Kenneth Burke’s Pentad is a popular heuristic that enables us to analyze inspiration in any dramatic case. At a basic level, the Pentad attributes choose the journalistic concerns (who? where? what? when? why? how?). However, the Pentad’s true function has even more to do via the partnership in between its five terms. Burke argued that incentive cannot be effectively described as having actually a single or basic reason. In a dramatic and also rhetorical situation, impetus is a matter of the relationships (the ratios) in between terms.

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The Pentad

Burke defined the Pentad in his book A Grammar of Motives (originally published in 1945):

ny finish statement about motives will offer some kind of answers to these five questions: what was done (act), when or wright here it was done (scene), that did it (agent), how he did it (agency), and also why (purpose)” (p. x).

When stood for visually, the five terms are inserted at the points of a star (in any type of order):


The Pentad helps us define dramatic cases. Take the complying with sentence:

This morning, Tom got so bothered by the lack of light in his living room that he grabbed a chainexperienced and cut down the apple tree in front of the window.

We deserve to organize the indevelopment as follows:

Agent: TomAct: Cutting down the apple treeAgency: The chainsawScene: Morning (when), in the garden (where)Purpose: To let more light in

You deserve to check out why Burke talks about a grammar of motives: analyzing a sentence in this way is not that different from parsing a sentence for components of speech.

The real question, however, is wright here we locate inspiration in every one of this. If we define the instance from Tom’s perspective, then we would certainly say that he made a decision to cut dvery own the tree. If we emphasis on the scene, by comparison, then we could say that the lighting (or quite the lack of light) drove Tom to grab his chainwitnessed.

Burke’s Pentad for this reason allows us to notice all the facets of a scene or complace, and it forces us to decide what has caused some action to take place.


The worth of Burke’s Pentad is easily demonstrated by analyzing a photograph or paint. Take Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famous photo of a couple kissing on Success over Japan Day in Times Square (1945):


At the moment of the photograph, the identities of the sailor and young womale were not well-known. The photo was printed in Life magazine, accompanied by the following caption:

“In New York’s Times Square a white-clad girl clutches her purse and skirt as an uninhibited sailor plants his lips squarely on hers” (“V-J Day”).

The Pentad helps us to spot the scene (V-J Day in New York’s Times Square) and the agents (girl and also sailor), the purpose (celebration), and the act and agency (the kiss).

That is, of course, if we emphasis on the centre of the picture. If we zoom out a bit we could notification many kind of various other agents and also acts. In truth, also the photographer is acting by snapping a photo. The Pentad therefore tells us as a lot about our priorities and also focus as around the object in view.

The Pentad likewise demonstprices that audit for incentive is rarely a simple matter. The sailor didn’t understand the girl, and so feminist movie critics have said that the kiss was an act of sex-related assault. She was sindicate walking alengthy before being grabbed by a random stranger. Others indicate that the sailor shouldn’t be blamed. He had been drinking to celebprice the finish of the war, and was so overjoyed (and also thankful for the occupational of registered nurses in the war), that he kissed this young womale (who looked like she was dressed as a nurse). We deserve to for this reason easily ascribe catalyst to the scene itself–the circumstances of joy and also jubilation–that lugged these 2 young people together. In reality, we could find catalyst even even more afield, in the romantic motif of the hero who can sweep a girl off her feet–a motif prevalent to western culture. Before we recognize it, we’re studying sociology.


The Pentad is most beneficial when we look for the relationships (ratios) in between our 5 terms. As Richard Coe has actually pointed out (p. 82), a great strategy is to pick a topic and one term (e.g., Act) that captures it:


For instance, let’s say that our topic is “students skipping classes,” a instance we deserve to classify as primarily an act.

We deserve to currently define this activity by creating the following ratios:

Agent-Act: The act is the outcome of the agent’s inspiration.

Ex. The students were lazy. That’s why they skipped classes on a continuous basis.

Agency-Act: The act is the outcome of the obtainable tools or means.

Ex. Since no boffers ran that at an early stage, the students couldn’t exploit public transport to obtain to class. That’s why many skipped course on a continual basis.

Scene-Act: The act is the result of the setting and also circumstances.

Ex. The school is right next to a beach. Can you blame young people for being attracted away to admire the regional scenery?

Purpose-Act: The act is the outcome of a specific objective.

Ex. The students skipped class because skipping course is fun.

Act-Act: The act is the outcome of one more act.

Ex. In the first class, the teacher embarrassed one of the students, so the students felt entitled to skip class.

As you can watch from these possibilities, the Pentad helps us to question impetus. It reveals that many type of explanations are feasible.


The Pentad works particularly well for dramatic instances that involve human agents. It is less helpful in describing scenes of nature. In addition, to usage a Pentad appropriately we need to investigate the relationships (the ratios) in between the 5 terms. The Pentad is expected to stimulate complicated explacountries of impetus. Rather than mitigate origin to a straightforward cause, the Pentad makes us realize that huguy activity has many kind of completing explacountries.

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Works Cited

Burke, Kenneth. A Grammar of Motives. New York, Prentice-Hall, 1952.Coe, Richard M. Process, Form, and also Substance: A Rhetoric for Advanced Writers. second ed., Prentice Hall, 1990.Eisenstaedt, Alfred. “V-J Day in Times Square” . 1945. Retrieved from“V-J Day in Times Square.” Retrieved from