Figure of speech

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
(Redirected from Figures of speech)
Jump to: navigation, search
Whitehall is a road in the City of Westminster, London and used as a figure of speech for central government due to the number of departments located in the area.

A figure of speech or rhetorical figure[1] is figurative language in the form of a single word or phrase. It can be a special repetition, arrangement or omission of words with literal meaning, or a phrase with a specialized meaning not based on the literal meaning of the words. There are mainly five figures of speech: simile, metaphor, hyperbole, personification and synecdoche. Figures of speech often provide emphasis, freshness of expression, or clarity. However, clarity may also suffer from their use, as any figure of speech introduces an ambiguity between literal and figurative interpretation.

The four fundamental operations

The four fundamental operations, or categories of change, governing the formation of all figures of speech are:-[2]

  • addition (adiectio), also called repetition/expansion/superabundance
  • omission (detractio), also called subtraction/abridgement/lack
  • transposition (transmutatio), also called transferring
  • permutation (immutatio), also called switching/interchange/substitution/transmutation

These four operations were detected by classical rhetoricians, and still serve to encompass the various figures of speech. Originally these were called, in Latin, the four operations of quadripartita ratio. The ancient surviving text mentioning them, although not recognizing them as the four fundamental principles, is the Rhetorica ad Herennium, of unknown authorship, where they are called πλεονασμός (addition), ἔνδεια (omission), μετάθεσις (transposition) and ἐναλλαγή (permutation).[3] Quintillian then mentioned them in Institutio Oratoria.[4] Philo of Alexandria also listed them as addition (πρόσθεσις), subtraction (ἀφαίρεσις), transposition (μετάθεσις), and transmutation (ἀλλοίωσις).[5]


Figures of speech come in many varieties. The aim is to use the language inventively to accentuate the effect of what is being said. A few examples follow:

  • "Around the rugged rocks the ragged rascal ran" is an example of alliteration, where the consonant r is used repeatedly.
Whereas, "Sister Suzy sewing socks for soldiers" is a particular form of alliteration called sibilance, because it repeats the letter s.
Both are commonly used in poetry.
  • "She would run up the stairs and then a new set of curtains" is a variety of zeugma called a syllepsis. Run up refers to ascending and also to manufacturing. The effect is enhanced by the momentary suggestion, through a pun, that she might be climbing up the curtains. The ellipsis or omission of the second use of the verb makes the reader think harder about what is being said.
  • "Military Intelligence is an oxymoron" is the use of direct sarcasm to suggest that the military would have no intelligence. This might be considered to be a satire and an aphorism.
  • "An Einstein" is an example of synecdoche, as it uses a particular name to represent a class of people: geniuses.
  • "I had butterflies in my stomach" is a metaphor, referring to my nervousness feeling as if there were flying insects in my stomach.
To say "it was like having some butterflies in my stomach" would be a simile, because it uses the word like which is missing in the metaphor.
To say "It was like having a butterfly farm in my stomach,""It felt like a butterfly farm in my stomach," or "I was so nervous that I had a butterfly farm in my stomach" could be a hyperbole, because it is exaggerated.
  • "That filthy place was really dirty" is an example of tautology as there are the two words 'filthy' and 'dirty' having almost the same meaning and are repeated so as to make the text more emphatic.

Scholars of classical Western rhetoric have divided figures of speech into two main categories: schemes and tropes. Schemes (from the Greek schēma, form or shape) are figures of speech that change the ordinary or expected pattern of words. For example, the phrase, "John, my best friend" uses the scheme known as apposition. Tropes (from the Greek trepein, to turn) change the general meaning of words. An example of a trope is irony, which is the use of words to convey the opposite of their usual meaning ("For Brutus is an honorable man; / So are they all, all honorable men").

During the Renaissance, scholars meticulously enumerated and classified figures of speech. Henry Peacham, for example, in his The Garden of Eloquence (1577), enumerated 184 different figures of speech. Professor Robert DiYanni, in his book "Literature – Reading Fiction, Poetry, Drama and the Essay" [6] wrote: "Rhetoricians have catalogued more than 250 different figures of speech, expressions or ways of using words in a nonliteral sense.".

For simplicity, this article divides the figures between schemes and tropes, but does not further sub-classify them (e.g., "Figures of Disorder"). Within each category, words are listed alphabetically. Most entries link to a page that provides greater detail and relevant examples, but a short definition is placed here for convenience. Some of those listed may be considered rhetorical devices, which are similar in many ways.


  • accumulation: Accumulating arguments in a concise forceful manner.
  • adnomination: Repetition of words with the same root word.
  • alliteration: It is a term that describes a literacy stylistic device. Alliteration occurs when a series of words in a row have the same first consonant sound.

(Eg: She sells sea shells by the sea shore).

  • adynaton: hyperbole It is an extreme exaggeration used to make a point. It is like the opposite of "understatement".

(Eg: I've told you a million times).

  • anacoluthon: Transposition of clauses to achieve an unnatural order in a sentence.
  • anadiplosis: Repetition of a word at the end of a clause and then at the beginning of its succeeding clause.
  • anaphora: Repetition of the same word or set of words in a paragraph.
  • anastrophe: Changing the object, subject and verb order in a clause.
  • Anti-climax: It is when a specific point, expectations are raised, everything is built-up and then suddenly something boring or disappointing happens.

(Eg: Men, dogs and houses, all are dead).

  • antanaclasis: Repetition of a single word, but with different meanings.
  • anthimeria: Transformation of a word of a certain word class to another word class.
  • antimetabole: A sentence consisting of the repetition of words in successive clauses, but in reverse order.
  • antirrhesis: Disproving an opponents argument.
  • antistrophe: Repetition of the same word or group of words in a paragraph in the end of sentences.
  • antithesis: Juxtaposition of opposing or contrasting ideas.
  • aphorismus: Statement that calls into question the definition of a word.
  • aposiopesis: Breaking off or pausing speech for dramatic or emotional effect.
  • apposition: Placing of two statements side by side, in which the second defines the first.
  • assonance: Repetition of vowel sounds.
  • asteismus: Mocking answer or humorous answer that plays on a word.
  • asterismos: Beginning a segment of speech with an exclamation of a word.
  • asyndeton: Omission of conjunctions between related clauses.
  • cacophony: Words producing a harsh sound.
  • cataphora: Co-reference of one expression with another expression which follows it, in which the latter defines the first. (example: If you need one, there's a towel in the top drawer.)
  • classification: Linking a proper noun and a common noun with an article
  • chiasmus: Two or more clauses are related to each other through a reversal of structures in order to make a larger point
  • climax: Arrangement of words in order of ascending to descending order.
  • commoratio: Repetition of an idea, re-worded
  • conduplicatio: Repetition of a key word
  • conversion (word formation): An unaltered transformation of a word of one word class into another word class
  • consonance: Repetition of consonant sounds, most commonly within a short passage of verse
  • dubitatio: Expressing doubt and uncertainty about oneself
  • dystmesis: A synonym for tmesis
  • ellipsis: Omission of words
  • elision: Omission of one or more letters in speech, making it colloquial
  • enallage: Wording ignoring grammatical rules or conventions
  • enjambment: Incomplete sentences at the end of lines in poetry
  • enthymeme: An informal syllogism
  • epanalepsis: Ending sentences with their beginning.
  • epanodos: Word repetition.[7][8][9]
  • epistrophe: (also known as antistrophe) Repetition of the same word or group of words at the end of successive clauses. The counterpart of anaphora
  • epizeuxis: Repetition of a single word, with no other words in between
  • euphony: Opposite of cacophony – i.e. pleasant sounding
  • half rhyme: Partially rhyming words
  • hendiadys: Use of two nouns to express an idea when it normally would consist of an adjective and a noun
  • hendiatris: Use of three nouns to express one idea
  • homeoptoton: ending the last parts of words with the same syllable or letter.[10]
  • homographs: Words we write identically but which have a differing meaning
  • homoioteleuton: Multiple words with the same ending
  • homonyms: Words that are identical with each other in pronunciation and spelling, but different in meaning
  • homophones: Words that are identical with each other in pronunciation, but different in meaning
  • homeoteleuton: Words with the same ending
  • hypallage: A transferred epithet from a conventional choice of wording.[11]
  • hyperbaton: Two ordinary associated words are detached.[12][13] The term may also be used more generally for all different figures of speech which transpose natural word order in sentences.[13]
  • hyperbole: Exaggeration of a statement
  • hypozeuxis: Every clause having its own independent subject and predicate
  • hysteron proteron: The inversion of the usual temporal or causal order between two elements
  • isocolon: Use of parallel structures of the same length in successive clauses
  • internal rhyme: Using two or more rhyming words in the same sentence
  • kenning: Using a compound word neologism to form a metonym
  • merism: Referring to a whole by enumerating some of its parts
  • mimesis: Imitation of a person's speech or writing
  • onomatopoeia: Word that imitates a real sound (e.g. tick-tock or boom)
  • paradiastole: Repetition of the disjunctive pair "neither" and "nor"
  • parallelism: The use of similar structures in two or more clauses
  • paraprosdokian: Unexpected ending or truncation of a clause
  • parenthesis: A parenthetical entry
  • paroemion: Alliteration in which every word in a sentence or phrase begins with the same letter
  • parrhesia: Speaking openly or boldly, in a situation where it is unexpected (i.e. politics)
  • pleonasm: The use of additional words than are needed to express meaning
  • polyptoton: Repetition of words derived from the same root
  • polysyndeton: Close repetition of conjunctions
  • pun: When a word or phrase is used in two(or more) different senses
  • rhythm: A synonym for parallelism[14]
  • sibilance: Repetition of letter 's', it is a form of alliteration
  • sine dicendo: An inherently superfluous statement, the truth value of which can easily be taken for granted. When held under scrutiny, it becomes readily apparent that the statement has not in fact added any new or useful information to the conversation (e.g. 'It's always in the last place you look.')
  • solecism: Trespassing grammatical and syntactical rules
  • spoonerism: Switching place of syllables within two words in a sentence yielding amusement
  • superlative: Declaring something the best within its class i.e. the ugliest, the most precious
  • synathroesmus: Agglomeration of adjectives to describe something or someone
  • syncope: Omission of parts of a word or phrase
  • symploce: Simultaneous use of anaphora and epistrophe: the repetition of the same word or group of words at the beginning and the end of successive clauses
  • synchysis: Words that are intentionally scattered to create perplexment
  • synesis: Agreement of words according to the sense, and not the grammatical form
  • synecdoche: Referring to a part by its whole or vice versa
  • synonymia: Use of two or more synonyms in the same clause or sentence
  • tautology: Redundancy due to superfluous qualification; saying the same thing twice
  • tmesis: Insertions of content within a compound word
  • zeugma: The using of one verb for two or more actions


  • accismus: expressing the want of something by denying it[15]
  • allegory: Extended metaphor in which a symbolic story is told
  • allusion: Covert reference to another work of literature or art
  • ambiguity: Phrasing which can have two meanings
  • anacoenosis: Posing a question to an audience, often with the implication that it shares a common interest with the speaker
  • analogy: A comparison
  • anapodoton: Leaving a common known saying unfinished
  • antanaclasis: A form of pun in which a word is repeated in two different senses
  • anthimeria: Transforming a word's word class
  • anthropomorphism: Ascribing human characteristics to something that is not human, such as an animal or a god (see zoomorphism)
  • antimetabole: Repetition of words in successive clauses, but in switched order
  • antiphrasis: A name or a phrase used ironically.
  • antistasis: Repetition of a word in a different sense.
  • antonomasia: Substitution of a proper name for a phrase or vice versa
  • aphorism: Briefly phrased, easily memorable statement of a truth or opinion, an adage
  • apologia: Justifying one's actions
  • aporia: Faked or sincere puzzled questioning
  • apophasis: (Invoking) an idea by denying its (invocation)
  • appositive: Insertion of a parenthetical entry
  • apostrophe: Directing the attention away from the audience to an absent third party, often in the form of a personified abstraction or inanimate object.
  • archaism: Use of an obsolete, archaic word (a word used in olden language, e.g. Shakespeare's language)
  • auxesis: Form of hyperbole, in which a more important sounding word is used in place of a more descriptive term
  • bathos: Pompous speech with a ludicrously mundane worded anti-climax
  • burlesque metaphor: An amusing, overstated or grotesque comparison or example.
  • catachresis: Blatant misuse of words or phrases.
  • categoria: Candidly revealing an opponent's weakness
  • cliché: Overused phrase or theme
  • circumlocution: Talking around a topic by substituting or adding words, as in euphemism or periphrasis
  • commiseration: Evoking pity in the audience
  • congeries: Accumulation of synonymous or different words or phrases together forming a single message
  • correctio: Linguistic device used for correcting one's mistakes, a form of which is epanorthosis
  • dehortatio: discouraging advice given with seeming sagacity
  • denominatio: Another word for metonymy
  • diathesis: Articulating silence or mood [16]
  • diatyposis: The act of giving counsel
  • double negative: Grammar construction that can be used as an expression and it is the repetition of negative words
  • dirimens copulatio: Juxtaposition of two ideas with a similar message
  • distinctio: Defining or specifying the meaning of a word or phrase you use
  • dysphemism: Substitution of a harsher, more offensive, or more disagreeable term for another. Opposite of euphemism
  • dubitatio: Expressing doubt over one's ability to hold speeches, or doubt over other ability
  • ekphrasis: Lively describing something you see, often a painting
  • epanorthosis: Immediate and emphatic self-correction, often following a slip of the tongue
  • encomium: A speech consisting of praise; a eulogy
  • enumeratio: A sort of amplification and accumulation in which specific aspects are added up to make a point
  • epicrisis: Mentioning a saying and then commenting on it
  • epiplexis: Rhetorical question displaying disapproval or debunks
  • epithymonexphrasos: Speak in such a way making others wish to speak, not to oppose than to join the conversation, exhortation, exoptamus. [17]
  • epitrope: Initially pretending to agree with an opposing debater or invite one to do something
  • erotema: Synonym for rhetorical question
  • erotesis: Rhetorical question asked in confident expectation of a negative answer
  • euphemism: Substitution of a less offensive or more agreeable term for another
  • grandiloquence: Pompous speech
  • exclamation: A loud calling or crying out
  • humour: Provoking laughter and providing amusement
  • hyperbaton: Words that naturally belong together separated from each other for emphasis or effect
  • hyperbole: Use of exaggerated terms for emphasis
  • hypocatastasis: An implication or declaration of resemblance that does not directly name both terms
  • hypophora: Answering one's own rhetorical question at length
  • hysteron proteron: Reversal of anticipated order of events; a form of hyperbaton
  • innuendo: Having a hidden meaning in a sentence that makes sense whether it is detected or not
  • invective: The act of insulting
  • inversion: A reversal of normal word order, especially the placement of a verb ahead of the subject (subject-verb inversion).
  • imperative sentence: The urging to do something
  • irony: Use of word in a way that conveys a meaning opposite to its usual meaning
  • kataphora: Repetition of a cohesive device at the end
  • litotes: Emphasizing the magnitude of a statement by denying its opposite
  • malapropism: Using a word through confusion with a word that sounds similar
  • meiosis: Use of understatement, usually to diminish the importance of something
  • merism: Referring to a whole by enumerating some of its parts
  • metalepsis: Figurative speech is used in a new context
  • metaphor: Figurative language
  • metonymy: A thing or concept is called not by its own name but rather by the name of something associated in meaning with that thing or concept
  • neologism: The use of a word or term that has recently been created, or has been in use for a short time. Opposite of archaism
  • non sequitur: Statement that bears no relationship to the context preceding
  • occupatio: Mentioning something by reportedly not mentioning it
  • onomatopoeia: Words that sound like their meaning
  • oxymoron: Using two terms together, that normally contradict each other
  • par'hyponoian: Replacing in a phrase or text a second part, that would have been logically expected.
  • parable: Extended metaphor told as an anecdote to illustrate or teach a moral lesson
  • paradiastole: Making a euphemism out of what usually is considered adversive
  • paradox: Use of apparently contradictory ideas to point out some underlying truth
  • paradiastole: Extenuating a vice in order to flatter or soothe
  • paraprosdokian: Phrase in which the latter part causes a rethinking or reframing of the beginning
  • paralipsis: Drawing attention to something while pretending to pass it over
  • parody: Humouristic imitation
  • paronomasia: Pun, in which similar sounding words but words having a different meaning are used
  • pathetic fallacy: Ascribing human conduct and feelings to nature
  • periphrasis: A synonym for circumlocution
  • personification/prosopopoeia/anthropomorphism: Attributing or applying human qualities to inanimate objects, animals, or natural phenomena
  • pleonasm: The use of more words than is necessary for clear expression
  • praeteritio: Another word for paralipsis
  • procatalepsis: Refuting anticipated objections as part of the main argument
  • proslepsis: Extreme form of paralipsis in which the speaker provides great detail while feigning to pass over a topic
  • prothesis: Adding a syllable to the beginning of a word
  • proverb: Succinct or pithy, often metaphorical, expression of wisdom commonly believed to be true
  • pun: Play on words that will have two meanings
  • rhetorical question: Asking a question as a way of asserting something. Asking a question which already has the answer hidden in it. Or asking a question not for the sake of getting an answer but for asserting something (or as in a poem for creating a poetic effect)
  • satire: Humoristic criticism of society
  • sensory detail imagery: sight, sound, taste, touch, smell
  • sesquipedalianism: use of long and obscure words
  • simile: Comparison between two things using like or as
  • snowclone: Alteration of cliché or phrasal template
  • style: how information is presented
  • superlative: Saying that something is the best of something or has the most of some quality, e.g. the ugliest, the most precious etc.
  • syllepsis: The use of a word in its figurative and literal sense at the same time or a single word used in relation to two other parts of a sentence although the word grammatically or logically applies to only one
  • syncatabasis (condescension, accommodation): adaptation of style to the level of the audience
  • synchoresis: A concession made for the purpose of retorting with greater force.
  • synecdoche: Form of metonymy, referring to a part by its whole, or a whole by its part
  • synesthesia: Description of one kind of sense impression by using words that normally describe another.
  • tautology: Superfluous repetition of the same sense in different words Example: The children gathered in a round circle
  • transferred epithet: A synonym for hypallage.
  • truism: a self-evident statement
  • tricolon diminuens: Combination of three elements, each decreasing in size
  • tricolon crescens: Combination of three elements, each increasing in size
  • verbal paradox: Paradox specified to language
  • verba ex ore: Taking the words out of someone’s mouth, speaking of what the interlocutor wanted to say.
  • verba volitans: A word that floats in the air, on which everyone is thinking and is just about to be imposed.[18]
  • zeugma: Use of a single verb to describe two or more actions
  • zoomorphism: Applying animal characteristics to humans or gods

See also


  1. [1]
  2. Jansen, Jeroen (2008) Imitatio ISBN 978-90-8704-027-7 Summary translated to English by Kristine Steenbergh. Quote from the summary:

    Using these formulas, a pupil could render the same subject or theme in a myriad of ways. For the mature author, this principle offered a set of tools to rework source texts into a new creation. In short, the quadripartita ratio offered the student or author a ready-made framework, whether for changing words or the transformation of entire texts. Since it concerned relatively mechanical procedures of adaptation that for the most part could be learned, the techniques concerned could be taught at school at a relatively early age, for example in the improvement of pupils’ own writing.

  3. Book V, 21.29, pp.303–5
  4. Institutio Oratoria, Vol. I, Book I, Chapter 5, paragraphs 6 and 38–41. And also in Book VI Chapter 3
  5. Rhetorica ad Herennium
  6. Second Edition, McGraw-Hill, ISBN 0-07-557112-9, pp.451
  7. The scientific and literary treasury – Samuel Maunder – Google Books. Retrieved 2013-05-23.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Universal Technological Dictionary Or Familiar Explanation of the Terms Used … – George Crabb – Google Books. Retrieved 2013-05-23.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Naming-day in Eden: The Creation and Recreation of Language – Noah Jonathan Jacobs – Google Books. Retrieved 2013-05-23.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Henry Peachum., The Garden of Eloquence (1593): Schemas". Retrieved 22 April 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Bernard Marie Dupriez (1991). A Dictionary of Literary Devices: Gradius, A-Z. University of Toronto Press. p. 213. ISBN 978-0-8020-6803-3. Retrieved 31 May 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>Dupriez, Bernard Marie (1991). A Dictionary of Literary Devices: Gradus, A-Z. University of Toronto Press. p. 213. ISBN 978-0-8020-6803-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Kevin Wilson; Jennifer Wauson (2010). The AMA Handbook of Business Writing: The Ultimate Guide to Style, Grammar, Usage, Punctuation, Construction, and Formatting. AMACOM Div American Mgmt Assn. p. 224. ISBN 978-0-8144-1589-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. 13.0 13.1 Stephen Cushman; Clare Cavanagh; Jahan Ramazani; Paul Rouzer (26 August 2012). The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics: Fourth Edition. Princeton University Press. p. 647. ISBN 978-1-4008-4142-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "rhythm – definition and examples of rhythm in phonetics and poetics". Retrieved 2013-05-23.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Shipley, Joseph T. (1943). "Trope". Dictionary of World Literature: Criticism, Forms, Technique. Philosophical Library. p. 595.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Cosmo, Lepota. 2015. Superspeech and its rhetorical figures. 4. Superspeech and its lingual values, rhetorical figures. The journal of advanced rhetorics.
  17. Cosmo, Lepota. 2015. Superspeech and its rhetorical figures. 4. Superspeech and its lingual values, rhetorical figures. The journal of advanced rhetorics.
  18. Cosmo, Lepota. 2015. Superspeech and its rhetorical figures. 4. Superspeech and its lingual values, rhetorical figures. The journal of advanced rhetorics.