Consider this quote first please.

For instance, in a sentence “John lost his coat and his temper”, the verb “lost” applies to both noun “coat” and “temper”. Losing a coat and losing temper are logically and grammatically different ideas that are brought together in the above-mentioned sentence.

The quote above is a discussion of the literary device Zeugma

Zeugma, from Greek “yoking” or “bonding”, is a figure of speech in which a word, usually a verb or an adjective, applies to more than one noun, blending together grammatically and logically different ideas.

I understand why the example has logically different ideas, but I do not know how they are grammatically different too.

I could think of losing a coat as a concrete notion while losing temper as a non-literal one. However, I am not sure I do in terms of grammar.

Could it be not dropping the pronoun his in his temper? or dropping the verb lost?

Would adding the verb lost make it grammatical?: John lost his coat and lost his temper.

  • To lose one's temper is an idiom.
    – V.V.
    Jun 28, 2016 at 3:35
  • Zeugma is a special literary device used for humorous effect in fiction, but it isn't normally used in speech.
    – V.V.
    Jun 28, 2016 at 3:41
  • 1
    Of all the things I "lost", I miss my mind the most.
    – Peter
    Jun 28, 2016 at 5:06
  • 1
    Cool question. I also agree with you in that it seems the verb used is grammatically fulfilling the same function but has a different logical meaning. Here's another example “[They] covered themselves with dust and glory.”
    – Leo
    Jun 28, 2016 at 6:28
  • @V.V. True, but how does an idiom make it grammatically different? Out of curiosity, could someone give an example that is grammatical different but not an idiom?
    – learner
    Jun 29, 2016 at 2:29

1 Answer 1


Zeugma or syllepsis comes in several different shades: not all require grammatical inconsistency. The example that you quote is a type called semantic syllepsis, where a single word is used with two other parts of a sentence but must be understood differently in relation to each.

It is generally used for dramatic or humorous effect, for example in this popular song:

she made no reply, up her mind and a dash for the door - Flanders and Swann, Have some Madeira my dear


John lost his coat and his temper

In your example, the person loses two things: his coat and his temper. There are conceptual differences between them, starting with the fact that a coat is concrete and a temper is abstract, but grammatically there is no difference at all between these two things.

It is even debatable whether lose actually changes its meaning between the two different usages, as the expression lose one's temper relates to the original meaning of temper, which is calm state of mind. So, losing your temper means losing (in the normal sense) your calm state of mind.

  • Thanks JavaLatte. Could you check the question again. I edit it and I hope I clarified what I want, how the example in my quote have different grammatical ideas. Bonding illogical ideas is clear to me.
    – learner
    Jun 28, 2016 at 13:07
  • As JavaLatte has said, not all zeugma have both grammatical and logical inconsistencies. This one is logical only -- "lost" has two different definitions here, but if you read it prescriptively it follows all expected grammatical rules.
    – Emmabee
    Aug 27, 2016 at 17:46
  • @Emmabee, your comment set me thinking: I am not convinced that lose does have different definitions in this sentence. I have updated my answer.
    – JavaLatte
    Aug 27, 2016 at 18:54

You must log in to answer this question.

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