Figures of Speech / Stylistic Devices
A figure of speech is a rhetorical device that achieves a special effect by using words in distinctive ways.
1. Accumulation is a figure of speech in which the arguments previously stated are presented again in a forceful manner. The word accumulation comes from Latin and it means mass, pile or heap.
In the following example, scattered arguments are gathered and presented together to make the point compact and forceful.
“A generation goes and a generation comes, yet the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and rushes back again to the place from which it rises. The wind blows south, then returns to the north, round and round goes the wind, on its rounds it circulates. All streams flow to the sea, yet the sea does not fill up.” (The Old Testament)
2. Adjunction is a figure of speech in which a word, phrase or clause is placed at the beginning or the end of a sentence.
Fades physical beauty with disease or age.
Either with disease or age physical beauty fades
High the bird flew
The bird flew high
3. Adnomination is the repetition of words with a change in letter or sound.
He is nobody from nowhere and he knows nothing
News is what somebody, somewhere wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising.
4. Alliteration is the repetition of initial sounds in neighboring words.
Sweet smell of success,
Share a continent but not a country
And sings a solitary song that whistles in the wind.
Sally sells sea shells by the seashore”
1. Only the repetition of the same sound is valid in an alliteration not the consonants themselves.
A neat knot need not be re-knotted.
Although they start with different consonants, they constitute perfect instances of alliteration.
2. By contrast, if neighboring words start with the same consonant but have a different initial sound, the words are not alliterated.
a cute child
highly honored (pay attention to the ‘h’ in honored; it is silent)
Although they start with the same consonants, they are not instances of alliteration since the sounds differ.
5. Anaphora is a stylistic device that consists of repeating a sequence of words at the beginnings of neighboring clauses to give them emphasis. This rhetorical device is contrasted with epiphora, also called epistrophe, which consists of repeating words at the end of clauses.
Some examples of the literary works that use anaphora are listed below:
In time the savage bull sustains the yoke,
In time all haggard hawks will stoop to lure,
In time small wedges cleave the hardest oak,
In time the flint is pierced with softest shower.
Mad world! Mad kings! Mad composition!
William Shakespeare, King John, II,
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
6. Antanaclasis is a rhetorical device in which a word is repeated and whose meaning changes in the second instance. Antanaclasis is a common type of pun.
1. Put out the light, then put out the light. – Shakespeare in Othello. This is said by Othello when he enters Desdemona’s chamber while she sleeps, intending to murder her. The first instance of put the light out means he will quench the candle, and the second instance means he will end the life of Desdemona.
2. Your argument is sound, nothing but sound. – Benjamin Franklin.
The word sound in the first instance means solid or reasonable. The second instance of sound means empty.
3. If you aren’t fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm. – The American football coach Vince Lombardi to his team.
Anticlimax (figure of speech)
7. Anticlimax or Bathosrefers to a figure of speech in which statements gradually descend in order of importance. Unlike climax, anticlimax is the arrangement of a series of words, phrases, or clauses in order of decreasing importance.
She is a great writer, a mother and a good humorist.
He lost his family, his car and his cell phone.
8. Antiphrasis is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is used to mean the opposite of its normal meaning to create ironic humorous effect.
He’s only a child of 50 years old.
She’s so beautiful. She has an attractive long nose.
“Get in, little man,” he told his fat old friend.
It is a cool 45 degrees Celsius in the shade.
9. Antithesis is a figure of speech which refers to the juxtaposition of opposing or contrasting ideas. It involves the bringing out of a contrast in the ideas by an obvious contrast in the words, clauses, or sentences, within a parallel grammatical structure.
“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.
10. Metaphor is an implied Simile. It does not, like a Simile, state that one thing is like another or acts as another, but takes that for granted and proceeds as if two things were one.
Thus when we say, ‘He fought as fiercely as a lion’, it is Simile.
But when we say, ‘He was a lion in the fight’, it is Metaphor.
The camel is the ship of the desert.
Life is a dream.
The news was a dragger to his heart.
Revenge is a kind of wild justice.
Every SIMILE can be compressed into a METAPHOR, and Every METAPHOR can be expanded into a SIMILE.
Richard fought as fiercely as a loin. (Simile)
Richard was a lion in the fight. (Metaphor)
The waves thundered on the shore. (Metaphor)
The waves broke on the shore with noise like a thunder.
11. Simile: In this figure of speech, two things are compared that are not really the same, but are used to make a point about each other.
“Life is like a box of chocolates.
Anger is like fire.
He is as fierce as a tiger.
12. Personification: Inanimate objects and abstract notions are spoken of as having life and intelligence.
Death lays its icy hands on King.
Pride goes forth on horseback, grand and gay.
Laughter is holding her both sides.
13. Apostrophe is a direct address to the dead, to the absent, or to a personified object or idea. This figure is a special form of Personification.
Milton! You should not be living at this hour.
Friend! I know not which way I must look for comfort.
Roll on! Thou deep and dark blue Ocean, roll.
Death! Where is thy sting? O Grave! Where is thy victory?
14. Hyperbole or Exaggeration: represents things as greater or less, better or worse, than they really are. A statement is made emphatic by overstatement.
Why, man, if the river is dry, I am able to fill it with tears.
The sky shrank upward with unusual dread.
15. Euphemism consists in the description of a disagreeable thing by an agreeable name.
You are telling me a fairy tale. (You are telling me lies)
He is gone to heaven. (He is dead)
16. Oxymoron is special type of Antithesis, whereby two contradictory qualities are predicted at once of the same thing.
She accepted it as the kind cruelty of surgeon’s knife.
His honor rooted in dishonor stood.
Faith unfaithful kept him falsely true.
So innocent arch, so cunningly simple.
17. Epigram is a brief pointed saying frequently introducing antithetical ideas which excite surprise and arrest attention.
The child is the father of the man.
Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
In the midst of life, we are in death.
Art lies in concealing art.
He makes no friend who never made a foe.
A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies.
The proper study of mankind is man.
18. Irony is made of speech in which the real meaning is exactly the opposite of that which is literally conveyed.
No doubts but you are the people, and wisdom shall die with you.
He left me to the tender mercies of my enemy.
A very fine friend you are to forsake me in my trouble.
19. Metonymy: In this figure of speech, one word that has a very similar meaning can be used for another. Using the word “crown” for “royalty” or “lab coats” for “scientists” are two examples. In some ways it can be seen as a nickname for something else; for instance, “The White House said” doesn’t actually mean the White House said it (a house can’t speak!) but that the President said it. However, we all understand the meaning, and so the words are interchangeable.
20. Onomatopoeia: is the use of words which suggest their meaning by their sound.
The hiss of a snake
The mew of the cat
The clang of metals
The lightning crashed
21. Paradox: This figure of speech completely contradicts itself in the same sentence.
War is peace.
Ignorance is strength.
Freedom is slavery.”
Though we know these things aren’t true, they present an interesting paradox that makes a person think seriously about what they have just read or heard.
22. Personification: This is a way of giving an inanimate object the qualities of a living thing.
The tree quaked with fear as the wind approached.
The sun smiled down on her.
The thirsty earth soaks up the rain.
23. Pun: This play on words uses different senses of the word, or different sounds that make up the word, to create something fun and interesting.
The leopard never changes its spot, whenever it goes from one spot to another.
If a woman loses her husband, she pines for a second. (i.e., either a second husband or a short time).
24. Synecdoche: This is a figure of speech in which one thing is meant to represent the whole. A few good examples include “ABCs” for alphabet, “new set of wheels” for car, or “9/11” to demonstrate the whole of the tragedy that happened in the United States on September 11, 2001. This is often used in journalism as a type of shorthand.
25. Understatement: This is a situation in which the thing discussed is made to seem much less important than it really is. This famous line from Catcher in the Rye is a good example: “I have to have this operation. It isn’t very serious. I have this tiny tumor on the brain.” Understatement can often be used to comedic effect.
26. Euphemism: Words that are used to soften the message are often considered euphemisms. “Passed away” is often used in place of “died” or “killed.” A “misunderstanding” might be used in place of “fight” or “argument.” And who could forget “wardrobe malfunction,” which is a fancy way of saying “your clothes fell off.”
27. Transferred Epithet: By this figure, the epithet is transferred from the object to which is properly belongs to another with which it is associated in the mind of the writer or speaker.
He walked with careless steps
We passed an anxious night.
He homeward plods his weary way.
Periphrasis or Circumlocution: is expressing something in a roundabout way, instead of saying directly.
The sleep that never breaks. (Death)
The great fierce fish that thirsts for blood. (Shark)
Moving isles of winter. (Icebergs)
The shining orbs which deck the skies. (The stars)
28. Litotes: is the use of a negative to express a strong affirmative of the opposite kind.
He is no fool. (Wise)
He is a citizen of no mean order. (A distinguished citizen)
I am not a little surprised at your conduct.
29. Tautology or Pleonasm:is unnecessary repetition of the same thing in different words.
He lives in lonely isolation.
Let us repeat it again.
Let us join us together.
30. Metonymy: (Literally, the change of a name) is substituting the name of one thing for that of another closely connected with it.
Address the chair.
He appealed to the crown.
Drink the cup.
Do not run in the sun.
The press was invited.