Literary Devices: Hypotaxis

Definition: “Hypotaxis also called subordinating style, is a grammatical and rhetorical term used to describe an arrangement of phrases or clauses in a dependent or subordinate relationship — that is, phrases or clauses ordered one under another. In hypotactic constructions, subordinating conjunctions and relative pronouns serve to connect the dependent elements to the main clause.” – ThoughtCo.

Dependent clauses contain subordinating conjunctions, like “when,” “because,” and “though,” as in, “though he liked ice cream.” The clause is dependent because it cannot stand alone as a sentence; it requires a main clause to make it make sense: “though he liked ice cream, he wasn’t hungry.

Hypotaxis is stacking multiple dependent clauses before the main clause: “though he liked ice cream because it tasted delicious, especially when it had sprinkles, he wasn’t hungry.

Why It’s Useful: Stacking dependent clauses in the beginning of a sentence is like the wind-up of a punch–done correctly, the main clause will hit with immense force.

Five Examples of Hypotaxis in Action


Although Mary sounds heavenly when she sings on-stage, her pre-teen voice gets just a screechy and crooked as all the other kids in her grade.


To K. Levin, who was a comic I used to open for when I was a beginner—though back then he was a beginner, too, just a damn funny one—it seemed obvious where to insert a punchline.


Where you were born when the war was taking place said a lot about your future.


That I remembered where my keys were when my roommate asked me surprised him.


When Devon found out his wallet was stolen by the same guy he gave directions to, the guy who had the gray, muck-splotched jean jacket with holes in it, the guy who had an optimism in his voice, like his hope would thrust him toward his university aspirations like a clown from a cannon—although the guy didn’t seem reckless like a clown: his clasped palms as he spoke hinted he was a cautious man—the guy who wiped his temples while Devon spoke, wiped them, Devon, assumed, to keep the tears out of his eyes as Devon loaned him $30 to catch a cab, Devon himself almost teary-eyed after hearing his story—when Devon found out his wallet that had a rare photo of his daughter and his last two credit cards was stolen, he forgot where he was and collapsed on the ground as he let out his scream.

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