The fallacy of accent (also referred to as accentus, from its Latin denomination, and misleading accent[1]) is a type of ambiguity that arises when the meaning of a sentence is changed by placing an unusual prosodic stress,[1][2] or when, in a written passage, it is left unclear which word the emphasis was supposed to fall on.[3] Later writers have extended the fallacy to ambiguity caused in sentences due to grammar as well.[4]


Among the thirteen types of fallacies in his book Sophistical Refutations, Aristotle lists a fallacy he calls προσῳδία (prosody), later translated in Latin as accentus.[5] While the passage is considered obscure, it is commonly interpreted as referring to the ambiguity that emerges when a word can be mistaken for another by changing suprasegmental phonemes, which in Ancient Greek correspond to diacritics (accents and breathings).[5] Since words stripped from their diacritics do not exist in the Ancient Greek language, this notion of accent was troublesome for later commentators.[5]

Whatever the interpretation, in the Aristotelian tradition the fallacy remains roughly confined to issues of lexical stress. It is only later that the fallacy came to identify shifts in prosodic stress.


See also: Prosodic stress

I didn't take the test yesterday. (Somebody else did.)
I didn't take the test yesterday. (I did not take it.)
I didn't take the test yesterday. (I did something else with it.)
I didn't take the test yesterday. (I took a different one.)
I didn't take the test yesterday. (I took something else.)
I didn't take the test yesterday. (I took it some other day.)

See also


  1. ^ a b Damer, T. Edward (2009), Attacking Faulty Reasoning: A Practical Guide to Fallacy-free Arguments (6th ed.), Wadsworth, pp. 126–128, ISBN 978-0-495-09506-4
  2. ^ Fischer, D. H. (1970), Historians' Fallacies: Toward A Logic of Historical Thought, Harper torchbooks (first ed.), New York: HarperCollins, pp. 271–274, ISBN 978-0-06-131545-9, OCLC 185446787
  3. ^ Engel, S. Morris (1994), Fallacies and Pitfalls of Language: The Language Trap, Courier Dover Publications, pp. 24–30, ISBN 978-0-486-28274-9
  4. ^ Roberto, Ruiz (2019). "Accent". In Arp, Robert; Barbone, Steven; Bruce, Michael (eds.). Bad Arguments: 100 of the most important fallacies in Western Philosophy. Wiley Blackwell. pp. 241–246. ISBN 9781119167907.
  5. ^ a b c Ebbesen, Sten (1981), Commentators and Commentaries on Aristotle's Sophistici Elenchi: A Study of Post-Aristotelian Ancient and Medieval Writings on Fallacies, Brill Archive, pp. 8, 81, 187–189, ISBN 90-04-06297-1