Kenneth Burke’s Pentad is a famous heuristic that enables us to analyze incentive in any type of dramatic case. At a basic level, the Pentad attributes choose the journalistic inquiries (who? where? what? when? why? how?). However, the Pentad’s true feature has even more to execute through the partnership in between its 5 terms. Burke said that inspiration cannot be correctly defined as having actually a single or straightforward cause. In a dramatic and rhetorical case, inspiration is a issue of the relationships (the ratios) between terms.

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The Pentad

Burke explained the Pentad in his book A Grammar of Motives (initially publiburned in 1945):

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

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


The Pentad helps us describe dramatic instances. Take the adhering to sentence:

This morning, Tom got so bothered by the lack of light in his living room that he got hold of a chainobserved and also reduced down the apple tree in front of the home window.

We have the right to organize the information as follows:

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

You have the right to see why Burke talks around a grammar of motives: analyzing a sentence in this means is not that different from parsing a sentence for parts of speech.

The genuine question, however, is wbelow we find inspiration in all of this. If we describe the instance from Tom’s perspective, then we would say that he determined to reduced down the tree. If we emphasis on the scene, by contrast, then we could say that the lighting (or rather the absence of light) drove Tom to grab his chainwitnessed.

Burke’s Pentad hence permits us to alert all the aspects of a scene or complace, and it forces us to decide what has actually resulted in some activity to take location.


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


At the time 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 complying with caption:

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

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

That is, of course, if we focus on the centre of the image. If we zoom out a little we can notice many various other agents and also acts. In truth, even the photographer is acting by snapping a photo. The Pentad therefore tells us as a lot around our priorities and focus as around the object in watch.

The Pentad likewise demonstrates that accounting for impetus is seldom a simple issue. The sailor didn’t understand the girl, and so feminist critics have actually said that the kiss was an act of sexual attack. She was sindicate walking alengthy prior to being got by a random stranger. Others suggest that the sailor shouldn’t be blamed. He had actually been drinking to celebrate the finish of the war, and was so overjoyed (and thankful for the job-related of registered nurses in the war), that he kissed this young woman (who looked like she was dressed as a nurse). We can therefore quickly ascribe motivation to the scene itself–the scenarios of joy and also jubilation–that lugged these 2 young world together. In reality, we can find catalyst even further afield, in the romantic motif of the hero who have the right to move a girl off her feet–a motif widespread to western society. Before we understand it, we’re studying sociology.


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


For example, let’s say that our topic is “students skipping classes,” a instance we can classify as mostly an act.

We have the right to currently explain this action by creating the complying with ratios:

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

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

Agency-Act: The act is the result of the accessible tools or suggests.

Ex. Since no boffers ran that beforehand, the students couldn’t manipulate public carry to gain to course. That’s why many kind of skipped class on a continual basis.

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

Ex. The institution is right alongside a beach. Can you blame young civilization for being drawn away to admire the regional scenery?

Purpose-Act: The act is the outcome of a details purpose.

Ex. The students skipped class bereason skipping class is fun.

Act-Act: The act is the outcome of an additional act.

Ex. In the initially course, the teacher embarrassed one of the students, so the students felt entitled to skip course.

As you deserve to check out from these possibilities, the Pentad helps us to question impetus. It reveals that many explacountries are feasible.


The Pentad works especially well for dramatic situations that involve human agents. It is less advantageous in describing scenes of nature. In enhancement, to usage a Pentad properly we have to investigate the relationships (the ratios) between the five terms. The Pentad is expected to stimulate facility explacountries of impetus. Rather than mitigate causality to a simple cause, the Pentad provides us realize that human action has actually many kind of contending explanations.

See more:
In/ At The Event Or In The Event Of/That Definition And Meaning

Works Cited

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