Kenneth Burke’s Pentad is a popular heuristic that permits us to analyze impetus in any kind of dramatic situation. At a basic level, the Pentad attributes prefer the journalistic concerns (who? where? what? when? why? how?). However before, the Pentad’s true attribute has actually more to do via the relationship in between its five terms. Burke argued that incentive cannot be effectively explained as having a single or basic reason. In a dramatic and also rhetorical situation, incentive 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), who did it (agent), just how he did it (agency), and also why (purpose)” (p. x).

When represented visually, the five terms are inserted at the points of a star (in any kind of order):


The Pentad helps us explain dramatic situations. Take the complying with sentence:

This morning, Tom acquired so bothered by the absence of light in his living room that he got hold of a chainexperienced and also reduced dvery own the apple tree in front of the home window.

We can organize the information as follows:

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

You can watch why Burke talks around a grammar of motives: analyzing a sentence in this means is not that various from parsing a sentence for parts of speech.

The actual question, however, is where we locate incentive in all of this. If we describe the instance from Tom’s perspective, then we would certainly say that he chose to reduced dvery own the tree. If we focus on the scene, by comparison, then we could say that the lighting (or fairly the absence of light) drove Tom to grab his chainsaw.

Burke’s Pentad hence allows us to alert all the aspects of a scene or composition, and it forces us to decide what has actually brought about some activity to take place.


The worth of Burke’s Pentad is quickly 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 moment of the photograph, the identities of the sailor and young woguy were not 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 also skirt as an uninhibited sailor plants his lips squadepend 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 sailor), the purpose (celebration), and also the act and company (the kiss).

That is, of course, if we focus on the centre of the photo. If we zoom out a bit we could notice many type of other agents and 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 emphasis as about the object in view.

The Pentad also demonstprices that accountancy for incentive is hardly ever a basic issue. The sailor didn’t recognize the girl, and so feminist movie critics have argued that the kiss was an act of sex-related assault. She was simply walking along before being ordered by a random stranger. Others imply that the sailor shouldn’t be blamed. He had actually been drinking to celebprice the finish of the war, and was so overjoyed (and thankful for the occupational of registered nurses in the war), that he kissed this young woman (that looked like she was dressed as a nurse). We have the right to for this reason easily ascribe motivation to the scene itself–the situations of joy and jubilation–that brought these two young people together. In reality, we might find motivation even even more aarea, in the romantic motif of the hero that deserve to move a girl off her feet–a motif widespread to western society. Before we recognize it, we’re researching sociology.


The Pentad is a lot of helpful when we look for the relationships (ratios) between our five terms. As Rictough Coe has discussed (p. 82), a great 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 deserve to classify as generally an act.

We can now explain this activity by developing the following ratios:

Agent-Act: The act is the result of the agent’s impetus.

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

Agency-Act: The act is the result of the available devices or implies.

Ex. Since no bprovides ran that at an early stage, the students couldn’t make use of public carry to get to course. That’s why many type of skipped course on a constant basis.

Scene-Act: The act is the outcome of the setting and scenarios.

Ex. The institution is right alongside a beach. Can you blame young human being for being attracted ameans to admire the regional scenery?

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

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

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

Ex. In the initially class, the teacher embarrassed among the students, so the students felt entitled to skip course.

As you deserve to watch from these possibilities, the Pentad helps us to question incentive. It reveals that many kind of explacountries are possible.


The Pentad works specifically well for dramatic instances that involve human agents. It is less helpful in describing scenes of nature. In enhancement, to usage a Pentad correctly we need to investigate the relationships (the ratios) between the five terms. The Pentad is expected to stimulate facility explanations of inspiration. Rather than alleviate causality to an easy reason, the Pentad renders us realize that huguy action 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 State-of-the-art Writers. 2nd ed., Prtempt Hall, 1990.Eisenstaedt, Alfred. “V-J Day in Times Square” . 1945. Retrieved from“V-J Day in Times Square.” Retrieved from