Top 8 Syllogism Examples to Help Define This Literary Term

Syllogism is a type of logical argument that uses a pattern to follow the path of deductive reasoning. Discover syllogism examples in this article.

Logical arguments must follow logical patterns. Syllogism is one such pattern often used in deductive reasoning. It comes from the Greek word syllogismos, which means “to calculate.” This literary device commonly shows up in speeches and logical arguments.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a syllogism is “a deductive scheme of a formal argument consisting of a major and a minor premise followed by a conclusion.” In other words, this form of deductive reasoning always has three terms, never, more, or less, though sometimes the minor premise is understood by the public and thus is not formally stated.

Syllogism follows several rules to ensure the argument is precise and concise. These include:

  • Only three terms, the major and minor premise and the conclusion.
  • The minor premise must include at least one other premise category.
  • Terms distributed to the premise must be part of the relevant premise.
  • If one of the premises is negative, so will the conclusion be.
  • Two universal premises cannot create a conclusion.

These rules can be challenging to understand, even for logicians. Consider these examples of this literary device to understand better syllogism and how it shows up in writing or speeches.

If you are a short story writer, read our article on common literary elements. 

Syllogism Examples

1. Categorical Syllogism

The first type of syllogism is a categorical syllogism and follows a pattern:

  • If A is part of B and B is part of C, then you can conclude the relationship between A and C.

This type of syllogism first showed up in literature in the work of Socrates. In System of Logic by John Stuart Mill, Socrates stated:

  • All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

Here is how this breaks down:

  • Major premise: All men are mortal.
  • Minor premise: Socrates is a man.
  • Conclusion: Socrates is mortal.

The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare has a classic example of a categorical syllogism. When men come to try to woo Portia, they are given a riddle involving three chests – gold, silver, and lead. The man who correctly guesses which chest holds her portrait wins her hand.

One prince, the Prince of Morroco, uses syllogism to try to determine the answer. He says:

  • Major premise: All the world desires Portia.
  • Minor premise: The gold chest contains what many men desire.
  • Conclusion: Therefore, the golden chest contains Portia’s portrait.

Sadly, this was not a valid conclusion, and he got the riddle wrong.

2. Syllogism Examples

Syllogism examples
Hypothetical syllogism follows a distinctive logical argument to create a logical conclusion

This type of syllogism follows a distinctive logical argument to create a logical conclusion. It is sometimes called hypothetical syllogism because it can have arguments that are not valid. It also can be a general statement that is considered accepted truth.

The pattern for this type of logical reasoning follows this:

  • If A is true, then B is true.

Here is an example:

  • If Samantha works hard, then she will get into college.

Here is how it breaks down:

  • Major premise: Samantha will work hard.
  • Minor premise: Because she works hard, she will get good grades.
  • Conclusion: If Samantha works hard, then she will get into college.

Clearly, this could be a logical fallacy because it is possible for Samantha to work hard and still fail, but it is an excellent example of a conditional syllogism. Here is another example:

  • If you care about your family, then you will get up early and cook breakfast.

Here is how it breaks down:

  • Major premise: You care about your family.
  • Minor premise: Because you care about your family, you want to cook them breakfast.
  • Conclusion: If you care about your family, then you will get up early and cook breakfast.

Again, this is potentially a fallacy because there are other ways to show that you care for your family.

3. Disjunctive Syllogism Examples

Disjunctive syllogism follows this pattern:

  • Either A or B is true. If A is false, then B is true.

This pattern does not have a major or minor premise. Instead, it has an either statement and a false premise followed by a conclusion, so it maintains the three-term pattern necessary for a syllogism. Here is an example:

  • This ice cream is either chocolate or vanilla. Since it’s not chocolate, it must be vanilla.

Here is how it breaks down:

  • Either statement: This ice cream is either chocolate or vanilla.
  • False premise: It’s not chocolate.
  • Conclusion: Therefore, it is vanilla.

If the either statement is true, then the conclusion would be true, knowing the false premise. Here is another example:

  • Harry Potter is either dead or alive at the end of the series. Since he is not dead, he must be alive.

Here is how this breaks down:

  • Either statement: Harry Potter is either dead or alive at the end of the series.
  • False premise: He is not dead.
  • Conclusion: Therefore, he is alive.

4. Enthymemes Examples

Another type of syllogism is the enthymeme. This is a rhetorical syllogism often used in persuasive speeches and syllogistic arguments. Sometimes, the writer will have an implied minor premise that is not expressly written in these arguments.

Here is how this might look:

  • Ice cream is full of milk. Lactose intolerant people should not eat it.

Here is how this breaks down:

  • Major Premise: Ice cream is full of milk.
  • Implied minor premise: People who are lactose intolerant should avoid milk.
  • Conclusion: Therefore, lactose-intolerant people should not eat ice cream.

Most people know that lactose intolerant means people should not be drinking or eating milk products. So the original statement does not state this fact.

The poem To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell shows another example of enthymeme. He says:

  • “Had we but world enough, and time. This coyness, Lady, were no crime.”

Here is how this breaks down:

  • Major premise: There is not enough time to love.
  • Implied minor premise: Life is short, and man is mortal.
  • Conclusion: Therefore, we cannot waste time with coyness.

5. Universal Syllogism Examples

Universal syllogisms use complete and total words, such as “no” or “all.” Many syllogisms are universal, and they follow one of two patterns:

  • All A are B, and all C are A. Therefore, all C are B.
  • No A are B, and all C are A. Therefore, no C are B.

Here is an example:

  • All dogs are animals, and all canines are dogs. Therefore all canines are animals.

Here is how this breaks down:

  • Major premise: All dogs are animals.
  • Minor premise: All canines are dogs.
  • Conclusion: All canines are animals.

Here is an example that follows the negative pattern:

  • No mammals are snakes. All dogs are mammals. Therefore, no dogs are snakes.

Here is how this breaks down:

  • Major premise: No mammals are snakes.
  • Minor premise: All dogs are mammals.
  • Conclusion: No dogs are snakes.

6. Particular Syllogism Examples

Particular syllogism uses words like “some” or “most” to draw a logical conclusion. This follows two main patterns:

  • All A are B, and some C are A. Therefore, some C are B.
  • No A are B, and some C are A. Therefore, some C are not B.

Here is an example of the first pattern:

  • All zebras have striped coats. Some animals are zebras. Therefore, some animals have striped coats.

Here is how this breaks down:

  • Major premise: All zebras have striped coats.
  • Minor premise: Some animals are zebras.
  • Conclusion: Some animals have striped coats.

Here is an example of the negative pattern:

  • No teachers are babies. Some immature people are teachers. Therefore, some immature people are not babies.

Here is how this breaks down:

  • Major premise: No teachers are babies.
  • Minor premise: Some immature people are teachers.
  • Conclusion: Therefore, some immature people are not babies.

7. Syllogistic Fallacy Examples

You can have examples of syllogism that end up being a fallacy. The syllogistic fallacy occurs when a writer makes two general statements to validate their conclusion, but because the statements are so general, the conclusion cannot be proven.

This follows a pattern:

  • All A are C, and B are C. Therefore, A must be B.

Here is an example:

  • All snakes are reptiles. My pet is a reptile. Therefore, my pet is a snake.

Here is how the argument breaks down:

  • Major premise: All snakes are reptiles.
  • Minor premise: My pet is a reptile.
  • Conclusion: Therefore, my pet is a snake.

The conclusion is in error because the major premise is too general, making it a fallacy. Here is another example:

  • Major premise: All bluejays are blue.
  • Minor premise: That bird in the cage is blue.
  • Conclusion: Therefore, that bird is a bluejay.

While the bird could be a bluejay, it could also be any other number of blue birds that exist, so the conclusion is invalid.

8. Syllogism Examples from Literature

Syllogism shows up often in literature, particularly in poetry and Shakespeare’s work.

In Timon of Athens, a Shakespearean historical play, the playwright shows an example of syllogism when he says:

  • Flavius: Have you forgot me, sir?
  • Timon: Why dost ask that? I have forgot all meant; Then, if thou grant’st thou’rt a man, I have forgotten thee.

The poem Elegy II by John Donne also shows syllogism. It says:

  • All love is wonder; if we justly do / Account her wonderful, why not lovely too?

This is an example of a syllogism. It breaks down like this:

  • Major premise: All love is wonder.
  • Minor premise: She inspires wonder.
  • Conclusion: Therefore, she inspires love.

We have lots of articles about literature and literary content. Have a look at our article on literary realism.

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