The term non sequitur refers to a conclusion that isn't aligned with previous statements or evidence. In Latin, non sequitur literally means "it does not follow."
Non Sequitur Examples
A statement that is labeled a non sequitur is one that is illogical. For example, if someone asks what it's like outside and you reply, "It's 2:00," you've just used a non sequitur or made a statement that does not follow what was being discussed.
Non sequiturs are found in everyday conversation and fallacious arguments, and are often used to good effect in literature. Let's take a look at examples of these statements that “do not follow.”
Common Non Sequiturs
Many logical fallacies are types of non sequiturs, such as affirming the consequent (“If you're right, then I'm right. As you're right, therefore, I'm right.”) or denying the antecedent (“If I'm Indian, then I'm Asian. I'm not Indian. Therefore, I'm not Asian.”). They defy the basic rules of reason and are usually based upon unsound arguments.
Not only do non sequiturs fail to follow logic, they're usually untrue, having jumped to unfounded conclusions. In conversation, a non sequitur is a statement that seems absurd – often causing confusion due to lack of understanding.
In the non sequiturs below you'll see they either don't follow a line of logic or are potentially fallacious in their nature.
- My refrigerator is acting up. I’d better finish that book by Friday.
- I read about a pitbull attack. Our neighbor owns a pitbull. My life is in danger.
- It's time to take my car in for service. I wonder if my stylist is available this Saturday.
- I had a crazy music teacher in elementary school. All music teachers are crazy.
- When it's sunny, I see my neighbor walking his dog. He must only walk the dog when the sun is out.
- If Jo loves to read, she must hate movies. Jo hates to read, so she must love movies.
- I don't make much money and I'm unhappy. Rich people must be happy.
- He went to the same college as Bill Gates. Bill Gates is rich and famous. He should be rich and famous, too.
- My neighbor's cat is aloof and mean. Cats are nasty animals.
- I dated a man who was an accountant and all he talked about was work. Accountants are boring.
- Mary bakes the best cakes in town. She should run for mayor.
- Dave was arrested for a DUI ten years ago. He's definitely an alcoholic.
- I had eggplant at the local Italian restaurant and it was disgusting. All eggplant is soggy and bitter.
- I got into a car accident on a rainy day. No one should drive in the rain.
- Wooden furniture comes from trees. If trees are cut down, there will be no new furniture.
- The woman my brother married was a heartless woman. She was from New York. New Yorkers are terrible people.
- I got sick after eating sushi last week. Pizza is the best.
- Last night's lottery winner hit the jackpot after buying tickets from three different stores. The strategy for winning the lottery is to buy tickets from a variety of locations.
- I lived in a house without a basement. That house flooded. Houses without basements will definitely flood.
- "It tastes like somebody stole my wallet. Ya know?" - Gerard Way
Examples of Literary Non Sequiturs
In literature, non sequiturs are often used for comedic purposes, as in the Theater of the Absurd. In these instances, something is stated that bears no relevance to what was being discussed.
These non sequiturs are so far-fetched, they serve as a literary technique for some added texture and comedy. Often, they catch people off guard, surprising a laugh out of them.
It was a spring day, the sort that gives people hope: all soft winds and delicate smells of warm earth. Suicide weather.
- Girl, Interrupted, Susanna Kaysen
"I love you," she said. She nestled closer, her hand moving up the back of his neck. The wind lifted. "Don't kill me," he said. "I'm not going to," she said.
- Lexicon, Max Barry
Beetroot Cossins had moved to Kuala Lumpur where she died of lethargy and pie.
- The Bizarre Letters of St. John Morris, St. John Morris
"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?"
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
POLONIUS: If you call me Jephthah, my lord, I have a daughter that I love passing well.
HAMLET: Nay, that follows not.
- Hamlet, William Shakespeare
ESTRAGON: What did we do yesterday?
VLADIMIR: What did we do yesterday?
VLADIMIR: Why . . . (Angrily.) Nothing is certain when you’re about.
ESTRAGON: In my opinion we were here.
VLADIMIR: (looking round) You recognize the place?
ESTRAGON: I didn’t say that.
ESTRAGON: That makes no difference.
- Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett
“What are you doing?” Yossarian asked guardedly when he entered the tent, although he saw at once. “There’s a leak in here,” Orr said. “I’m trying to fix it.” “Please stop it,” said Yossarian. “You’re making me nervous.” “When I was a kid,” Orr replied, “I used to walk around all day with crab apples in my cheeks. One in each cheek.”
- Catch-22, Joseph Heller
GUILDENSTERN: The scientific approach to the examination of phenomena is a defense against the pure emotion of fear. Keep tight hold and continue while there’s time… The sun came up about as often as it went down, in the long run, and a coin showed heads about as often as it showed tails. Then a messenger arrived. We had been sent for. Nothing else happened. Ninety-two coins spun consecutively have come down heads ninety-two consecutive times — and for the last three minutes on the wind of a windless day I have heard the sound of drums and flute.
ROSENCRANTZ (cutting his fingernails): Another curious scientific phenomenon is the fact that the fingernails grow after death, as does the beard.
- Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Tom Stoppard
Serving a Dual Purpose
There's a dual purpose behind non sequiturs. On one hand, they're fallacious in nature, often causing people to spread inaccurate information.
On the other hand, non-sequiturs are so wrong, they're comedic. Watching someone make a giant leap from one thought to another can be unexpected or absurd enough to surprise a laugh out of the audience.
If you're writing something entirely research and fact-based, be sure to avoid these types of statements. That's a sure-fire way for someone to flag your writing. If, however, you're looking to have some fun and throw a curveball into the crowd, see if you can come up with a laughable non sequitur to make readers stop and think, "Wait a minute…"