Figures of Speech by Name
Acyrologia (ak-ir-o-lo'-gi-a) is an unintended use of the wrong word often by someone attempting to sound educated or erudite. “O, villain! Thou wilt be condemned into everlasting redemption for this!” Much Ado About Nothing, 4.2.38. Dogberry used “redemption” instead of “damnation.” The modern term for this figure is malapropism. Malapropism is a neologismA new, deliberately invented word. inspired by the name of the character Mrs. Malaprop, in Richard Sheridan's The Rivals, 1775. Her name is an abbreviated portmanteauA neologism created by combining two words. that combines the prefix mal. meaning bad, with appropriate.
Adnominatio (ad-no-mi-na'-ti-o) is the assigning to a proper name its literal or homophonic meaning. “Falstaff: Is thy name Mouldy? Mouldy: Yea, an't please you. Falstaff: ‘Tis the more time thou wert used. Shallow: Ha, ha, ha! most excellent, i' faith! Things that are mouldy lack use: very singular good! in faith, well said, Sir John, very well said.” Henry IV Pt2, 3.2.96. Related to paronomasia and polyptoton.
Alliosis (al'-e-o'-sis) is the use of alternatives or choices 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. “Better it were a brother died at once, / Than that a sister, by redeeming him, / Should die forever.” Measure for Measure, 2.4.95. Similar to antithesis, which presents contrasting or opposite ideas but not as alternatives.
Alliteration (al-lit'-er-a'-shen) is the repetition of an initial, stressed consonant sound for two or more words. “When to the sessions of sweet silent thought…” Sonnet 30. Alliteration is different from consonance, which is the repetition of a consonant sound on stressed or unstressed syllables that are not always at the beginnings of words. The repetition of “s” sounds, alliterative or consonant, is called sibilance.
Allusion (al'-lu-shun) is a brief and indirect reference to a person, place, thing or idea of historical, cultural, literary or political significance. “I'll drown more sailors than the mermaid shall; / I'll slay more gazers than the basilisk; /I'll play the orator as well as Nestor…” Henry VI Pt 3, 3.2.126
Ambage (am'-bij) is the excessive use of words in an ambiguous or indirect manner. “But be contented when that fell arrest / Without all bail shall carry me away, / My life hath in this line some interest, / Which for memorial still with thee shall stay.” Sonnet 74. Ambage is similar to circumlocution, in that both use excessive words and are indirect, but a circumlocution circles around the meaning and an ambage creates ambiguity. Also see periphrasis.
Amplification (am-plee-fə-kā'-shən) is an elaborate decoration of an argument to suggest copiousness or intensify emotional impact. “Ay, my good lord—“my lord,” I should say rather. / ’Tis sin to flatter; “good” was little better: / “Good Gloucester” and “good devil” were alike, / And both preposterous: therefore, not “good lord.” Henry VI Pt3, 5.6.1.
Analogy (a-nal'-o-gee) is a comparison between two situations for the purpose of explanation or clarification. “What's in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other word would smell as sweet; / So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd.” Romeo and Juliet, 2.2.36.
Anaphora (an-af'-o-ra) is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses or sentences. “O, cursèd be the hand that made these holes; / Cursèd the heart that had the heart to do it; / Cursèd the blood that let this blood from hence.” Richard III, 1.2.1 See also mesodiplosis, the repetition of words in the middle, and epistrophe, the repetition of words at the end.
Anapodoton (an'-a-po'-do-ton) is a deliberate sentence fragment. “No, not an oath! If not the face of men, / The sufferance of our souls, the time's abuse— / If these be motives weak, break off betimes, / And every man hence to his idle bed;” Julius Caesar, 2.1.124
Anastrophe (an-as'-tro-phee) is a type of hyperbaton in which usually only a single word is misplaced or reversed from it expected order. Most often the adjective appears after the noun when we expect to find it before the noun. “Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous, / By drunken prophecies, libels, and dreams, / To set my brother Clarence and the King / In deadly hate.” Richard III, 1.1.1.
Anthropomorphism is the portrayal of an animal with human abilities, e.g. speaking. It differs from personification, which rhetorically portrays inanimate objects or abstractions with having human characteristics.
Antimetabole (an'-ti-me-ta'-bo-lee) is the repetition of words or phrases in an inverted or reverse order in which the phrases suggest opposing meanings. “How / much better is it to weep at joy than to joy at weeping!” Much Ado About Nothing. 1.1.13. Antimetabole is a type of chiasmus, which is a similar inversion but of actual words whose meanings are not necessarily opposite. Chiasmus is similar to epanados, which also repeats the terms after presenting them.
Antithesis (an-tith'-e-sis) is the juxtaposition of contrasting or opposite ideas or words in a balanced or parallel construction. “The evil that men do lives after them, / The good is oft interred with their bones;” Julius Caesar, 3.2.82. Similar to alliosis, which presents contrasting ideas as alternatives or choices.
Aphaearesis (aph-aer'-e-sis) is the deletion a syllable or letter from the beginning of a word to create a new word. “O thou dull god, why liest thou with the vile / In loathsome beds, and leav'st the kingly couch / A watch-case or a common ‘larum-bell?” Henry IV Pt2, 3.1.3. Also see syncope, the removal of a syllable or letter from the middle of a word, and apocope, the deletion of a syllable or letter from the end of a word.
Aporia (a-po'-ri-a) is an expression of insincere doubt, in which the writer or speaker pretends not to know a key piece of information or not to understand a key connection. “They that have done this deed are honorable. / What private griefs they have, alas, I know not, / That made them do it.” Julius Caesar, 3.2.82.
Aposiopesis (a-pos-i-o-pee’-sis) is a sudden breaking off of an utterance before it is completed, usually in moments of emotion. “O judgment! Thou art fled to brutish beasts, / And men have lost their reason. Bear with me, / My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar, / And I must pause till it come back to me…” Julius Caesar, 3.2.82.
Apposition is the interrupting a sentence with a word or phrase to add descriptive content. “The winds did sing it to me, and the thunder, / That deep and dreadful organ pipeApposition, pronounced / The name of Prosper.” The Tempest 3.3.114. Similar to a parenthesis but appositions are less interruptive, more like clauses providing clarifying or additional information.
Assonance (ass'-o-nance) it the repetition or similarity of the same internal vowel sound in words of close proximity. “Beauty’s ensign yet / Is crimson in thy lips and in thy cheeks.” Romeo and Juliet. 5.3.73
Asteismus (as-te-is'-mus) is a witty joke in which a word or phrase is turned on the user. “Katherine: What is your crest? A coxcomb? Petruchio: A combless cock, so Kate will be my hen. Katherine: No cock of mine. You crow too like a craven.” Taming of the Shrew. 2.1.209.
Asyndeton (a-syn'-de-ton) is the omission of conjunctions between coordinate phrases, clauses, or words. “Are all thy conquests, glories, triumphs, spoils, Shrunk to this little measure?” Julius Caesar, 3.1.164. See polysyndeton, which repeats the same conjunction between words or phrases in a series.
Bathos is the placement of the least important item in a series anticlimactically at the end where the reader expects something dramatic. It is usually used humorously. “I will live in thy heart, die in thy lap, and be buried in thy eyes; and moreover I will go with thee to thy uncle's.” Much Ado About Nothing. 5.2.95. See Climax.
Caesura is a break or pause in the rhythm of a line. The pause adds a dramatic effect. The pauses can be initial, medial or terminal, and may follow masculine or feminine stresses. “To be, || or not to be, || that is the question. ||” Hamlet. 3.1.64.
Chiasmus (ki-az'-mus) is the repetition of two corresponding phrases arranged in a parallel inverse order. The second half is balanced against the first but with the parts reversed. “Fair is foul, and foul is fair” Macbeth 1.1.1. Related to antimetabole, in which the two pairs suggest opposing or opposite meanings. Also similar to epanados, which also repeats the terms after presenting them.
Circumlocution is the use of more words than necessary, or of evasive words, in order to circle around a meaning and to avoid being direct. “Then weigh what loss your honor may sustain / If with too credent ear you list his songs / Or lose your heart or your chaste treasure open / To his unmastered importunity. / Fear it, Ophelia; fear it, my dear sister.” Hamlet. 1.3.33. See also ambage, amplification, euphemism, and periphrasis.
Climax (cli'-max) is the arrangement of items in order of increasing importance, (also called auxesis and crescendo). “If thou would have such a one, take me. And take me, take a soldier. Take a soldier, take a king. And what say’st thou then to my love?” Henry V, 5.2.138. A variation is bathos, in which items in as series build to an anticlimax.
Conceits are an elaborate and extended figure of speech, involving metaphors, similes, imagery, etc. “Thou counterfeits a bark, a sea, a wind. / For still thy eyes, which I may call the sea, / Do ebb and flow with tears; the bark thy body is, / Sailing in this salt flood; the winds thy sighs, / Who, raging with thy tears and they with them, / Without a sudden calm, will overset / Thy tempest-tossèd body.” Romeo and Juliet, 3.5.117
Consonance is the repetition of a consonant sound, but unlike alliteration the consonant does not always occur on the stressed syllable at the beginning of the word. “Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer / The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, / Or to take arms against a sea of troubles / And, by opposing, end them.” Hamlet, 3.1.64. The “s” sounds occur at the beginning, middle and ends of words, both stressed and unstressed. The repetition of an “s” sound in lines like this is also called sibilance.
Diacope (di-a'-co-pee) is the close repetition of words broken by one or two intervening words. “Done like a Frenchman: turn and turn again.” Henry VI Pt. 1, 3.3.17.
Diasyrmus (di'-a-syrm-os) is the rejection of a position by comparing it to something very stupid or ridiculous.
Dichotomy is the contrast between two things that are represented as being opposed or opposite, e.g, good and evil, black and white, thought and action, etc. “So foul and fair a day I have not seen.” Macbeth,1.3.39
Ellipsis (el-lip'-sis) is the omission of one or more words, which are assumed by the listener or reader. Omitting a word implied by the previous clause. “If to do were as easy as to know what were good to do, chapels had been churches, and poor men's cottages princes' palaces.” Merchant of Venice, 1.2.1
Enallage (e-nal'-la-ge) is the intentional use of a different gender, person, case, number, or tense when another is expected to characterize a speaker or to create a memorable phrase. “This dream of mine— / Being now awake, I’ll queen it no inch farther, / But milk my ewes and weep.” Winter's Tale, 4.4.490.
Enthymeme (en’-thy-meem) is an argument in which a premise is omitted but implied, or which bases a conclusion on the truth of its contrary. “Marked you his words? He would not take the crown; / Therefore ’tis certain he was not ambitious.” Julius Caesar, 3.2.82
Epanados (e-pan'-o-dos) is the repetition of the chief points in a discourse, especially in reverse order of that in which they were previously treated. “Mine eye and heart are at a mortal war / How to divide the conquest of thy sight. / Mine eye my heart thy picture’s sight would bar, / My heart mine eye the freedom of that right. / My heart doth plead that thou in him dost lie, ” Sonnet 46. It is a type of chiasmus, which is the inversion of the verbal structure of phrases using the same words. Also similar to antimetabole, in which the two phrases are not just inverted but suggest opposing meanings.
Epanalepsis is the 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. “Romans, countrymen, and lovers, hear me for my cause, and be silent, that you may hear. Believe me for mine honor, and have respect to mine honor, that you may believe.” Julius Caesar, 3.2.14
Epenthesis (e-pen'-thes-is) is the adding an extra syllable or letters in the middle of a word (also called infixation). “I have but with a cursitory eye / O’erglanced the articles.” Henry V, 5.2.69
Epimone (e-pi'-mo-nee) is the repetition of a phrase or question; dwelling on a point. “Remember thee? / Ay, thou poor ghost, whiles memory holds a seat / In this distracted globe. Remember thee?” Hamlet, 1.5.99.
Epistrophe (e-pis'-tro-fee) is the repetition of a word or phrase at the end of successive clauses, lines, or sentences. “Is it possible he should know what he is, and be that he is?” All's Well That Ends Well, 4.1.45. See also anaphora, the repetition of words at the beginning, and mesodiplosis, the repetition of words in the middle.
Epizeuxis (e-pi-zook'-sis) is the repetition of words or phrases without intervening words. “O horror, horror, horror! / Tongue nor heart cannot conceive nor name thee! Macbeth, 2.3.73.
Erotema (e-ro-tem'-a) is a classical term for rhetorical question.
Euphemism (u’-fa-miz’-em) is a substitution of an inoffensive term for one considered offensive.
Exordium is an introduction to a speech to catch attention of the listeners. “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears! I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.” Julius Caesar, 3.2.82
Gradatio is an extended form of anadiplosis. Each clause or phrase ends with a word that starts the next clause or phrase in ascending order, leading to a climax. “My conscience hath a thousand several tongues, / And every tongue brings in a several tale, / And every tale condemns me for a villain.” Richard III, 5.3.189.
Hendiadys (hen-di'-a-dis) is the expression of a single idea by two nouns connected with “and” rather than a noun modified by an adjective. “And thy commandment all alone shall live / Within the book and volume of my brain.” Hamlet, 1.5.99.
Hypallage (hy-pal'-la-ge) is a classical term for transferred epithet.
Hyperbole (hy-per'-bo-lee) is exaggeration for the purpose of emphasis or heightened effect. “He is the bluntest wooer in Christendom.” Henry VI Pt 3, 3.2.36.
Hypophora (hy-po'-phor-a) is the raising of a question that the writer or speaker immediately answers. Hypophora is sometimes call rogatio. (See also pysma, which is a series of successive questions, sometimes but not always rhetorical.) “What is honor? A word. What is in that word “honor”? What is that “honor”? Air. A trim reckoning.” Henry IV Pt 2, 5.1.122
Hysteron-Proteron (his'-ter-on pro'-ter-on) is a type of hyperbaton in which the disorder is not chronological, i.e., something that should happen second, happens first. “Th’ Antoniad, the Egyptian admiral, / With all their sixty, fly and turn the rudder.” Antony and Cleopatra, 3.10.1. Using anastrophe in a way that creates a catachresis; an impossible ordering on the literal level.
Irony (i'-ron-ee) is the use of words to convey the opposite of their literal meaning. “Prodigious birth of love it is to me / That I must love a loathèd enemy.” Romeo and Juliet, 1.5.152
Isocolon (i-so-co'-lon) is a generic term for two or more clauses of equal length and parallel syntax and rhythm. When there are more than two, the figure can be more specifically named (though they are not in the quotes on this website) tricolons, tetracolons, etc. “My gorgeous palace for a hermitage, / My gay apparel for an almsman’s gown, / My figured goblets for a dish of wood, / My scepter for a palmer’s walking-staff, / My subjects for a pair of carvèd saints.” Richard II, 3.3.148. This quote from Richard II strings five clauses of parallel syntax in sequence and, because the clauses all begin with the same word, this is also an example of anaphora.
Litotes (li-to'-tees) is an understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by negating its opposite. “He hath not failed to pester us with message.” Hamlet, 1.2.1
See acyrologia, which is the classical term for malapropism, a confused use of words in which an appropriate word is replaced by one with a similar sound but a ludicrously inappropriate meaning. Malapropism is a neologismA new, deliberately invented word. inspired by the name of the character Mrs. Malaprop, in Richard Sheridan's The Rivals, 1775. Her name is an abbreviated portmanteauA neologism created by combining two words. for mal-appropriate.
Mesodiplosis (mes-o-dip-lo'-sis) is the repetition of the same word or words in the middle of successive sentences or phrases. “But till that time / Come not thou near me. / And when that time comes, \ Afflict me with thy mocks, pity me not, / As till that time I shall not pity thee.” As You Like It, 3.5.39. See also anaphora, the repetition of words at the beginnings, and epistrophe, the repetition of words at the end.
Metaphor (met’-a-phor) is an implied comparison between two unlike things. “Lo, in these windows that let forth thy life / I pour the helpless balm of my poor eyes.” Richard III, 1.2.1
Metaplasm (met'-a-plazm) is a generic term for a number of figures of speech that change the spelling of words by either adding or deleting letters or syllables. Shakespeare often used these figures to accommodate the meter of his lines. Sometimes he creates dialect. See prosthesis (adding to beginning), epenthesis (adding to middle), proparalepsis (adding to end), aphaearesis (deleting from beginning), syncope (deleting from middle), apocope (deleting from end).
Metonymy (me-ton'-y-my) is a 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 for the whole person of the king while “crown” is a metonymy for the responsibilities of the monarchy.
Neologisms are deliberately created new words. “…heaven and earth together demonstrated / Unto our climatures and countrymen.” Antony and Cleopatra, 1.1.124. Here Shakespeare created a portmanteau in which he merged “climate” with “temperature.” Sometimes Shakespeare used an existing word but gave it a new meaning, e.g. “bedroom” meaning the room in a bed, not the room with a bed in it. Shakespeare is credited with creating many neologisms, some obsolete and some still in use. However, scholarly research continues to reveal that many words previously attributed to him were already in use. See also acyrologia and malapropism, which are unintentionally misused words, and metaplasmus, which is a generic term for different types of misspelled words.
Onomatopoeia (on-o-mat-o-pee'-a) is the use of words to imitate natural sounds. “Bow-wow. / Hark, hark! I hear / The strain of strutting chanticleer / Cry cock-a-diddle-dow.” The Tempest, 1.2.452
Oxymorons (ox-y-mo'-ron) are incongruous or contradictory terms appearing side by side. “O cruel, irreligious piety!” Titus Andronicus, 1.1.113.
Paradox is a statement that seems to contradict itself but is nevertheless true.
Paralepsis is to emphasize a point by seeming to pass over it.
Parenthesis is the insertion of a word or clause in a position that interrupts the normal syntactic flow of the sentence. “But he, his own affections' counsellorApposition, / Is to himself—I will not say how trueParenthesis, / But to himself so secret and so close, / So far from sounding and discovery, / As is the bud bit with an envious worm.” Romeo and Juliet, 1.1.118. Similar to an apposition but a parenthesis is more interruptive, less like a clause and more like colloquial speech. In the passage from Romeo and Juliet, the first underline is an apposition and the second is a parenthesis.
Parison is the placement of grammatically and syntactically parallel sentences, clauses, phrases, etc. in sequence. “Oh, cursed be the hand that made these holes; / Cursed the heart that had the heart to do it; / Cursed the blood that lets this blood from hence.” King Richard III, 1.2.1
Pathos is the 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.
Periphrasis is the use of elaborate description for what is normally a common word, phrase or proper name — or of a proper name, e.g. Venus for a description, i.e, beautiful and seductive. “Most sacrilegious murder hath broke ope / The Lord’s anointed temple and stole thence / The life o’ th’ building.” Macbeth, 2.3.73. A type of circumlocution — excessive words are used in a roundabout manner; also see ambage — excessive words used to create ambiguity or misdirection.
Perseverantia is the repetition of a certain phrase in a speech or monologue for emphasis.
Polysyndeton is the repetition of conjunctions in a series of coordinate words, phrases, or clauses. “Nor stony tower, nor walls of beaten brass, / Nor airless dungeon, nor strong links of iron, / Can be retentive to the strength of spirit.” Julius Caesar, 1.3.92. See asyndeton, which omits all conjunctions between words or phrases in a series.
Proparalepsis is the adding an extra syllable or letters to the end of a word.
Prosopopoeia is a form of personification in which an inanimate object gains the ability to speak.
Prosthesis is the adding of extra syllables or letters to the beginning of a word.
Puns are word play using different senses of the same word and or similar senses or sounds of different words.
Rhyme is the repetition of vowel/consonant sounds that differ only in their initial consonant sounds, e.g., find, kind, mind. “She red and hot as coals of glowing fire, / He red for shame, but frosty in desire.” Venus and Adonis, Line 35
Simile is the explicit comparison between two things using “like” or “as”.
Stichomythia is a formalized dialogue in short, alternating lines. “Queen Gertrude: Hamlet, thou hast thy father much offended. Hamlet: Mother, you have my father much offended. Queen Gertrude: Come, come, you answer with an idle tongue. Hamlet: Go, go, you question with a wicked tongue.” Hamlet 3.4.1
Syllepsis is type of zeugma that uses a single word, usually a verb but sometimes a noun, to govern or modify two or more other parts of speech. The governing part of speech usually has different meanings or connotations as applied to the words it governs. A syllepsis is different from a zuegma in that the governing word in a syllepsis applies erroneously to at least one of the referenced words. For example, “I drank my wine and crackers.” Crackers are eaten, not drunk. In this website, the general term zeugma will be used, not syllepsis.
Symploce is the repetition of a sentence 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)
Synecdoche 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.
Synesthesia is the mixing of one type of sensory input with another in an impossible way, such as speaking of how a color sounds, or how a smell looks.
Synonymia is the stringing together a series of synonyms to emphasise a point. “How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable / Seem to me all the uses of this world!” Hamlet, 1.2.133
Transferred epithets are adjectives that should properly modify one word but is shifted to another word in the same sentence. “The fearful passage of their death-mark'd love,” Romeo and Juliet, 1P.1
Tsmesis is intentionally breaking a word into two parts for emphasis.
Zuegma (zoog-ma) uses of a single word, usually a verb but sometimes a noun, to govern or modify two or more other parts of speech. The governing part of speech usually has different meanings or connotations as applied to the words it governs. A syllepsis is a type of zeugma in which one of the two governed words is inappropriate. Usually the repetition is elided (see ellipsis), and sometimes the verb takes different meanings for each noun. “Since saucy jacks so happy are in this, / Give them thy fingers, me thy lips to kiss.” Sonnet 128