Examples of Hypotaxis in Literature

What is Hypotaxis?

When a sentence contains both a main independent clause and a subordinate dependent clause, it is called hypotaxis. The independent clause expresses a complete thought. It can stand alone, while the dependent clause only makes sense in relation to the rest of the sentence.

For example:

  • Independent clause: I went to the store.
  • Dependent clause: Because I needed groceries.
  • Hypotaxis: I went to the store because I needed groceries.

The subordinate clause “because I needed groceries” is meaningless without the context of the main action “I went to the store.”

Some key features of hypotactic constructions:

  • Introduced by subordinating conjunctions like “while,” “although,” “unless,” etc.
  • Do not express a complete thought.
  • Dependent on the independent clause for coherence.
  • Contains a subject and predicate but not always a finite verb.

Role of Hypotaxis in Writing

Adding Relevant Details – Extra information can provide useful context without requiring a full separate sentence: Jessica finished her coursework early, which gave her time to go to the movies.

Providing Examples – Examples can clarify ideas without interrupting the flow: There are many fun activities here, such as skiing, hiking, and rowing.

Establishing Time Relationships – Temporal relationships can be highlighted: After working all day, John felt absolutely exhausted.

Explaining Causes – Causality can be emphasized: Because the weather was stormy, our flight got cancelled.

Making Contrasts – Contradictory or contrasting ideas are joined: Although Mitch was quite wealthy, he was very unhappy.

Stating Conditions – Stipulations and conditions are made clear: Unless you leave immediately, you’ll be late for school.

Creating Coherence – Hypotaxis allows smooth, logical transitions between ideas in writing.

Examples of Hypotaxis in literature


The Metamorphosis: by Franz Kafka

“When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.”

The opening line of the literary work contains the hypotactic clause “when Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams.” This subordinate clause sets up the time and context for the main action that “he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.” The hypotactic construction establishes Gregor’s startling transformation upon waking up from dreams hooking the reader into the surrealist scene.


“Hamlet” by William Shakespeare

“Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother’s death the memory be green, and that it us befitted to bear our hearts in grief and our whole kingdom to be contracted in one brow of woe, yet so far hath discretion fought with nature that we with wisest sorrow think on him together with remembrance of ourselves.”

Here, the subordinate clause conveys grief and political pragmatism. The opening subordinate clause establishes the context of recent tragedy and grief. The backdrop of mourning has been emphasized through phrases like “bear our hearts in grief” and “our whole kingdom to be contracted in one brow of woe.” The main clause is starting with “yet so far hath discretion fought with nature”. It introduces a shift and indicates the need to temper grief with wise governance. The juxtaposition of “sorrow” and “remembrance of ourselves” emphasizes the tension between personal emotion and royal duty. Through the syntactical subordination of the initial grieving clause, the author deftly sets up the thematic movement from lamentation to leadership. The hypotaxis mirrors the need to subordinate sadness to statecraft.


“The Road” by Cormac McCarthy

“When he awoke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him.”

The subordinate clause i.e. “he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him” provides additional detail. It cannot be considered a complete sentence. The hypotactic relationship connects the two clauses into a single complex sentence with the subordinate clause dependent on the main clause. It allows the writer to expand the central idea in the main clause by embedding secondary details about the actions of man after waking in the woods at night.


“The Dead” by James Joyce

“After he had dressed for the second time, he would glance into the glass, anoint his hair with a little cream, and brush and comb it thoroughly till it shone even more brilliantly than usual.”

Here, the writer describes hypotaxis and uses a subordinate clause to provide additional explanation. The main independent clause is: “After he had dressed for the second time, he would glance into the glass.” This clause can stand alone. The subordinate clause “anoint his hair with a little cream, and brush and comb it thoroughly till it shone even more brilliantly than usual” provides additional information about his actions. However, it cannot stand alone as an independent sentence. The hypotactic relationship joins the subordinate description to the main action of glancing in the mirror. This builds a complex and cohesive sentence through the use of hypotaxis.


“A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

Dickens uses hypotaxis extensively in the novel. He juxtaposes the contradictory ideas through opposing subordinate clauses. On their own, clauses like “it was the best of times,” or “it was the age of wisdom” do not convey a complete thought. Dickens sets up the dichotomy between two places and eras that is central to his novel by pairing contrasting clauses using hypotaxis, .

Examples of Hypotaxis in Literature
Examples of Hypotaxis in Literature

Related Terms

Parataxis: The literary technique that arranges clauses using coordinating conjunctions like “and” “or” and “but” instead of subordinating conjunctions like “while” “because” or “although.” The clauses stand independently rather than in a hierarchical relationship. The use of parataxis creates a sense of equality between the clauses. For example, “The storm raged on, and the ship tossed about, and the sailors held fast to the rails.”

Polysyndeton: The use of several conjunctions in close succession for rhetorical impact is called polysyndeton. This technique connects words and clauses in a way that deliberately slows down the pace of a sentence. For example, “The Sailors worked in the howling wind, and the bitter cold, and the stinging sea spray, and held fast to their duty.”

Hypophora: A figure of speech, through which a writer poses a question and then immediately provides an answer to that question. For example, “Where could they find safe harbor in this terrible storm? Only Dragon Bay provided the refuge they needed so badly.”


To conclude, hypotaxis combines an independent and dependent clause in order to make complex and coherent sentences. The use of subordinate clauses allows more sophisticated writing and greater expressiveness. Hypotaxis reveals relationships between ideas. It adds variety to sentence structure.

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