Non sequiturs are intentionally confusing, which is why birds fly south for the winter. (Hint: the sentence you just read is one.) To help with this confusion, this guide takes a closer look at the question, “What is a non sequitur?” and spells out how to use non sequiturs in writing. We’ll even include some fun examples of non sequiturs to help you understand how they work.
What is a non sequitur?
Non sequiturs are responses or follow-up statements that are not related to the previous statement or question. When someone says something completely random, it’s often a non sequitur. For example:
A: What do you want to eat for dinner tonight?
B: Did you know that Minnie Mouse’s first name is Minerva?
Non sequiturs encompass only responses or follow-up statements. If you say something random on its own, that is not a non sequitur. If you say that same random thing as a reply to an unrelated comment, that is a non sequitur.
The word non sequitur has its roots in ancient Latin, where it means “does not follow.” Note the letter u at the end, before the r, in non sequitur, instead of the –er ending common in English words. In writing, non sequitur is not hyphenated.
Non sequiturs in writing are used as a literary device. Usually they work for jokes and comedy, but they can also be used for characterization in dialogue. Additionally, the term non sequitur is used in logic and philosophy to describe a certain type of flaw in a train of thought. Below, we explain more about how to use non sequiturs in writing and in logic.
Be careful with what you read about non sequiturs online. Many posts labeled as “examples of non sequiturs” aren’t non sequiturs at all. They’re just puns, wordplay, or jokes in general. Don’t forget that authentic non sequiturs involve an abrupt change in topic or a random response unrelated to what was said immediately before.
How do you pronounce non sequitur?
Because of its Latin roots, the word non sequitur may look a bit odd. However, the word is pronounced just how it’s spelled—non SEK-quit-ur—with the accent on the seq and non rhyming with gone.
Non sequitur examples
Calypso, by David Sedaris
I’m often misunderstood at my supermarket in Sussex, not because of my accent but because I tend to deviate from the script.
Cashier: Hello, how are you this evening?
Me: Has your house ever been burgled?
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll
“You should learn not to make personal remarks,” Alice said with some severity; “it’s very rude.”
The Hatter opened his eyes very wide on hearing this; but all he said was, “Why is a raven like a writing-desk?”
“Good Day, Fellow!” “Axe Handle!” Norwegian folktale
Bailiff: Good day, fellow!
Ferryman: Axe handle.
Bailiff: Oh, yeah? How far is it to the innkeeper?
Ferryman: Up to under this knot.
Bailiff: Where’s your wife, man?
Ferryman: I’m going to tar her. She is lying on the beach and has a crack in each end.
Bailiff: Where’s your daughter?
Ferryman: Oh, she’s in the stable, ready to foal.
Bailiff: Get out, you silly old man!
Ferryman: Yes, it’s not far; when you come up the hill, you’re nearly there.
The Room, by Tommy Wiseau
“I did not hit her! I did not! Oh, hi Mark.”
How to use non sequiturs in writing
Non sequiturs in writing: Comedy
More often than not, non sequiturs are used for writing jokes. The random and unexpected nature of non sequiturs makes them a great fit for comedy, especially for offbeat styles of humor.
Non sequiturs were quite popular in the art that came out of the Absurdism Movement, which began in the 1950s, such as Monty Python’s Flying Circus and the plays of the Theatre of the Absurd. In modern times, non sequiturs are used heavily in the TV show Family Guy.
Non sequiturs in writing: Drama
Although non sequiturs are primarily used for comedy, they still have a few applications in drama. Non sequiturs are especially useful for indirect characterization, or telling details about a character through their actions and speech. In particular, non sequiturs can be used in dialogue to show that:
- a character is not paying attention to the conversation
- a character is intentionally changing the subject, perhaps because of an ulterior motive
In general, you have to be cautious with non sequiturs in writing; using them too often can create consistency issues in writing, making it difficult for the reader or audience to follow along.
What is a non sequitur fallacy?
Aside from non sequiturs in writing, the term non sequitur is also used to describe certain logical fallacies. In philosophy and logic, non sequitur refers to a sequence of reasoning that misses or skips over a key part, which makes the conclusion invalid (even if the premises are true). For example:
My dog is named Max, and he likes to eat dog food. Therefore, everyone named Max likes to eat dog food.
Keep in mind that non sequiturs used in logic are not the same as non sequiturs used as a literary device. Each refers to a different concept in its respective fields; however, both take their name from the same Latin root.
What is a non sequitur? FAQs
What is a non sequitur?
Non sequiturs are responses or follow-up statements that are not related to the previous statement or question, like when a person says something completely random. For example, a non sequitur would be if someone asked you how your day was and you answered with a scientific fact about walruses.
How can you use non sequiturs in writing?
Non sequiturs in writing are mostly used for humor. The random and unexpected nature of non sequiturs makes them a good fit for jokes and comedy in general. However, non sequiturs can also be used for dramatic characterization, especially in dialogue, to show that a character is not paying attention or is intentionally trying to change the subject.
What is a non sequitur fallacy?
A non sequitur fallacy is a sequence of reasoning that misses or skips over a key part, making the conclusion invalid (even if the premises are true). For example: My dog is named Max, and he likes to eat dog food. Therefore, everyone named Max likes to eat dog food.