Paraprosdokian | Meaning, Definition & Examples

A paraprosdokian is a sentence or statement with an unexpected and often humorous ending. The surprising twist makes us think and reinterpret the entire phrase.

Paraprosdokians are often used in satire and comedy because they keep the audience engaged and entertained.

Paraprosdokian

Paraprosdokian example
“I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.” —Groucho Marx

What is a paraprosdokian?

A paraprosdokian is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence (or a following sentence) takes an unexpected turn. As you read or hear such a sentence, just when you think you understand what is being said, the meaning shifts in a surprising or funny way.

Paraprosdokians subvert the audience’s initial expectations, prompting the reader or listener to rethink the intended meaning and see things in a new light. It is a type of wordplay that adds humor or offers an alternative perspective. Paraprosdokians keep the audience on their toes. Therefore, it is a popular tool for comedians, writers, and speakers.

How to use paraprosdokians

Paraprosdokians are mostly found in casual language. However, in some cases, they may be appropriate in formal writing. Like other literary devices, paraprosdokians should align with the tone and purpose of formal writing. For example, they may be appropriate in speeches, essays, or creative writing, but they should not detract from the overall message and should fit the tone and the audience.

Although humor is a common characteristic of paraprosdokians, the goal is not always to be witty and amusing. Paraprosdokians are all about unexpected turns in meaning, which can evoke various emotional responses. For example, the quote “If you are going through hell, keep going,” is a motivational one; it encourages people to endure hardships and challenges rather than succumb to them.

Paraprosdokians vs puns

Paraprosdokians and puns are both forms of wordplay. However, there is a difference between them.

When someone uses a paraprosdokian, they are playing with our expectations. They say something seemingly straightforward, but the ending takes an unexpected twist, which changes the meaning of the phrase. The contrast between the expected and actual ending creates a humorous or dramatic effect.

On the other hand, puns exploit the multiple meanings of a word or words that sound similar but have different meanings. The humor in punning comes from the clever use of language.

In short, a paraprosdokian relies on a surprising twist in meaning (which may involve a pun), while a pun involves words or phrases with multiple interpretations.

Paraprosdokian examples

Many comedians use paraprosdokians to set up their jokes, which usually take the form of clever one-liners.

Paraprosdokian jokes
  • Light travels faster than sound. That’s why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.
  • I used to play piano by ear. Now I use my hands.
  • Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.
  • The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it’s still on the list.
  • I always take life with a grain of salt—plus a slice of lemon and a shot of tequila.
  • I used to be indecisive. Now I’m not sure.

Paraprosdokians can be found in poetry, essays, and novels. They help capture the reader’s attention and maintain engagement.

Paraprosdokian examples in literature
“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” —Douglas Adams

This famous quote from The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time is a humorous example of paraprosdokian. The first sentence creates the expectation that the author sincerely appreciates deadlines and perhaps is about to explain why.

However, the second sentence subverts this expectation as the author states that he loves the “whooshing sound” they make as they pass. The paraprosdokian lies in the contradiction between the initial statement about loving deadlines and the implied disregard for meeting them.

Frequently asked questions about paraprosdokian

How do you pronounce “paraprosdokian”?

Paraprosdokian is pronounced par-uh-prohz-doh-kee-uhn. It is derived from Greek “para” (against) + “prosdokia” (expectation), meaning “against expectation.”

What is an unexpected ending to a sentence called?

An unexpected ending to a sentence or statement that leads the reader or listener to reinterpret the first part of the statement is called a paraprosdokian.

It is a figure of speech often used for comic or dramatic effect, as in “I haven’t slept for ten days, because that would be too long.”

What are some common types of wordplay?

Wordplay is using words in a witty, clever, and amusing way. Wordplay typically involves experimenting with the sounds, meanings, or construction of words. These are some common types of wordplay:

  • Anagrams: rearranging the letters within a word so as to spell another word or words. An anagram of “angered” is “derange.”
  • Puns: experimenting with the different meanings of a word or with words that sound similar, like “ate” and “eight.”
  • Palindromes: words, phrases, or sentences that are spelled the same way backward and forward.
  • Malapropisms: mixing up a word or phrase with a similar-sounding one that has a completely different meaning. For example, “a wealthy typhoon” instead of “tycoon.”
  • Paraprosdokian: ending a sentence in a way that is unexpected and causes the reader or listener to reinterpret the beginning, resulting in humor or surprise. For example, “there are three kinds of people in the world—those who can count, and those who can’t.”
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Kassiani Nikolopoulou, MSc

Kassiani has an academic background in Communication, Bioeconomy and Circular Economy. As a former journalist she enjoys turning complex information into easily accessible articles to help others.