Definition of Enumeration
Enumeration is a rhetorical device used for listing details, or a process of mentioning words or phrases step by step. In fact, it is a type of amplification or division in which a subject is further distributed into components or parts. Writers use enumeration to elucidate a topic, to make it understandable for the readers. It also helps avoid ambiguity in the minds of the readers.
Examples of Enumeration in Literature
Example #1: I Have a Dream (by Martin Luther King)
“[W]hen we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’ “
In this example, if we remove commas, apostrophes, and quotation marks, it would be difficult to understand the text.
Example #2: Hints Toward an Essay on Conversation (by Jonathan Swift)
“[A]mong such as deal in multitudes of words, none are comparable to the sober deliberate talker, who proceedeth with much thought and caution, maketh his preface, brancheth out into several digressions, findeth a hint that putteth him in mind of another story, which he promiseth to tell you when this is done; cometh back regularly to his subject, cannot readily call to mind some person’s name, holding his head, complaineth of his memory; the whole company all this while in suspense; at length says, it is no matter, and so goes on. And, to crown the business, it perhaps proveth at last a story the company hath heard fifty times before; or, at best, some insipid adventure of the relater.”
In this example, by using enumeration, Swift describes a sober, deliberate talker, and then adds details of his qualities, making his message clear to understand.
Example #3: Elegy for Jane (by Theodore Roethke)
“I remember the neckcurls, limp and damp as tendrils;
And her quick look, a sidelong pickerel smile;
And how, once startled into talk, the light syllables leaped for her,
And she balanced in the delight of her thought … “
In the above lines, the speaker recalls how Jane – a dead student – looked. He gives details by remembering her smile, her hair, and her beautiful spirit.
Example #4: The Atlanta Compromise Address (by Booker T. Washington)
“Cast down your bucket among these people who have, without strikes and labour wars, tilled your fields, cleared your forests, builded your railroads and cities, and brought forth treasures from the bowels of the earth, and helped make possible this magnificent representation of the progress of the South. Casting down your bucket among my people, helping and encouraging them as you are doing on these grounds, and to education of head, hand, and heart, you will find that they will buy your surplus land, make blossom the waste places in your fields, and run your factories.”
Booker describes people by adding their qualities one by one, which helps the audience to gain a real understanding of the writer’s ideas.
Example #5: Address to the Jury during the Anti-Conscription Trial in New York City, July 1917 (by Emma Goldman)
“We say that if America has entered the war to make the world safe for democracy, she must first make democracy safe in America. How else is the world to take America seriously, when democracy at home is daily being outraged, free speech suppressed, peaceable assemblies broken up by overbearing and brutal gangsters in uniform; when free press is curtailed and every independent opinion gagged.”
Emma Goldman discusses how America can save democracy while waging war. She lists details about what might happen if America does not make it safe at home.
By using enumeration, writers lay emphasis on certain ideas to elaborate them further. In fact, enumeration easily creates an impression on the minds of the readers. The details and listing make it easy for them to convey the real message they want to impart. However, if there is no use of enumeration in a text, it might become difficult for the reader to get the true meanings of ideas.
My husband Terry gave me the idea for this writing prompt though he didn’t know it at the time.
Last summer we drove to our local grocery store, and as Terry pulled into a spot, he said, “I like to park here because . . . ,” and he listed four reasons why he likes to park in that particular place. Now that you know how exciting our lives are, you’ll be happy to know that his love of lists surfaced yet again—at the ball park.
We were watching the Indianapolis Indians play the Rochester Redwings when one of the Indians smacked a ball and headed toward first. Terry leaned over to me and said, “There are nine ways to get to first safely.” Or was it seven?
Terry was halfway to writing an enumerative essay because he began with a number (four or nine) and had a secure idea of a list.
Enumerative essays, or partitive essays, begin with the number of parts (“There are nine ways to get to first safely”), and then each part becomes a paragraph in the body. The first paragraph in the body would explain how a batter can hit the ball and get to first before anyone on the opposing team can catch the ball and throw it to first. The next paragraph could be about the hitter advancing to first on a walk, and so forth.
What is done on a large scale with the essay can also be done with the lowly paragraph. In The Power in Your Hands: Writing Nonfiction in High School, 2nd Edition, I give an example of an enumerative paragraph on a subject I can’t stand—clowns. Slightly off topic: If your students write about something they really like or really hate, they’ll have an easier time of writing.
The topic sentence in the enumerative paragraph about clowns is this: “Modern clowns come in all shapes and sizes, but they can be divided into three categories.” Good. Now we have a number—three—and we know that we have categories, not methods or reasons.
The sentences that show readers which category is currently under the spotlight are as follows:
- “The first category is the happy clown, typified by the circus clown.” [And then follow a few sentences about the circus clown.]
- “The second category is the sad clown, often personified as a hobo.” [Here follow a few sentences about the hobo clown.]
- “And the last category is the downright scary clown often found in horror movies or books.” [This is where the writer explains this category and gives a few examples.]
That’s it. Begin with the overview and then explain, describe, or illustrate each part. Download a FREE PDF of the whole paragraph here.
By the way, if your students use first, second, and third in the essay or paragraph, tell them to stay away from firstly, secondly, thirdly, lastly, and most importantly. Just use first, second, last, most important, and so forth.
Here are some ideas to get your students going (they’ll fill in the blank with a number):
_______________ ways to procrastinate
__________________ ways to score in soccer
The ____________ best burgers in town
______________ categories of invertebrates
The ________________ most popular social media sites
_______________ methods of ruining a friendship
The _______________ best camping trips of my life
The _____________ scariest rides at Six Flags
The ________________ lamest shows on TV today
The top __________________ reasons I don’t like to write
Yours for a more vibrant writing class,
Copyright © 2015 by Sharon Watson
Image credit: Sharon Watson
Downloadable enumerative paragraph: Copyright © 2012 by Sharon Watson, from The Power in Your Hands: Writing Nonfiction in High School, 2nd Edition.
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