20 Major Figures of Speech

20 Major Figures of Speech:

What is a figure of speech?

  1. A figure of speech is a word or phrase that has a meaning other than the literal meaning.

It can be a metaphor or simile that’s designed to further explain a concept.

It can also be the repetition or alliteration or exaggeration of hyperbole to give further emphasis or effect.

You’ll probably remember many of these terms from your English classes.

Figurative language is often associated with literature and with poetry in particular.

Whether we’re conscious of it or not, we use figures of speech every day in our own writing and conversations.

  1. A figure of speech is a rhetorical device that achieves a special effect by using words in a distinctive way. Though, there are hundreds of figures of speech, here we’ll focus on 20 top examples of these figures of speech.

Examples include common expressions such as “falling in love,” “racking our brains,” and “climbing the ladder of success” are all metaphors—the most pervasive figure of all. Likewise, we rely on similes when making explicit comparisons (“light as a feather”) and hyperbole to emphasize a point (“I’m starving!”).

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20 Major Figures of Speech

Using original figures of speech in our writing is a way to convey meanings in fresh, unexpected ways. Figures can help our readers understand and stay interested in what we have to say.

  1. Alliteration: The repetition of an initial consonant sound.

Examples include:

  • Father Francis fries five fresh fishes on Fridays for five friends from F
  • She sells seashells by the s
  1. Anaphora: The repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses or verses.

It is a technique of beginning several lines with the same word or words. This creates a parallelism and a rhythm, which can intensify the meaning of the piece.

In linguistics, an anaphora is also a technique of using a word, such as a pronoun, to refer to or replace another word in a sentence.

Examples include:

  • Unfortunately, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time on the wrong
  • Everyday, every night, in every way, I am getting better and better.
  1. Antithesis: The juxtaposition (i.e. comparison) of contrasting ideas in balanced phrases.

Examples include:

  • As Abraham Lincoln said, “Folks who have no vices have very few virtues.”
  • Man proposes, God disposes.” – Source unknown.
  • “Love is an ideal thing, marriage a real thing.” – Goethe.
  • “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” – Neil Armstrong.
  • “To err is human; to forgive divine.” – Alexander Pope.
  • “Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice.” – William Shakespeare.
  • “Many are called, but few are chosen.” Matthew 22:14.
  1. Apostrophe: Directly addressing a nonexistent person or an inanimate object as though it were a living being. Sometimes, the figure of speech: apostrophe is represented by an exclamation, such as “Oh.”

Apostrophe simply means speaking to an inanimate object, or to a person who is absent

Example includes:

  • “Oh! Rain, how long will you fall upon me?”

Explanation:  Rain is an inanimate object.  It cannot hear nor understand you.  You can talk to it, but it won’t respond.

  • “Oh! You stupid car, you never work when I need you to,” Bert sighed.
  • “Oh! Stars and clouds and winds, ye are all about to mock me; if ye really pity me, crush sensation and memory; let me become as naught; but if not, depart, depart, and leave me in darkness.”
  1. Assonance: Identity or similarity in sound between internal vowels in neighboring words.

Example includes:

  • How now, brown cow?
  1. Chiasmus: A verbal pattern in which the second half of an expression is balanced against the first but with the parts reversed.

Example includes:

  • The famous chef said people should live to eat, not eat to live.
  1. Euphemism: The substitution of an inoffensive term for one considered offensively explicit.

Example includes:

  • “We’re teaching our toddler how to go potty,” Bob said.
  1. Hyperbole: An extravagant statement; the use of exaggerated terms for the purpose of emphasis or heightened effect.

It simply means exaggeration.

Example includes:

  • I have a ton of things to do when I get home.
  1. Irony: The use of words to convey the opposite of their literal meaning. Also, a statement or situation where the meaning is contradicted by the appearance or presentation of the idea.

Example includes:

  • “Oh, I love spending big bucks,” said my dad, a notorious penny pincher.
  1. Litotes: A figure of speech consisting of an understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by negating its opposite.

Example includes:

  • A million dollars is no small chunk of change.
  1. Metaphor: An implied comparison between two dissimilar things that have something in common.

Metaphor refers to when one thing is equated with another (not related, but have some common ground; that common ground is supposed to give understanding)

Examples include:

  • “All the world’s a stage.”
  • Love is a rose. (Meaning: Love looks nice, like a rose, but it can hurt, like the thorns of a rose.)
  • You are the wind beneath my wings. (Meaning: You make me feel “up” (happy), like the wind makes wings go up.)
  • “She was fishing for compliments.” (Meaning: The woman isn’t literally casting a lure to hook compliments out of the ocean. Rather, it’s a dead metaphor used to signify a desire for accolades.)
  • “Success is a sense of achievement; it is not an illegitimate child.” (Meaning: This saying reinforces the belief that everyone wants to take credit for success, but no one wants to take responsibility for their failings.)
  • “He broke my heart.” (Meaning: Your heart isn’t literally broken; you’re just feeling hurt and sad.)
  • “You light up my life.” (Meaning: Of course, no one can provide physical light. This expression is simply saying that someone brings them joy.)
  • “It’s raining men. Hallelujah!” (Meaning: No, men don’t literally pour from the sky. This simply indicates that a lucky lady has a lot of male suitors.)
  • “Time is a thief.” (Meaning: Fortunately, time doesn’t put on a ski mask and lurk around dark corners. This metaphor illustrates the point that time seems to pass quickly and our lives flash by.)
  1. Metonymy: A figure of speech in a word or phrase is substituted for another with which it’s closely associated; also, the rhetorical strategy of describing something indirectly by referring to things around it.

Example includes:

  • “That stuffed suit with the briefcase is a poor excuse for a salesman,” the manager said angrily.
  1. Onomatopoeia: The use of words that imitate the sounds associated with the objects or actions they refer to.

Example includes:

  • The clap of thunder went bang and scared my poor dog.
  1. Oxymoron: A figure of speech in which incongruous or contradictory terms appear side by side.

Example includes:

  • “He popped the jumbo shrimp in his mouth.”
  1. Paradox: A statement that appears to contradict itself.

Example includes:

  • “This is the beginning of the end,” said Eeyore, always the pessimist.
  1. Personification: A figure of speech in which an inanimate object or abstraction is endowed with human qualities or abilities.

Example includes:

  • That kitchen knife will take a bite out of your hand if you don’t handle it safely.
  1. Pun: ​A play on words, sometimes on different senses of the same word and sometimes on the similar sense or sound of different words.

Example includes:

  • Jessie looked up from her breakfast and said, “A boiled egg every morning is hard to beat.”
  1. Simile: A stated comparison (usually formed with “like” or “as”) between two fundamentally dissimilar things that have certain qualities in common.

Example includes:

  • Roberto was white as a sheet after he walked out of the horror movie.

See Also: Identifying Figures Of Speech

  1. Synecdoche: A figure of speech in which a part is used to represent the whole.

Example includes:

  • Tina is learning her ABC’s in preschool.
  1. Understatement: A figure of speech in which a writer or speaker deliberately makes a situation seem less important or serious than it is.

Example includes:

  • “You could say Babe Ruth was a decent ballplayer,” the reporter said with a wink.

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