Paraprosdokian | Examples & Definition

A paraprosdokian is a humorous figure of speech in which the latter part of an expression takes a surprising turn, requiring the audience to reframe the first part.

Paraprosdokian example
“Where there’s a will, I want to be in it.”

Examples of paraprosdokians are typically found in everyday jokes, literature, or performance art (e.g., stand-up comedy, TV, or film).

Paraprosdokian definition

A paraprosdokian is a rhetorical device in which the end of a statement has an unexpected twist, prompting the audience to reinterpret its beginning.

Paraprosdokians are found in humorous literature and film, often as part of witty banter between characters. While paraprosdokians are typically funny, they can also be used in contexts like satire and aphorisms.

How to use paraprosdokians

To use paraprosdokians, start with a phrase or statement that sets up an expectation. Using part of a familiar saying can be particularly effective. Then, finish with an unexpected twist (e.g., a play on words or other subversion of the expected meaning).

Remember to be concise, as brevity enhances the impact of humor. Be sure to use paraprosdokians in appropriate contexts such as jokes, speeches, dialogue, or writing where wit and cleverness are valued.

Paraprosdokian examples

Examples of paraprosdokians are typically found in comedy. These jokes are used in everyday conversations, stand-up performances, films, and TV shows.

Paraprosdokian jokes
  • I did not attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.
  • If at first you don’t succeed, then skydiving definitely isn’t for you.
  • Hospitality is making your guests feel like they’re at home even if you wish they were.
  • I wondered why the baseball was getting bigger. Then it hit me.

In literature, paraprosdokian is an engaging rhetorical device that can convey humor, philosophical insight, or satire.

Paraprosdokian examples in literature
“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” —George Orwell, Animal Farm

This famous example of paraprosdokian subverts expectations by introducing the concept of some animals being “more equal” than others, creating a satirical twist on the notion of equality in a totalitarian context.

Paraprosdokians vs puns

Puns are often an essential part of paraprosdokians, helping them achieve their surprise twists. For example, the joke “Where there’s a will, I want to be in it” relies on the dual meanings of “will.”

However, paraprosdokians and puns don’t always occur together.

  • Puns specifically play on the multiple meanings of a single word or a pair of similar-sounding words.
    • Example: “My math teacher’s favorite dessert is pi.”
  • Paraprosdokians can include various kinds of unexpected twists, not always involving words with double meanings. They often involving entire phrases or sentences that create false expectations.
    • Example: “I am not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

Rhetorical devices similar to paraprosdokian

Several rhetorical devices tend to overlap with paraprosdokian despite their distinct definitions. These include puns, double entendres, paradoxes, and anticlimax:

  • Pun: A play on words with multiple meanings (e.g., “Broken pencils are pointless.”)
  • Double entendre: An expression with a risqué secondary meaning (e.g., “If I said you had a beautiful body, would you hold it against me?”)
  • Paradox: A seemingly contradictory statement that reveals a truth (e.g., “I can resist anything except temptation.”)
  • Anticlimax: As a rhetorical device, a sudden shift from the serious or profound to the trivial (e.g., “He lost his family, his fortune, and his keys.”)

Frequently asked questions about paraprosdokian

What are some common types of wordplay?

Common types of wordplay include puns, double entendres, paraprosdokians, spoonerisms, and malapropisms.

  • Puns: Wordplay based on the multiple meanings of words or the similarity of sound between different words (e.g., “I’m a dentist, so I know the drill.”)
  • Double entendres: Phrases or expressions with two interpretations, one of which is usually somewhat risqué or taboo (e.g., “The butcher backed into the meat grinder and got a little behind in his work.”)
  • Paraprosdokians: Sentences or phrases with an unexpected ending or twist, often leading to humor or surprise (e.g., “Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.”)
  • Spoonerisms: Errors in speech where corresponding consonants, vowels, or morphemes are switched between two words in a phrase (e.g., “It is kisstomary to cuss the bride.”)
  • Malapropisms: The mistaken use of a word in place of a similar-sounding one, often resulting in nonsensical or humorous statements (e.g., “Texas has a lot of electrical votes.”)
  • Mondegreens: Misheard or misinterpreted phrases or lyrics, often resulting in humorous or nonsensical meanings (e.g., “Excuse me while I kiss the sky” from the Jimi Hendrix song “Purple Haze” is often misheard as “Excuse me while I kiss this guy.”)
What is an unexpected ending to a sentence called?

A figure of speech involving a sentence with a surprise ending is called a “paraprosdokian.” Other terms include “surprise ending” or “twist.”

Paraprosdokian example: “The last thing I want to do is hurt you, but it’s still on my list.”

How do you pronounce “paraprosdokian”?

Paraprosdokian” is pronounced par-uh-pros-DOH-kee-an.

The word “paraprosdokian” is derived from the Greek for “against expectation.” It describes a figure of speech that establishes an expectation and ends with a surprise twist.

Cite this Scribbr article

If you want to cite this source, you can copy and paste the citation or click the “Cite this Scribbr article” button to automatically add the citation to our free Citation Generator.

Shabo, M. (2024, June 17). Paraprosdokian | Examples & Definition. Scribbr. Retrieved July 17, 2024, from https://www.scribbr.com/rhetoric/paraprosdokian/

Is this article helpful?
Magedah Shabo

Magedah is an author, editor, and educator who has empowered thousands of students to become better writers.