The extract is

Then, from one thing to another, M. Hamel went on to talk of the French language, saying that it was the most beautiful language in the world — the clearest, the most logical; that we must guard it among us and never forget it, because when a people are enslaved, as long as they hold fast to their language it is as if they had the key to their prison. Then he opened a grammar and read us our lesson.

It is a translation given to us from Alphonse Daudet's La Dernière Classe (translated as The Last Lesson in an NCERT textbook).

Please help me to identify the literary device in

from one thing to another

3 Answers 3


It is not a literary device. It means exactly what it says. M. Hamel has been telling Franz that he should not blame himself for slacking in his schoolwork. The story continues:

Then, passing from one thing to another, Monsieur Hamel began to talk to us about the French language.

He is literally changing the subject, from Franz’s lack of diligence to the French language, so he is “passing from one thing to another.”

Your question leaves out the word passing. I am not sure whether you misquoted, or whether you are looking at a different translation from the one at Bartleby, but in any case, the meaning is straightforward and literal, not metaphoric or rhetorical.

  • Yeah, it is not a translation from bartley [The link] (ncert.nic.in/textbook.php?lefl1=1-14)
    – Karthik
    Mar 1, 2021 at 15:35
  • 1
    @Karthik great, good to know. But the answer is the same. No literary device, he’s just moving from one topic to another.
    – verbose
    Mar 1, 2021 at 15:36

In the French text (La Dernière classe on Wikisource), we find the same type of construction:

Alors d'une chose à l'autre, M. Hamel se mit à nous parler de la langue française, …

What is missing here is a verb, as in "moving from one thing to the next". Ellipsis is a poetic device that can be used when leaving out a word does not impede understanding of the text, but it is hard to argue that leaving out the verb is done here for poetic effect.

What we see here is an elliptical construction, which SIL's Glossary of Linguistic Terms defines as follows:

An elliptical construction is a construction that lacks an element that is recoverable or inferable from the context.

In the phrase "from one thing to another", we can easily infer a verb such as "move" but the phrase is still understandable without it. This is a normal linguistic phenomenon rather than a literary device.

Response to one of Karthik's comments: there is no example of metaphor, personification, allusion or hyperbole in this phrase. Mr. Hamel's description of the French language as "the most beautiful language in the world — the clearest, the most logical" is an example of excessive praise. And as verbose pointed out in a comment, "they hold fast to their language it is as if they had the key to their prison" is a metaphor.

  • I am given four options in my text 1) metaphor 2) Personification 3) allusion 4) hyperbole I think that it is not a hyperbole since hyperbole exaggerates things. It does not seem like allusion either.
    – Karthik
    Mar 1, 2021 at 15:34
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    @Karthik I don't see how it can be any of the devices listed by your textbook. Other than leaving out a verb, I don't see anything special about the phrase "from one thing to another".
    – Tsundoku
    Mar 1, 2021 at 15:37
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    @Karthik This is not the first time that such questions are asked here. Unfortunately, exam preparation books sometimes contain confusing answers or even errors. See the questions tagged sat-ii-success-literature, where this also came up.
    – Tsundoku
    Mar 1, 2021 at 15:41
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    Calling it the poetic device of ellipsis doesn't seem to fit either. Rhetorical devices are used for effect. There's no poetic effect achieved by leaving out the verb here; and in any case, I don't think it's grammatically necessary to posit a missing verb here at all.
    – verbose
    Mar 1, 2021 at 23:18
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    h'm I certainly don't miss one in English. I can see that one would fit there, but its absence doesn't strike me as odd.
    – verbose
    Mar 2, 2021 at 3:28

One can argue that it's a metaphor, in that he is not physically moving from one place to another, but changing topics. However, this metaphor is so commonplace as to qualify as an idiom, having acquired the literal meaning that once it meant metaphorically.

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