Periodic Sentence

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Periodic Sentence


in rhetoric, an extended complex sentence marked by the full development of an idea and finality of intonation. The idea is fully developed in subordinate clauses that completely illuminate the main clause, answering the questions Who? What? Where? By what means? Why? How? and When? The finality of intonation is achieved by delaying to the very end the completion of the syntactic construction that opens the periodic sentence, with all other dependent clauses and phrases set into this frame. This intensifies the expectation of the completing end of the sentence.

The length of a periodic sentence does not exceed the capacity of a single breath. The melody of the voice separates the sentence into a rising part, the protasis, and a falling part, the apodosis.

Pauses divide the sentence into several cola, usually not more than four.

Periodic constructions in speech usually develop when a national literary language is becoming established. This was the case in the fourth century B.C. in Greece, the 17th century in France, and the 18th century in Russia.

The opening of Cicero’s oration Pro Archia (Defense of Archias) provides an example of a periodic sentence: “If I have, gentlemen of the jury, any natural ability (and I am aware how insignificant it is), or if I have any practical facility of speech (and I do not deny that I have some experience in this area), or if I have any theoretical knowledge of rhetoric because of an interest in the more refined subjects of study and by virtue of my training (and I confess that at no point in my life has this knowledge proved hateful to me), perhaps my client Aulus Licinius has as much right as anyone—a natural right—to demand of me the fruit of all this.”


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