Enthymeme (EN-thuh-meme): A figure of reasoning in which one or more statements of a syllogism (a three-pronged deductive argument) is/are left out of the configuration; an abbreviated syllogism or truncated deductive argument in which one or more premises, or, the conclusion is/are omitted. There are various kinds of syllogisms and the formal treatment of them is rather technical. However, all syllogisms are similar in that they contain at least three statements -- two premises followed by a conclusion.

Ex1: - All humans are mortal. (major premise)

       - Michael is human. (minor premise)

       - Michael is mortal. (conclusion)

The syllogism above would be rendered an enthymeme simply by maintaining that "Michael is mortal because he's human" (leaving out the major premise). Or put differently, "Since all humans are mortal, Michael is therefore mortal" (leaving out the minor premise). Statements may be strategically excluded in an enthymeme because they are too obvious or because revealing them might damage the force of the argument. Yet another reason to exclude a premise or conclusion is to let the audience infer it. The idea here is that audiences who have to draw out premises or conclusions for themselves are more likely to be persuaded by the overall argument.

Ex2: - Those who study rhetoric speak eloquently. (major premise)

       - Susan studies rhetoric. (minor premise)

       - Susan speaks eloquently. (conclusion)

The enthymeme here might do well to exclude the conclusion and let the audience infer it if the goal of the argument were to convince the audience that Susan speaks eloquently.

Finally, in the examples below, note that some liberties are taken in modifying the language to form deductively valid syllogisms. Such liberality is allowed -- at least for rhetoricians -- provided it does not unnecessarily damage the meaning of the original argument' terms.


Further Examples

  "It is quite recent history, Lord Randolph was Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord Salisbury was Prime Minister, as he is now. And on this same issue of economy Lord Randolph Churchill went down -- forever. But wise words, Sir, stand the test of time. And his words were wise."

-- from the movie Young Winston

- Wise words stand the test of time. (major premise)

- [Lord  Churchill's] words were wise (minor premise)

- [Lord Churchill's] words will stand the test of time. (conclusion)

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"I wanted to serve as President because I love this country and because I love the people of this Nation."

-- Jimmy Carter, 1980 Concession Address

- Those who love [America} and love her people want to serve as President. (major premise)

- I love this country and its people. (minor premise)

- I want(ed) to serve as President. (conclusion)

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Dr. Eldon Tyrell: "You were made as well as we could make you."

Roy Batty: "But not to last."

Dr. Eldon Tyrell: "The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long, and you have burned so very, very brightly, Roy."

- from the movie Blade Runner

- [Lights] that burn twice as bright burn half as long. (major premise)

- Your light has burned very brightly. (minor premise)

- Your light will burn half as long (i.e., Your life span will be relatively short.). (conclusion)

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"Ladies and gentlemen, I will not divide the Democratic Party. Therefore, tomorrow morning I will write to the Chairman of the Democratic Party withdrawing my candidacy."

-- Thomas F. Eagleton

- Those who will not divide the Democratic Party must withdraw their candidacy. (major premise)

- I will not divide the Democratic Party. (minor premise)

- I will withdraw my candidacy. (conclusion)

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"Now, I don't know or have never met my candidate; and for that reason I am more apt to say something good of him than anyone else."

-- Will Rogers

- Those  who don't know or have never met their candidates are more apt to speak well of them. (major premise)

- I don't know or have never met my candidate. (minor premise)

- I am more apt to say something good of him. (conclusion)

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"The gloves didn't fit. If it doesn't fit, you must acquit."

-- Johnny Cochran, Closing arguments of the O.J. Simpson trial

- If the gloves didn't fit, you must acquit. (major premise)

- The gloves didn't fit. (minor premise)

- You must acquit. (conclusion)

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