Figures Of Speech

A figure of speech is a type of rhetorical figure that uses words and phrases to produce an intended effect. The purpose of using figures of speech can be for emphasis, clarity, or humour. By definition, those who use figures of speech do not intend to deceive their audience; but rather aim at achieving a rhetorical effect. Thus one can easily marvel at how common figures of speech are without any intention on the part of the speaker or writer. What distinguishes formal literary works is that they contain certain rules and conventions over which speakers/writers have the tools to control and manipulate.

25 Types of Figures of Speech

1. Alliteration

Alliteration as a figure of speech is when two or more nearby words have similar sounds but different meanings based on their initial consonants or vowels; alliteration will change the meaning of a sentence into something opposite or parallel. Alliteration does not refer to the repetition of consonant letters that begin words, but rather the repetition of the consonant sound at the beginning of words.

For example, the phrase “kids’ coats” is alliterative; though the words begin with different consonant letters, they produce the same consonant sounds. Similarly, the phrase “phony people” is not alliterative; though both words begin with the same consonant, the initial consonant sounds are different. In addition, for alliteration to be effective, alliterative words should flow in quick succession. If there are too many non-alliterative words in between, then the literary device is not purposeful.

Examples of Alliteration:

  • She sells seashells by the seashore.
  • Best Buy. PayPal. Coca-Cola. Bed Bath & Beyond.
  • Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
  • Mickey Mouse.
  • Donald Duck.
  • Hip Hop
  • no nonsense
  • Wonder woman
  • Beetle Bailey

2. Antithesis

Antithesis is a literary technique that positions two opposite ideas or things parallel next to each other. For instance bitter and sweet, hot and cold, heroes and villains. Antithesis enhances your writing by illuminating differences and making your point more persuasive.

Examples of Antithesis:

  • “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .” – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
  • Keep your mouth closed and your eyes open.
  • “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.” – Charles Dickens
  • “To err is human; to forgive divine.” – Alexander Pope
  • Money is the root of all evil: poverty is the fruit of all goodness.
  • “Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice.” – William Shakespeare
  • Speech is silver, but silence is gold.

3. Apostrophe

As a literary device, an apostrophe is a poetic phrase or speech made by a character that is addressed to a subject that is not literally present in the literary work. The subject may be dead, absent, an inanimate object, or even an abstract idea. A literary apostrophe is designed to direct a reader or audience member’s attention to the entity being addressed as a means of indicating its importance or significance. In addition, apostrophe is also utilized as a way for a character to express their internal thoughts and feelings to someone or something that is not able to respond.

Examples of Apostrophe:

  • “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” — William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
  • Seven, you are my lucky number!
  • Thank you, my guardian angel, for this parking space!
  • Heaven, help us.
  • Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star / How I wonder what you are
  • O, my boy! Where should I find you after you have left us? We have become destitute, miserable, and poor.

4. Assonance

Assonance is a figure of speech in which the repetition of similar vowel sounds takes place in two or more words in proximity to each other within a line of poetry or prose. It can be said to be a variation of alliteration. Assonance most often refers to the repetition of internal vowel sounds in words that do not end the same. For example, “he fell asleep under the cherry tree” is a phrase that features assonance with the repetition of the long “e” vowel, despite the fact that the words containing this vowel do not end in perfect rhymes. This allows writers the means of emphasizing important words in a phrase or line, as well as creating a sense of rhythm, enhancing mood, and offering a lyrical effect of words and sounds.

Examples of Assonance:

  • After awhile, crocodile
  • The cat is out of the bag
  • Keep your eyes on the prize
  • “Crocodile Rock” – Elton John
  • Goodnight, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite
  • Surf and turf
  • Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary – “The Raven” Edgar Allan Poe

5. Circumlocution

Circumlocution is a rhetorical device that can be defined as an ambiguous or paradoxical way of expressing things, ideas, or views. In fact, when somebody wants to remain ambiguous about something, and he does not want to say a thing directly. It means he is using circumlocution – a roundabout wording, such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “twice five miles of fertile ground” (i.e., 10 miles).

Examples of Circumlocution:

  • In the Harry Potter series, most characters don’t say Lord Voldemort’s name; instead, they use this circumlocution: “He Who Must Not Be Named.”
  • In many religious traditions, practitioners use other names to refer to God. So they come up with circumlocutions such as “Our Father who art in Heaven.”

6. Cliché

A cliché is an expression that is trite, worn-out, and overused. As a result, clichés have lost their original vitality, freshness, and significance in expressing meaning. A cliché is a phrase or idea that has become a “universal” device to describe abstract concepts such as time (Better Late Than Never), anger (madder than a wet hen), love (love is blind), and even hope (Tomorrow is Another Day). However, such expressions are too commonplace and unoriginal to leave any significant impression.

Examples of Cliché:

  • Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
  • You can’t have your cake and eat it.
  • They lived happily ever after.
  • it’s the thought that counts.
  • we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.
  • out of sight, out of mind.
  • I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse. – The Godfather movie
  • The ends justify the means.
  • Once upon a time.

7. Climax

A climax is a figure of speech in which successive words, phrases, clauses, or sentences are arranged in ascending order of importance. It is an arrangement of a series of ideas in the order of increasing importance. For example, “What a piece of work man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculties! In action, how like an angel!”

Examples of Understatement

  • “This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable Rights of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” – in “I Have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • When we send our young men and women into harm’s way, we have a solemn obligation not to fudge the numbers or shade the truth about why they’re going, to care for their families while they’re gone, to tend to the soldiers upon their return, and to never ever go to war without enough troops to win the war, secure the peace, and earn the respect of the world. – in Barrack Obama’s 2004 DNC speech.
  • “He lost his family, his job, and his house plants.”
  • “He has seen the ravages of war, he has known natural catastrophes, he has been to singles bars.” – Woody Allen

8. Epigram

An epigram is a clever, interesting, memorable, and satirical statement. You will find epigrams in speeches, poetry, and at the front of a book. Often ingenious or witty statements are considered as epigrams, such as this quote by Eleanor Roosevelt: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

Examples of Epigram:

  • “As long as war is regarded as wicked, it will always have its fascination. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will cease to be popular.” – by Oscar Wilde
  • “Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put and end to mankind.” – John F. Kennedy
  • “A word to the wise ain’t necessary; it’s the stupid ones who need all the advice.” – Bill Cosby
  • “Live simply, so that others may simply live.” – Mother Teresa
  • “I’m starting with the man in the mirror.” – Michael Jackson
  • “Blessed are the peacemakers.” – Jesus Christ

9. Euphemism

A euphemism is a way to say something in an understated manner, often to avoid difficult topics – like money, sex, or death.

Examples of Euphemism:

  • He passed away in his sleep.
  • Death can be an uncomfortable subject, so we’ve developed many euphemisms to avoid confronting it head-on. Rather than telling a friend that a relative died, you might say they “kicked the bucket,” “passed away,” or are “no longer with us.”
  • “darn” instead of “damn”,” jeez” instead of “Jesus”, and “gosh” instead of “God.”
  • She’s not sick; she’s “under the weather.”
  • He’s not a liar; he’s “creative with the truth.”
  • They’re not in a sexual relationship; they’re “friends with benefits.”
  • People don’t go to prison; it’s a “correctional facility.”

10. Hyperbole

Hyperbole involves exaggeration in order to enhance praise by describing something which meets the expectations of a hyperbolic speech. Hyperbole is what comes out in tension between high and low.

Examples of Hyperbole:

  • His smile is a mile wide than his mouth.
  • I have told you a million times not to touch my things.
  • If I don’t eat soon, I am going to die of hunger.
  • The queue at the amusement park goes on forever.
  • I am so hungry I could eat a cow.
  • She has a mountain of homework to do.
  • He is the slowest runner in the world.
  • The speaker was so loud it could wake the dead.

11. Irony

Irony is a rhetorical device that is used to express an intended meaning by using language that conveys the opposite meaning when taken literally. The Oxford Learner’s Dictionary defines the term ‘irony’ as “the use of words that say the opposite of what you really mean, often as a joke and with a tone of voice that shows this”.

Examples of Irony:

  • The butter is as soft as a marble piece.
  • The name of India’s biggest dog is “Tiny”.
  • My grave is like to be my wedding bed.
  • Oh great! Now you have broken my new spectacles.
  • You laughed at a person who slipped stepping on a banana peel and the next thing you know, you slipped too.

12. Litotes

Litotes is a figure of speech featuring a phrase that utilizes negative wording or terms to express a positive assertion or statement. Litotes is a common literary device, most often used in speech, rhetoric, and nonfiction. As a figure of speech, the meaning of litotes is not literal. Instead, litotes is intended to be a form of understatement by using negation to express the contrary meaning.

Examples of Litotes:

  • You’re not wrong.
  • The test came back not negative.
  • The weather is not unpleasant.
  • I won’t argue with the referee.
  • Your effort has not gone unnoticed.
  • He is hardly unattractive.

13. Metaphor

A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares one entity to another without using the literal word of it. It normally uses one word to represent another.

Examples of Metaphor

  • It is raining cats and dogs
  • She threw a fit, means she got angry.
  • Reminds me of going to heaven.
  • A whirlwind was blowing through the room, means it is not a good time.
  • He is the star of our class
  • The light bulb has just come on in your head/mind.
  • The both me and daddy are bald.
  • A whirlwind was blowing through the room,” means it is not a good time.

14. Metonymy

In metonymy one object indirectly referred to another because it evokes a meaning or image automatically via its association with something closely related such “his brother’s keeper.” This means that someone will always be there for you even when you are hurting: as an author Henry David Thoreau writes in his book “Walden.”

This is known as metonymy because the brother’s keeper, the one caring for them are all objects that directly point to another object.

Examples of Metonymy:

  • The pen is mightier than the sword.
  • The lands belonging to the crown.
  • I gave you my heart.
  • I gave you my love.
  • Let me give you a hand.
  • I thought his movies were better when they weren’t so Hollywood.

15. Onomatopoeia

Onomatopoeia is a word that sounds like what it means. It actually looks like the sound it makes, and we can almost hear those sounds as we read. Good examples of onomatopoeia are hiccup, slam, mumble, baa, meow, belch, bam, warble, tweet, gurgle, splash, and babble.

Examples of Onomatopoeia:

  • The rustling leaves kept me awake.
  • The sack fell into the river with a splash.
  • The buzzing bee flew away.
  • He looked at the roaring.
  • The books fell on the table with a loud thump.

16. Oxymoron

An oxymoron is a figure of speech that combines contradictory words with opposing meanings, like “old news,” “deafening silence,” or “organized chaos.” Oxymorons may seem illogical at first, but in context they usually make sense. As a literary device, oxymoron has the effect of creating an impression, enhancing a concept, and even entertaining the reader.

Examples of Oxymoron:

  • Living history
  • Alone together
  • Wise fool
  • Friendly fire
  • Terribly good
  • Growing smaller
  • Awfully good
  • Sweet sorrow
  • Painfully beautiful
  • Walking dead
  • Jumbo shrimp
  • Foolish wisdom
  • Open secret

17. Parable

A parable is a figure of speech, which presents a short story, typically with a moral or spiritual lesson at the end. You often have heard stories from your elders, such as The Boy Who Cried Wolf, and All is Vanity. These are parables because they teach you a certain moral lesson. However, a parable is not a true story. It uses fictional characters and a fictional plot to tell a story that can be applied to everyday life. This story can teach a religious or moral lesson. For example, a parable could teach the Christian value of forgiveness.

Examples of Parable

  • The most famous parable is ‘The Good Samaritan’. It is found in the Bible in Luke 10:25-27. Part of why it is the most famous parable is because it is used as a way to describe a person and their actions in the present day. Calling someone a ‘Samaritan’ or a ‘good Samaritan’ means that they are a selfless and generous person who helps those in need regardless of social, religious or other differences.
  • The Blind Men and the Elephant (1963) by John Godfrey Saxe – This parable is secular. A group of blind men argue about what they imagine an elephant looks like. They each touch one part of the elephant and begin to describe the elephant’s appearance. As expected, they all have different ideas of what the elephant looks like, but they all believe that their description is the only right and true description. This parable teaches that you cannot believe you have the correct idea of something when you have a limited and subjective understanding of it. In such a case, it is important to consider the contributions of others.
  • The Parable of the Mustard Seed – This is a Buddhist parable. A woman named Kisa Gotami loses her only child. She goes to Buddha and begs him to bring her son back from the death. Buddha tells Kisa to collect mustard seeds from all the households in her village that have never encountered death. This proves to be impossible – Kisa realises that all other families have suffered the loss of a loved one. The lesson that Buddha teaches Kisa is that death is inevitable and a natural part of life. Kisa has to learn to let go of grief so that she can know inner peace.
  • In the parable of the Prodigal Son from the book of Luke 15:11-32, Jesus teaches about the love of God for humanity.

18. Paradox

A paradox is a statement that appears to contradict itself but contains some truth or humour upon reflection.

Examples of Paradox:

  • “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” — (George Orwell, Animal Farm)
  • nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.
  • the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
  • The Pen is Mightier Than the Sword.
  • impossible is not a word in my vocabulary.
  • if you don’t risk anything, you risk everything.
  • the only constant is change.
  • “It appears that I now have an outlaw for an in-law.” – (Disney’s Robin Hood).
  • “I know one thing, that I know nothing” – (Socrates, as according to Plato)
  • “Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once” – (Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare)

19. Parallelism

Parallelism is also known as assonance and is when two or more words rhyme but in a different way. It is a poetic technique where writers repeat grammatically similar words or parts of a sentence throughout a poem or text. As a literary device, parallelism is similar to a synonym, in that it focuses on the same or similar ideas repeated more than once. When writers utilize parallelism as a figure of speech, this literary device extends beyond just a technique of grammatical sentence structure. It may feature repetition of a word or phrase for emphasis, or it can be used as a literary device to create a parallel position between opposite ideas through grammatical elements as a means of emphasizing contrast.

Examples of Parallelism

  • cousins by chance; friends by choice
  • luck is the idol of the idle
  • no pain, no gain
  • where there is smoke, there is fire
  • when the going gets tough, the tough get going
  • it takes one to know one
  • “I came, I saw, I conquered” – by Julius Caesar
  • “government of the people, by the people, for the people” – by Abraham Lincoln
  • “We can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground.” – by Martin Luther King, Jr.

20. Personification

In personifications, a natural trait of animals and human beings are referred to as it were by mind. Usually, personification means assigning human attributes to nonhuman things. Thus whenever this figure occurs the following words appear with the “like” or “as”. They are: as it were, in appearance, to mimic a human being especially having some distinctive traits. An example is – symbolically things and animals have feelings just like humans do therefore making them conscious of their surroundings.

Examples of Personification

  • I can’t get my calendar to work for me.
  • I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud
  • Can you see that star winking at you?
  • The sign on the door insulted my intelligence.
  • I like onions, but they don’t like me.
  • Coming home from the lake empty-handed, I figured the fish colluded to avoid me.
  • Her eyes are not smiling at us.

21. Pleonasm

Pleonasm is the use of more words than necessary to convey meaning. A writer might use pleonasm for humor or emphasis, or they might not realize they’re using extra words at all.

Examples of Pleonasm

  • added bonus
  • exact replica
  • foreign imports
  • free gifts
  • frozen ice
  • regular routine
  • unexpected surprise
  • past history
  • The burning fire warmed the whole house

22. Pun

A pun is a form of wordplay that purposely substitutes words that sound similar but have different meanings.

Examples of Pun

  • “‘Mine is a long and a sad tale!’ said the Mouse, turning to Alice and sighing. ‘It is a long tail, certainly,’ said Alice, looking down with wonder at the Mouse’s tail; ‘but why do you call it sad?’” — Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
  • “You see the earth takes twenty-four hours to turn round on its axis”— “Talking of axes,” said the Duchess, “chop off her head!”
  • “Mine is a long and a sad tale!” said the Mouse, turning to Alice and sighing. “It is a long tail, certainly,” said Alice, looking down with wonder at the Mouse’s tail; “but why do you call it sad?”
  • “And how many hours a day did you do lessons?” asked Alice, in a hurry to change the subject. “Ten hours the first day,” said the Mock Turtle: “nine the next, and so on.”

23. Simile

In similes, one thing is compared to another with some symbolic element added such as “like” or “as”: “I loved her like a sister” or “he sounds just like his father when he gets angry.” This produces an idea in the reader that focuses on one theme while another is mentioned to support, embellish and enhance that first message all at once.

Examples of Simile

  • Swim like a fish.
  • He is as strong as an ox.
  • You were as brave as a lion.
  • As innocent as a lamb.
  • As light as a feather.
  • Her lips are as red as a tomato.

24. Synecdoche

Synecdoche is when a smaller unit is used to signify a larger unit or vice versa. For example, if one says “the colour of the sky at night,” then “blue” will be used to describe what she sees. As a figure of speech, synecdoche allows for a smaller component of something to stand in for the larger whole, in a rhetorical manner. Synecdoche can work in the opposite direction as well, in which the larger whole stands in for a smaller component of something.

Examples of Synecdoche

  • The farmer needed to bring on some hired hands.
  • What’s the headcount for next week’s party?
  • We need to get boots on the ground to help with the recovery effort.
  • Pour me a glass of bubbly.
  • Behind bars.
  • All hands on deck.
  • You have my heart.
  • Lend me your ears.
  • Keep the change.

25. Understatement

Understatement is the intentional downplaying of a situation. This can create a humorous or deadpan effect in writing.

Examples of Understatement

  • “I have to have this operation. It isn’t very serious. I have this tiny little tumor on the brain.” — J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye.
  • Really, it’s hardly noticeable.
  • You get the highest grade in the class.
  • Her sudden resignation was a shock.