Figures of Speech

Oh for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention

Or, for a more pedestrian metaphor – Shakespeare acquired a well stocked tool chest of rhetorical devices we now call figures of speech. While some authors are happy to coin an occasional metaphor or simile, Shakespeare employed scores of figures of speech, probably learned at school studying Latin poetry and plays, and later enriched through a lifetime of reading and writing.

Types of figures of speech

  • Schemes deal with word order, patterns, sounds and syntax, e.g. alliteration, anastrophe, parallelism, etc.
  • Tropes  deal with the meanings of words, e.g. metaphor, irony, synecdoche, etc.

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Adnominatio

Assigning to a proper name its literal or homophonic meaning, e.g. “Mr. Oake, with his 5'3″ stature, really seemed more of an acorn.” Related to Paronomasia and Polyptoton.

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Adynaton

An extreme form of hyperbole in which the comparison could not possibly happen in reality. “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood Clean from my hand?” ~ Macbeth

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Alliosis

Alternatives in a balanced and parallel structure. Such a structure may result in a false dichotomy but it can create a cleverly balanced and artistic sentence. “You can eat well or you can sleep well.”

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Alliteration

Repetition of an initial consonant sound for two or more words. “When to the sessions of sweet silent thought…” (Sonnet XXX)

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Allusion

A brief and indirect reference to a person, place, thing or idea of historical, cultural, literary or political significance. “Don’t act like a Romeo in front of her.”

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Ambage

A type of Circumlocution in which excessive words are used in an ambiguous or indirect manner; also see Periphrasis.

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Ambiguity

Expression that has more than meaning.

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Amplification

An elaborate decoration an argument to suggest copiousness or intensify emotional impact.

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Anadiplosis

The repetition of a word or phrase that ends one clause at the beginning of the next. “For Lycidas is dead, dead ere his prime.” ~Milton. Extended Anadiplosis is called Gradatio.

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Analogy

Comparison between two things for the purpose of explanation or clarification.

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Anaphora

Repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses. Contrast with Epistrophe.

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Anapodoton

Deliberate sentence fragment.

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Anastrophe

Type of Hyperbaton in which the adjective appears after the noun when we expect to find the adjective before the noun.

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Antanaclasis

Repetition of a word with a shift of meaning.

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Anthimeria

Substitution of one part of speech for another. A word is used as a different part of speech than it usually is.

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Anthropomorphism

Portraying an animal with human abilities, e.g. speaking.

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Antimetabole

Repetition of words or phrases in an inverted or reverse order in which the phrases suggest opposing or opposite meanings. Antimetabole is a type of Chiasmus, which is a similar inversion but whose phrases are not necessarily opposite. Chiasmus is similar to Epanados.

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Antithesis

Juxtaposition of contrasting of ideas or words in a balanced or parallel construction.

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Aphaearesis

Deletion a syllable from the beginning of a word to create a new word.

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Aphesis

Loss of an unstressed initial vowel. See Apocope—last syllable is dropped; and Syncope—middle consonant/syllable is dropped.

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Apocope

Deletion of a syllable or letter from the end of a word. See Aphesis—Loss of an unstressed initial vowel.; and Syncope—middle consonant/syllable is dropped.

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Aporia

An expression of insincere doubt, when the writer or speaker pretends, briefly, not to know a key piece of information or not to understand a key connection. After raising this doubt, the author will either respond to the doubt, or leave it open in a suggestive or “hinting” manner.

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Aposiopesis

Sudden breaking off of an utterance before it is completed, usually in moments of emotion.

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Apostrophe

Breaking off discourse to address an absent person, or to an inanimate object or abstraction, as if personified (not to be confused with the punctuation mark).

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Apposition

Placing two nouns, or noun phrases, together to add descriptive content. The second noun is equal in value in relation to the sentence, e.g. “Tony, the tailor, was a very bad dresser.”

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Assonance

Repetition or similarity of the same internal vowel sound in words of close proximity.

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Asteismus

Witty joke where a word or phrase is turned on the user. Riposte.

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Asyndeton

Omission of conjunctions between coordinate phrases, clauses, or words. Using no conjunctions to create an effect of speed or simplicity.

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Bathos

The least important item in a series appears anticlimactically in a place where the reader expects something grand or dramatic. It is usually used humorously (see Climax).

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Caesura

A break in the rhythm of a sentence creating a dramatic pause. The pause adds a theatrical touch, e.g. “In fair Verona, where we lay our scene…” or “To be, or not to be, that is the question.”

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Catachresis

Far-fetched, impossible or mixed metaphors, breaking the limits of realism or grammar. Related to Hyperbole and Synaesthesia.

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Chiasmus

Repetition of two corresponding phrases arranged in a parallel inverse order. The second half is balanced against the first but with the parts reversed. Related to Antimetabole, which is a type of Chiasmus in which the two pairs suggest opposing or opposite meanings. Also similar to Epanados, in which not just the structure of the phrases is inverted but the specific words.

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Circumlocution

Using more words than necessary (Periphrasis) or evasive words (Ambage); also see Amplification or Euphemism.

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Climax

Arrangement in order of increasing importance, (also called Auxesis and Crescendo). The opposite is called Bathos (not to be confused with Pathos or emotional appeal).

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Collocatio

Lexical incongruity of different levels of tone or style.

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Conceit

Metaphor used over a long passage.

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Consonance

Repetition of a consonant sound but unlike alliteration the consonant does not always occur at the beginning of the word.

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Diacope

Close repetition of words broken by one or two intervening words.

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Dichotomy

A contrast between two things that are represented as being opposed or entirely different, e.g, good and evil, black and white, thought and action, etc.

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Ellipsis

Omission of one or more words, which are assumed by the listener or reader. Omitting a word implied by the previous clause.

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Enallage

Intentionally using a different gender, person, case, number, or tense when another is expected to characterize a speaker or to create a memorable phrase.

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Enthymeme

An argument in which a premise is omitted but implied, or which bases a conclusion on the truth of its contrary.

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Epanados

Repetition of the chief points in a discourse, especially in reverse order of that in which they were previously treated.  Is a type of Chiasmus, which is the inversion of the verbal structure of similar phrases. Also similar to Antimetabole, in which the two phrases are not just inverted but suggest opposing or opposite meanings.

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Epanalepsis

Repetition at the end of a clause of the word that occurred at the beginning of the clause. Repetition of words after intervening words for emphasis, or the repetition of words at beginning and end of line, phrase, clause, or sentence.

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Epenthesis

Adding an extra syllable or letters in the middle of a word (also called Infixation).

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Epimone

Frequent repetition of a phrase or question; dwelling on a point.

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Epistrophe

Repetition of a word or phrase at the end of successive clauses, lines, or sentences.

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Epithet

Noun-adjective combo as a means for amplification; can be semantically redundant or unusual.

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Epizeuxis

Repetition of a single word without intervening words.

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Erotema

Asking a rhetorical question to the reader.

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Euphemism

Substitution of an inoffensive term for one considered offensively explicit.

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Exordium

Introduction to a speech to catch attention of the listeners.

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Gradatio

Arguments in ascending order, leading to a climax; often makes use of Anadiplosis. Gradatio creates a rhythmical pattern to carry the reader along the text, even as it establishes a connection between words.

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Hendiadys

The expression of a single idea by two words connected with “and.”

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Hypallage

Words are misplaced from their proper places of utterance.

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Hyperbaton

Altering word order, or separation of words that belong together, for emphasis.

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Hyperbole

Exaggerated terms for the purpose of emphasis or heightened effect.

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Hysteron-Proteron

Using Anastrophe in a way that creates a Catachresis; An impossible ordering on the literal level.

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Irony

Use of words to convey the opposite of their literal meaning.

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Isocolon

Clauses of equal length and parallel syntax and rhythm.

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Litotes

An understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by negating its opposite.

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Malapropism

A confused use of words in which an appropriate word is replaced by one with similar sound but often ludicrously inappropriate meaning.

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Meiosis

Understatement (opposite of exaggeration).

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Metaphor

Implied comparison between two unlike things through the figurative use of words

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Metaplasmus

A type of Neologism in which misspelling a word creates a rhetorical effect. To emphasize dialect, one might spell dog as “dawg.” To emphasize that something is unimportant, we might add -let or -ling at the end of the word, referring to a deity as a “godlet”, or a prince as a “princeling.” To emphasize the feminine nature of something normally considered masculine, try adding -ette to the end of the word, creating a smurfette or a corvette.

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Metonymy

This is a specific type of metaphor that substitutes a related attribute for what is meant. If someone asks how many plates there are going to be at dinner, they're asking about the number of guests. Plates are not parts of the guests, they're related to dinner guests. This is different from synecdoche, in which a part of a person or thing refers to the whole, or vice versa. In “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown,” “head” is a synecdoche and crown is a metonymy.

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Neologism

Creating a new or imaginary word. Many neologisms result from Metaplasmus.

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Onomatopoeia

Use of words to imitate natural sounds.

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Oxymoron

Incongruous or contradictory terms appear side by side.

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Paradox

Statement that seems to contradict itself but is nevertheless true.

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Paralepsis

Emphasizing a point by seeming to pass over it.

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Parallelism

Similarity of structure in a pair or series of related words, phrases, or clauses.

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Parenthesis

Insertion of some word or clause in a position that interrupts the normal syntactic flow of the sentence (asides are rather emphatic examples of this).

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Parison

Parallel sentences side by side.

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Paronomasia

Word play, especially involving words with similar sounds but more than one meaning. Related to Adnominatio and Polyptoton.

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Pathos

Use of language, examples, diction, or images to create an emotional reaction in the reader. The most common types are anger at a social injustice, sympathy for another's misfortune, or laughter at a humorous or illogical state of affairs.

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Periphrasis

A type of Circumlocution in which excessive words are used in a roundabout manner; also see Ambage.

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Perseverantia

Repetition of a certain phrase in a speech or monologue for emphasis.

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Personification

An inanimate object or abstraction is endowed with human qualities or abilities.

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Polyptoton

Word play for words derived from the same root. Repeating words in different case forms. Related to Adnominatio and Paronomasia.

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Polysyndeton

The repetition of conjunctions in a series of coordinate words, phrases, or clauses.

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Proparalepsis

Adding an extra syllable or letters to the end of a word.

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Prosopopoeia

Form of personification in which an inanimate object gains the ability to speak.

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Prosthesis

Adding an extra syllable or letters to the beginning of a word.

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Pun

A play on words, sometimes on different senses of the same word and sometimes on the similar sense or sound of different words.

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Quaesitio

Several questions spoken or written one after another.

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Rhetorical Question

A question whose answer is so obvious that an answer is not expected. (See Rogatio)

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Rogatio

Rogatio occurs when a person asking a rhetorical question answers it.

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Simile

Explicit comparison between two things using “like” or “as”.

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Stichomythia

Formalized dialogue in short, alternating lines.

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Syllepsis

A single word governs or modifies two or more others and must be understood differently with respect to each of those words. A combination of grammatical parallelism and semantic incongruity, often with a witty or comical effect; type of Paronomasia where two or more of a word's meanings are invoked.

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Symploce

Sentence is basically repeated, with one or two words in the middle changed, e.g. Saint Paul wrote, “Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I,” (2 Corinthians 11:22)

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Synæsthesia

Mixing one type of sensory input with another in an impossible way, such as speaking of how a color sounds, or how a smell looks.

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Syncope

Deleting a syllable or letter from the middle of a word. See Aphesis—Loss of an unstressed initial vowel.; and Apocope—Deletion of a syllable or letter from the end of a word..

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Synecdoche

This is a specific type of metaphor in which a part of an object or person is used for the whole, or conversely the whole for the part. For example, in “Who's got the wheels to get us to the movie?”, “wheels” refers to a car. Conversely, in “I'm going to get the car tuned up,” “car” refers to the engine. This is different from metonymy, which substitutes a related attribute rather than a part of a thing or person. In “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown,” “head” is a synecdoche and crown is a metonymy.

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Synomia

List of synonyms for emphasis.

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Transferred Epithet

Adjective which should properly modify one word is shifted to another word in the same sentence.

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Tsmesis

Intentionally breaking a word into two parts for emphasis.

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Understatement

Deliberately makes a situation seem less important or serious than it is.

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Zeugma

Repetition of a verb but with different meanings or objects (part of speech).