Stefan
    Sep 24, 2017 at 11:55
  • 2
    They are a list of noun phrases, each a likely outcome of climate change. The rhetorical device is asyndeton. Don't let the punctuation throw you off. In speeches, punctuation is often a guide to oratorical delivery, not grammar.
    – TimR
    Sep 24, 2017 at 12:32
  • To designate something like Submerged countries. as transcribed above "not formally correct" or not a "grammatical sentence" is based on an oversimplified, incorrect notion of what a sentence is. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sentence_(linguistics) for, among others, an example of how Two. can be a sentence. Q: What's an animal you wouldn't eat? A: Dog. Dog is a sentence there, and there's nothing particularly informal about it, necessarily. Nor is it ungrammatical. Sep 24, 2017 at 15:06
  • @Tᴚo Ah. So the string of items or examples demonstrates a sort of literary device. I had never heard of asyndeton. Nifty! Given that the punctuation in the transcript of speech is somewhat arbitrary, this interesting website suggests that the way the list is uttered might more closely match parataxis: literarydevices.net. Though I grant there are usually multiple definitions of such terms. Sep 24, 2017 at 15:30
  • @Jim Reynolds: books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – TimR
    Sep 24, 2017 at 15:49

1 Answer 1


Parataxis is defined here as

a rhetorical term in which phrases and clauses are placed one after another independently, without coordinating or subordinating them through the use of conjunctions. It is also called additive style.


See also the entry for asyndeton on the same website. According to the definitions given there, it may be one or both, perhaps depending on whether they are separated by periods or commas.

As to describing their "form", there are multiple perspectives from which to do so. As is correctly noted in a comment above, each of those utterances is a noun phrase, and each is an element of a list.

As it appears in the transcript excerpt you provide, each could be considered a sentence by one common definition of the term: They start with capital letters and end with terminal punctuation, in these cases periods.

Some people use "fragment" to indicate that an utterance is ungrammatical by definition. E.g., Even though she was strong is deficient as a sentence standing alone.

But sentences seldom stand alone, and some people call utterances fragments while pointing out that they can be grammatical, even particularly effective.

Here's a website that calls such fragments "stylistic fragments":

Stylistic Fragments

There are occasions when a sentence fragment can be stylistically effective, exactly what you want and no more.

Harrison Ford has said he would be more than willing to take on another Indiana Jones project. In a New York minute.

As long as you are clearly in control of the situation, this is permissible, but the freedom to exercise this stylistic license depends on the circumstances.

Perhaps your final research paper in English Composition is not the place to experiment -- or, then again, maybe it is. Ask your instructor.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .