Figures of Speech

A figure of speech is a phrase or word having different meanings than its literal meanings.

A figure of speech or rhetorical figure or schemes is an intentional deviation from the ordinary language, chosen to produce a rhetorical effect.

In simple terms, Figure of Speech is said to be in use when the form of an ordinary sentence is changed to increase the effect or impact of the message being delivered.


  1. Rhetorical Figure- Rhetoric is an art of Persuasion, Rhetoric aims to study the capacities of writers or speakers needed to inform, persuade or motivate particular audiences in specific situations.
  2. Literal Meaning – The literal meaning of a word or phrase is its must basic sense.

There are hundreds of figure of speech;

In this article we will focus on fifteen best Figures of Speech.

Do you know-:

Other names of Figure of Speech are Figures of rhetoric, Figures of Style, Rhetorical Figures, and Figurative Language Schemes..

Fifteen Figures of Speech

Figure of Speech simply creates interest in reading any literary work.

  1. Alliteration- When two or more consonant sounds are repeated in a single line. Sometimes the repetition of initial vowel sounds is also referred to as alliteration. This technique plays a crucial role in poetry by lending a strong rhythm & musical structure to a verse.

Example 1. Poem “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe

                    “Once upon a midnight dreary while I pondered weak & weary.”

                    “W” is used three times at While, Weak & Weary.

Example 2. Sonnet XII by William Shakespeare

                    “When I do count the clock that tells the time.”

                     “C” is used twice at count & clock.

Example 3. Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare

                    “From forth the fatal lions of these two foes; a pair of star crossed lovers take their life.”

                    In the above lines , we can see ‘f’ is used thrice as “forth”, “fatal”, & “foes” as well as “l” like “lovers”, “life” & “lions”.

Alliteration is not only restricted to poetry it can be used in Prose as well.

2. Anaphora – Repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses, verses, or sentences. The term “anaphora” comes from Greek word that means “to carry up or back”.

Example1. Martin Luther King’s famous speech “I have a Dream” contains Anaphora-

                 “So let Freedom ring form the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Here, we can see the repetition of phrase “Let Freedom ring” three times.

Example 2. William Blake a famous poet uses Anaphora with slight variation.

                     Poem “London” by William Black.

“In every cry of every man, in every infant’s cry of fear. In every voice, in every ban.

We can see the repetition of “in every”.

Example 3. Abraham Lincoln in one of his public speech use Anaphora

                    “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right…”

(Writers & public speakers use anaphora as a form of persuasion, as a method to emphasize a specific idea, or as an artistic element.)

3. Antithesis – It is a juxtaposition of contrasting ideas in balanced phrases. It brings out contrast in the ideas through an obvious contrast in the sentences, clauses or words, within a parallel grammatical structure.

Example 1. Novel – “A Tale of two Cities” by Charles Dickens

                                     “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

Here, we can see the use of best & worst in a single sentence.

Example 2. Epic Poem – “Paradise Lost” by John Milton

                   “Better to reign in hell, than to serve in Heaven.”

Heaven & Hell portrays two contrasting image but both are used in a single sentence that is Antithesis.

Example 3. Play – “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare

                               “Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice.”

In the play, there is listening & speaking comes in a same sentence.

(The concept of Antithesis is widely used in literature & film. It develops a certain tension within the plot that draws the reader or movie goer in.

4. Apostrophe – Addressing a non-existent person or an inanimate object as though it were a living being.

(Non-existent person means someone who is not present or dead.)

Non-existent person or an inanimate object used in such a way as if it were present & capable of understanding feelings.

Example – 1. Poem “The Star” by John Taylor

                 “Twinkle-twinkle, little star, How I wonder what you are,

                 Up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky.”

The child is talking to the stars as if the star is alive.

Example 2. Novel “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley

“Oh! Stars & clouds and winds, ye are all about to mock me; if ye really pity me, crush sensation and memory; let me becomes as naught; but if not, depart, depart, & leave me in darkness.”

Here, Frankenstein talks to the stars, clouds & winds. Stars, clouds & winds are all inanimate objects.

Example 3. Novel “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” by James Joyce

“Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time for the millionth time the reality of experience & to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.

Narrator is talking to the abstract life.

Important Point to Note

Don’t confuse, Apostrophe, the literary device used to address a non-existent person or an abstract idea; With Apostrophe punctuation mark “ ‘ “. The punctuation marks show the possession.

5. Assonance – In this figure of speech, the same vowel sounds repeats within a group of words.

It occurs only when sounds repeat not letters. It can occur anywhere within any of the words in the group.

Example 1. Poem “holy Sonnet 3” by John Donne

                 “o might those sighs & tears returns again…”

               Sound ‘ig’ repeated twice.

Example 2. Novel “The Color purple” by Alice Walker

                 “She got sicker on sicker, finally she ast where it is?

                  I say God took it. He took it. He took it while I was sleeping. Kilt it out there in the

                 Woods. Kill this one too, if he can.

Here ‘I’ sound is repeated many number of times.

Assonance is mostly used by the poets to bring a rhythmic sound. It draws attention of the reader.

5. Chiasmus – A verbal pattern in which the second half of an expression is balanced against the first but with the parts reversed. This is also known as reverse parallelism or syntactical inversion.

Chiasmus derives from the Greek for “placing crosswise, diagonal arrangement”.

Chiasmus pronunciation is kigh-az-muss.

Example a) “By day the frolic, and the dance by night”.

                                                                        Samuel Jonson (The Variety of Human Wishes)

In this sentence we can see reversed words. i.e., day and night.

Example b) “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.

                                                                       Martin Luther King Jr.

                                                                  Letter from Birmingham Jail

Here also two words are completely reversed and the words are Injustice and Justice.

It is generally used to speak persuasively. By using Chiasmus writers or speakers engage the audience’s attention make powerful points.

6. Hyperbole – It is a figure of speech that uses extreme exaggeration to show emphasis. The main purpose of using Hyperbole is to show a heightened effect.

Hyperbole is a Greek word which means “excess”.

Example a) I have told you to clean your room a thousand times!

Here we use “thousand times” No one can tell someone to clean the room thousand times. “Thousand times” is only used to show greater emphasis.

Example b) I have a ton of things to do when I get home.

Here, “a ton of things” is used. No one can do ton of things. It only shows that we have a lot of work but only to show a greater emphasized we used “ton of things”.

In literature, hyperbole will often be used to show contrast, or catch the reader’s attention.

7. Irony– The use of words to convey the opposite of the literal meaning. In Irony, there is a contradiction between what is said & what it means. It shows the difference between how things seem to be and reality.

Types of Irony

  1. Verbal Irony – Contrast between what is said & what is meant.
  2. Dramatic Irony – In this the audience knows more than the character.
  3. Situational Irony – Contrast between actual result of situation & what was intended.

Example 1. His Speech was as clear as mud.

The literal meaning is completely different from what the sentence intends. Speech was as clear as mud means it was completely unclear. Listeners were not able to draw any meaning from it.

Example 2. A pilot has a fear of heights.

As we all know that Pilot spends a lot of time spending in air so that sentence is situational ironic.

8. Metaphor – In simple terms, we can say that a Metaphor states one thing is another thing. It equates those two things not because they actually are the same, but for the sake of comparison or symbolism. These are mostly used in poetry, literature & if someone wants to add colour in their language.

Metaphor, a figure of speech that is used to compare between two things that aren’t alike but do have something in common.

Example- 1. Her tears were a river flowing down her cheeks.

                     Here, tears are compared with river. Both are not similar but in the lines we can see the similarity as both tears & river flows. Tears remind the writer of a river.

Example 2. I am titanium.

                    Here, I is compared with titanium. Initially, titanium & a human are different but there is similarity that both of them are strong.

9. Simile – A simile is a figure of speech that makes a comparison, showing similarities between two different things. Similes & Metaphors are often confused with one another. The main difference between a simile and metaphor is that a simile uses the words “like” or “as” to draw a comparison and a metaphor simply states the comparison without using “as” or “like”.

Example 1. I wandered lonely as a cloud that floats on high o’er vales and hills.    


Here, I is compared with cloud and the comparison is done by using “as”.

Example 2. As cold as ice.

                    Here, something is compared with ice. Some similar examples are –

                    As innocent as lamb.             As dangerous as rattlesnake.    Etc.

Simile helps in creating language more descriptive & enjoyable. Writers & Poets uses this to add depth into the meaning of their work. Similes can be funny, mean, creative or serious.

10. Onomatopoeia – Onomatopoeia comes from the combination of two Greek words, onoma meaning “name” & “poiein” meaning “to make”. So, Onomatopoeia literally means “to make a sound/name”.

Simply we can understand the use of words that imitate the sounds associated with the objects or actions they refer to.

Example 1. The buzzing bee flew away.

                    Here, buzzing is the sound.

Example 2. The brick fell into the river with a splash.

                    Here, splash is the sound of water.

Some animal’s sound that considered as an example of Onomatopoeia.

Meow, Moo, Oink, Boa

11. Paradox – A self-contradictory & false proposition.

                  Paradox is a statement in which that seems contradictory but can be true.

Example 1. Rules are meant to be broken.

                   Here, the rules are supposed to be followed but if the rules are full of anarchy & chaos then it must be broken.

Example 2. Save money by spending it.

                    Here, In business it is said that one can only earn money by investing. The more you invest the more you will earn.

Example 3. I only message those who do not message.

Example 4. All animals are equal but some are more equals than others.

12. Personification – In this, we assign qualities of a human being to something that isn’t human. Used to create more interesting & engaging scenes or characters.

Example 1. I wandered lonely as a cloud.

                    Cloud never wanders because wandering is something which humans do.

That’s why it is said that Personification is a kind of metaphor which describes an inanimate object, natural things or non-human animal in human terms.

Example 2. The stars danced in the clear sky.

                    Dancing is related to human but this characteristics is shown by stars.

13. Transferred Epithet –

                               Epithet – are adjectives or phrases used to express characteristic of someone or something. Example – Hitler The Murderer, Alexander The Great, Gandhi the non-violent.

A transferred epithet is a figure of speech used as an adjective qualifies a noun other than the person or thing it is actually describing.

Example 1. He regarded this intruder with a malevolent eye.

                    Here, we are talking about “he” but malevolent is not describing directly to him but his eye. This is a example of transferred epithet.

Example 2. He passes a sleepless night.

                     Here, we talked about “he” while qualifying night.

14. Synecdoche – A Synecdoche is a figure of speech in which part is made to represent the whole & the whole is to represent the part.

A Synecdoche pronounced as si-nek-duh-kee.

Example 1. Take my wheels & complete your work.

Here, Wheels represent the complete Vechicle. A part is to represent a whole.

Example 2. Police Vechicles are moving in our locality frequently.

Here, Police represents the complete police department but this sentence is talking about the police men of the locality. A whole to represent a part.

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