Figure of speech

A figure of speech or rhetorical figure is a word or phrase that intentionally deviates from ordinary language use in order to produce a rhetorical effect.[1] Figures of speech are traditionally classified into schemes, which vary the ordinary sequence of words, and tropes, where words carry a meaning other than what they ordinarily signify.

Whitehall is a road in the City of Westminster, London used synecdochically to refer to the entire UK civil service, as many government departments are nearby.

An example of a scheme is a polysyndeton: the repetition of a conjunction before every element in a list, whereas the conjunction typically would appear only before the last element, as in "Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!"—emphasizing the danger and number of animals more than the prosaic wording with only the second "and". An example of a trope is the metaphor, describing one thing as something that it clearly is not in order to lead the mind to compare them, in "All the world's a stage."

Four rhetorical operationsEdit

Classical rhetoricians classified figures of speech into four categories or quadripita ratio:[2]

  • addition (adiectio), also called repetition/expansion/superabundance
  • omission (detractio), also called subtraction/abridgement/lack
  • transposition (transmutatio), also called transferring
  • permutation (immutatio), also called switching/interchange/substitution/transmutation

These categories are often still used. The earliest known text listing them, though not explicitly as a system, is the Rhetorica ad Herennium, of unknown authorship, where they are called πλεονασμός (pleonasmos—addition), ἔνδεια (endeia—omission), μετάθεσις (metathesis—transposition) and ἐναλλαγή (enallage—permutation).[3] Quintillian then mentioned them in Institutio Oratoria.[4] Philo of Alexandria also listed them as addition (πρόσθεσις—prosthesis), subtraction (ἀφαίρεσις—afairesis), transposition (μετάθεσις—metathesis), and transmutation (ἀλλοίωσις—alloiosis).[5]


Figures of speech come in many varieties.[6] The aim is to use the language inventively to accentuate the effect of what is being said. A few examples follow:

  • "Round and round the rugged rocks the ragged rascal ran" is an example of alliteration, where the consonant r is used repeatedly. "Sister Suzy‘s sewing socks for soldiers" is a particular form of alliteration called sibilance, repeating an s sound. Both are commonly used in poetry.
  • "She would run up the stairs and then a new set of curtains" is a variety of zeugma called a syllepsis. Run up can refer either to a quick ascent or to manufacture. The effect is enhanced by the momentary suggestion, through a pun, that she might be climbing the curtains. The ellipsis or omission of the second use of the verb makes the reader think harder about what is being said.
  • "Painful pride" is an oxymoron, where two contradictory ideas are placed in the same sentence.
  • "An Einstein" is an example of synecdoche, as it uses a particular name to represent a class of people: geniuses.
  • "I had butterflies in my stomach" is a metaphor, referring to a nervous feeling as if there were flying insects in one's stomach.
To say "it was like having some butterflies in my stomach" would be a simile, because it uses the word like which is missing in the metaphor.
To say "It was like having a butterfly farm in my stomach", "It felt like a butterfly farm in my stomach", or "I was so nervous that I had a butterfly farm in my stomach" could be a hyperbole, because it is exaggerated.
  • "That filthy place was really dirty" is an example of tautology, as there are the two words ('filthy' and 'dirty') having almost the same meaning and are repeated so as to make the text more emphatic.


Scholars of classical Western rhetoric have divided figures of speech into two main categories: schemes and tropes. Schemes (from the Greek schēma, 'form or shape') are figures of speech that change the ordinary or expected pattern of words. For example, the phrase, "John, my best friend" uses the scheme known as apposition. Tropes (from Greek trepein, 'to turn') change the general meaning of words. An example of a trope is irony, which is the use of words to convey the opposite of their usual meaning ("For Brutus is an honorable man; / So are they all, all honorable men").

During the Renaissance, scholars meticulously enumerated and classified figures of speech. Henry Peacham, for example, in his The Garden of Eloquence (1577), enumerated 184 different figures of speech. Professor Robert DiYanni, in his book Literature: Reading Fiction, Poetry, Drama and the Essay[7] wrote: "Rhetoricians have catalogued more than 250 different figures of speech, expressions or ways of using words in a nonliteral sense."

For simplicity, this article divides the figures between schemes and tropes, but does not further sub-classify them (e.g., "Figures of Disorder"). Within each category, words are listed alphabetically. Most entries link to a page that provides greater detail and relevant examples, but a short definition is placed here for convenience. Some of those listed may be considered rhetorical devices, which are similar in many ways.


Schemes are words or phrases whose syntax, sequence, or pattern occurs in a manner that varies from an ordinary usage.

  • accumulation: Accumulating arguments in a concise forceful manner.
  • adnomination: Repetition of words with the same root word.
  • alliteration: a literary stylistic device, where a series of words in a row have the same first consonant sound.
    Example: "She sells sea shells by the sea shore".
  • anacoluthon: Transposition of clauses[dubious ] to achieve an unnatural order in a sentence.
  • anadiplosis: Repetition of a word at the end of a clause and then at the beginning of its succeeding clause.
  • anaphora: Repetition of the same word or set of words in a paragraph.
  • anastrophe: Changing the object, subject and verb order in a clause.
  • anti-climax: It is when expectations are raised, everything is built-up and then suddenly something boring or disappointing happens.
    Example: "People, pets, batteries, ... all are dead."
  • anthimeria: Transformation of a word of a certain word class to another word class.
  • antimetabole: A sentence consisting of the repetition of words in successive clauses, but in reverse order.
  • antirrhesis: Disproving an opponent's argument.
  • antistrophe: Repetition of the same word or group of words in a paragraph in the end of sentences.
  • antithesis: Juxtaposition of opposing or contrasting ideas.
  • aphorismus: Statement that calls into question the definition of a word.
  • aposiopesis: Breaking off or pausing speech for dramatic or emotional effect.
  • apposition: Placing of two statements side by side, in which the second defines the first.
  • assonance: Repetition of vowel sounds: "Smooth move!" or "Please leave!" or "That's the fact Jack!"
  • asteismus: Mocking answer or humorous answer that plays on a word.
  • asterismos: Beginning a segment of speech with an exclamation of a word.
  • asyndeton: Omission of conjunctions between related clauses.
  • cacophony: Words producing a harsh sound.
  • cataphora: Co-reference of one expression with another expression which follows it, in which the latter defines the first. (example: If you need one, there's a towel in the top drawer.)
  • classification: Linking a proper noun and a common noun with an article
  • chiasmus: Two or more clauses are related to each other through a reversal of structures in order to make a larger point
  • climax: Arrangement of words in order of descending to ascending order.
  • commoratio: Repetition of an idea, re-worded
  • conduplicatio: Repetition of a key word
  • conversion (word formation): An unaltered transformation of a word of one word class into another word class
  • consonance: Repetition of consonant sounds, most commonly within a short passage of verse
  • correlative verse: Matching items in two sequences
  • diacope: Repetition of a word or phrase with one or two intervening words
  • dubitatio: Expressing doubt and uncertainty about oneself
  • dystmesis: A synonym for tmesis
  • ellipsis: Omission of words
  • elision: Omission of one or more letters in speech, making it colloquial
  • enallage: Wording ignoring grammatical rules or conventions
  • enjambment: Incomplete sentences at the end of lines in poetry
  • epanalepsis: Ending sentences with their beginning.
  • epanodos: Word repetition.[8][9][10]
  • epistrophe: (also known as antistrophe) Repetition of the same word or group of words at the end of successive clauses. The counterpart of anaphora
  • epizeuxis: Repetition of a single word, with no other words in between
  • euphony: Opposite of cacophony – i.e. pleasant-sounding
  • half rhyme: Partially rhyming words
  • hendiadys: Use of two nouns to express an idea when it normally would consist of an adjective and a noun
  • hendiatris: Use of three nouns to express one idea
  • homeoptoton: ending the last parts of words with the same syllable or letter.[11]
  • homographs: Words we write identically but which have a differing meaning
  • homoioteleuton: Multiple words with the same ending
  • homonyms: Words that are identical with each other in pronunciation and spelling, but different in meaning
  • homophones: Words that are identical with each other in pronunciation, but different in meaning
  • homeoteleuton: Words with the same ending
  • hypallage: A transferred epithet from a conventional choice of wording.[12]
  • hyperbaton: Two ordinary associated words are detached.[13][14] The term may also be used more generally for all different figures of speech which transpose natural word order in sentences.[14]
  • hyperbole: Exaggeration of a statement
  • hypozeuxis: Every clause having its own independent subject and predicate
  • hysteron proteron: The inversion of the usual temporal or causal order between two elements
  • isocolon: Use of parallel structures of the same length in successive clauses
  • internal rhyme: Using two or more rhyming words in the same sentence
  • kenning: Using a compound word neologism to form a metonym
  • litotes an understatement achieved by negating the opposite statement, such as "not too bad" for "very good", or "she is not a beauty queen" for "she is ugly", yielding an ironical effect.
  • merism: Referring to a whole by enumerating some of its parts
  • mimesis: Imitation of a person's speech or writing
  • onomatopoeia: Word that imitates a real sound (e.g. tick-tock or boom)
  • paradiastole: Repetition of the disjunctive pair "neither" and "nor"
  • parallelism: The use of similar structures in two or more clauses
  • paraprosdokian: An utterance in which the same word is used with two different meanings, creating a pun
  • paremvolia: Interference of speak by speaking[15][dubious ]
  • parenthesis: A parenthetical entry
  • paroemion: Alliteration in which every word in a sentence or phrase begins with the same letter
  • parrhesia: Speaking openly or boldly, in a situation where it is unexpected (e.g. politics)
  • pleonasm: The use of more words than are needed to express meaning
  • polyptoton: Repetition of words derived from the same root
  • polysyndeton: Close repetition of conjunctions
  • pun: When a word or phrase is used in two (or more) different senses
  • rhythm: The stress accent of words; an aspect of the prosody of a text or utterance. Can be used to bring forth parallelism[16]
  • sibilance: Repetition of letter 's', it is a form of consonance
  • sine dicendo: A superfluous statement, the truth of which can easily be taken for granted.
  • solecism: Trespassing grammatical and syntactical rules
  • spoonerism: Switching place of syllables within two words in a sentence yielding amusement
  • superlative: Declaring something the best within its class i.e. the ugliest, the most precious
  • synathroesmus: Agglomeration of adjectives to describe something or someone
  • syncope: Omission of parts of a word or phrase
  • symploce: Simultaneous use of anaphora and epistrophe: the repetition of the same word or group of words at the beginning and the end of successive clauses
  • synchysis: Words that are intentionally scattered to create perplexment
  • synesis: Agreement of words according to the sense, and not the grammatical form
  • synecdoche: Referring to a part by its whole or vice versa
  • synonymia: Use of two or more synonyms in the same clause or sentence
  • tautology: Redundancy due to superfluous qualification; saying the same thing twice
  • tmesis: Insertions of content within a compound word
  • zeugma: The using of one verb for two or more actions


Tropes are words or phrases whose contextual meaning differs from the manner or sense in which they are ordinarily used.

  • accismus: expressing the want of something by denying it[17]
  • adynaton: An extreme form of hyperbole (exaggeration). It the opposite of understatement.
  • allegory: A metaphoric narrative in which the literal elements indirectly reveal a parallel story of symbolic or abstract significance.[18][19][20]
  • allusion: Covert reference to another work of literature or art
  • ambiguity: Phrasing which can have two meanings
  • anacoenosis: Posing a question to an audience, often with the implication that it shares a common interest with the speaker
  • analogy: A comparison
  • anapodoton: Leaving a common known saying unfinished
  • antanaclasis: A form of pun in which a word is repeated in two different senses.[21]
  • anthimeria: A substitution of one part of speech for another, such as noun for a verb and vice versa.[22]
  • anthropomorphism: Ascribing human characteristics to something that is not human, such as an animal or a god (see zoomorphism)
  • antimetabole: Repetition of words in successive clauses, but in switched order
  • antiphrasis: A name or a phrase used ironically.
  • antistasis: Repetition of a word in a different sense.
  • antonomasia: Substitution of a proper name for a phrase or vice versa
  • aphorism: Briefly phrased, easily memorable statement of a truth or opinion, an adage
  • apologia: Justifying one's actions
  • aporia: Faked or sincere puzzled questioning
  • apophasis: (Invoking) an idea by denying its (invocation)
  • appositive: Insertion of a parenthetical entry
  • apostrophe: When an actor or speaker addresses an absent third party, often a personified abstraction or inanimate object.
  • archaism: Use of an obsolete, archaic word (a word used in olden language, e.g. Shakespeare's language)
  • auxesis: Form of hyperbole, in which a more important-sounding word is used in place of a more descriptive term[dubious ]
  • bathos: Pompous speech with a ludicrously mundane worded anti-climax
  • burlesque metaphor: An amusing, overstated or grotesque comparison or example.
  • catachresis: Blatant misuse of words or phrases.
  • cataphora: The use of a word (such as a pronoun) to refer to a word later in the text or utterance
  • categoria: Candidly revealing an opponent's weakness
  • cliché: Overused phrase or theme
  • circumlocution: Talking around a topic by substituting or adding words, as in euphemism or periphrasis
  • congeries: Accumulation of synonymous or different words or phrases together forming a single message
  • correctio: Linguistic device used for correcting one's mistakes, a form of which is epanorthosis
  • dehortatio: discouraging advice given with seeming sagacity
  • denominatio: Another word for metonymy
  • diatyposis: The act of giving counsel
  • double negative: Grammar construction that can be used as an expression and it is the repetition of negative words "I haven't never owed nothing to no one"
  • dirimens copulatio: Balances one statement with a contrary, qualifying statement[23]
  • distinctio: Defining or specifying the meaning of a word or phrase you use
  • dysphemism: Substitution of a harsher, more offensive, or more disagreeable term for another. Opposite of euphemism
  • dubitatio: Expressing doubt over one's ability to hold speeches, or doubt over other ability
  • ekphrasis: Lively describing something you see, often a painting
  • epanorthosis: Immediate and emphatic self-correction, often following a slip of the tongue
  • encomium: A speech consisting of praise; a eulogy
  • enumeratio: A sort of amplification and accumulation in which specific aspects are added up to make a point
  • epicrisis: Mentioning a saying and then commenting on it
  • epiplexis: Rhetorical question displaying disapproval or debunks
  • epitrope: Initially pretending to agree with an opposing debater or invite one to do something
  • erotema: Synonym for rhetorical question
  • erotesis: Rhetorical question asked in confident expectation of a negative answer
  • euphemism: Substitution of a less offensive or more agreeable term for another
  • grandiloquence: Pompous speech
  • exclamation: A loud calling or crying out
  • humour: Provoking laughter and providing amusement
  • hyperbaton: Words that naturally belong together separated from each other for emphasis or effect
  • hyperbole: Use of exaggerated terms for emphasis
  • hypocatastasis: An implication or declaration of resemblance that does not directly name both terms
  • hypophora: Answering one's own rhetorical question at length
  • hysteron proteron: Reversal of anticipated order of events; a form of hyperbaton
  • illeism: is the act of referring to oneself in the third person instead of first person.
  • innuendo: Having a hidden meaning in a sentence that makes sense whether it is detected or not
  • inversion: A reversal of normal word order, especially the placement of a verb ahead of the subject (subject-verb inversion).
  • irony: Use of word in a way that conveys a meaning opposite to its usual meaning.[24]
  • litotes: Emphasizing the magnitude of a statement by denying its opposite
  • malapropism: Using a word through confusion with a word that sounds similar
  • meiosis: Use of understatement, usually to diminish the importance of something
  • memento verbum: Word at the top of the tongue, recordabantur[citation needed]
  • merism: Referring to a whole by enumerating some of its parts
  • metalepsis: Figurative speech is used in a new context
  • metaphor: An implied comparison between two things, attributing the properties of one thing to another that it does not literally possess.[25]
  • metonymy: A thing or concept is called not by its own name but rather by the name of something associated in meaning with that thing or concept
  • negative question: questions that contain a negative word in the question itself such as, "Didn't you go to the pick-up point?"
  • neologism: The use of a word or term that has recently been created, or has been in use for a short time. Opposite of archaism
  • nosism: is the practice of using the pronoun we to refer to oneself when expressing a personal opinion.
  • non sequitur: Statement that bears no relationship to the context preceding
  • occupatio see apophasis: Mentioning something by reportedly not mentioning it
  • onomatopoeia: Words that sound like their meaning
  • oxymoron: Using two terms together, that normally contradict each other
  • par'hyponoian: Replacing in a phrase or text a second part, that would have been logically expected.
  • parable: Extended metaphor told as an anecdote to illustrate or teach a moral lesson
  • paradiastole: Extenuating a vice in order to flatter or soothe
  • paradox: Use of apparently contradictory ideas to point out some underlying truth
  • paralipsis: Drawing attention to something while pretending to pass it over
  • paraprosdokian: Phrase in which the latter part causes a rethinking or reframing of the beginning
  • parody: Humouristic imitation
  • paronomasia: Pun, in which similar-sounding words but words having a different meaning are used
  • pathetic fallacy: Ascribing human conduct and feelings to nature
  • periphrasis: A synonym for circumlocution
  • personification/prosopopoeia/anthropomorphism: Attributing or applying human qualities to inanimate objects, animals, or natural phenomena
  • pleonasm: The use of more words than is necessary for clear expression
  • praeteritio: Another word for paralipsis
  • procatalepsis: Refuting anticipated objections as part of the main argument
  • proslepsis: Extreme form of paralipsis in which the speaker provides great detail while feigning to pass over a topic
  • prothesis: Adding a syllable to the beginning of a word
  • proverb: Succinct or pithy, often metaphorical, expression of wisdom commonly believed to be true
  • pun: Play on words that will have two meanings
  • redundancy: refers to information that is expressed more than once
  • rhetorical question: Asking a question as a way of asserting something. Asking a question which already has the answer hidden in it. Or asking a question not for the sake of getting an answer but for asserting something (or as in a poem for creating a poetic effect)
  • satire: Humoristic criticism of society
  • sensory detail imagery: sight, sound, taste, touch, smell
  • sesquipedalianism: use of long and obscure words
  • simile: Comparison between two things using like or as
  • snowclone: Alteration of cliché or phrasal template
  • style: how information is presented
  • superlative: Saying that something is the best of something or has the most of some quality, e.g. the ugliest, the most precious etc.
  • syllepsis: The use of a word in its figurative and literal sense at the same time or a single word used in relation to two other parts of a sentence although the word grammatically or logically applies to only one
  • syncatabasis (condescension, accommodation): adaptation of style to the level of the audience
  • synchoresis: A concession made for the purpose of retorting with greater force.
  • synecdoche: Form of metonymy, referring to a part by its whole, or a whole by its part
  • synesthesia: Description of one kind of sense impression by using words that normally describe another.
  • tautology: Superfluous repetition of the same sense in different words Example: The children gathered in a round circle
  • transferred epithet: A synonym for hypallage.
  • truism: a self-evident statement
  • tricolon diminuens: Combination of three elements, each decreasing in size
  • tricolon crescens: Combination of three elements, each increasing in size
  • verbal paradox: Paradox specified to language
  • verba ex ore: Taking the words out of someone’s mouth, speaking of what the interlocutor wanted to say.[15]
  • verbum volitans: A word that floats in the air, on which everyone is thinking and is just about to be imposed.[15]
  • zeugma: Use of a single verb to describe two or more actions
  • zoomorphism: Applying animal characteristics to humans or gods

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ Mar, Emanuel del (1842). "A Grammar of the English Language .. In a series of familiar lectures, etc". Archived from the original on 2016-05-08. Retrieved 2015-12-02.
  2. ^ Jansen, Jeroen (2008) Imitatio Archived 2015-07-14 at the Wayback Machine ISBN 978-90-8704-027-7 Summary Archived 2008-12-05 at the Wayback Machine translated to English by Kristine Steenbergh. Quote from the summary:

    Using these formulas, a pupil could render the same subject or theme in a myriad of ways. For the mature author, this principle offered a set of tools to rework source texts into a new creation. In short, the quadripartita ratio offered the student or author a ready-made framework, whether for changing words or the transformation of entire texts. Since it concerned relatively mechanical procedures of adaptation that for the most part could be learned, the techniques concerned could be taught at school at a relatively early age, for example in the improvement of pupils’ own writing.

  3. ^ Book IV, 21.29, pp.303–5
  4. ^ Institutio Oratoria, Vol. I, Book I, Chapter 5, paragraphs 6 and 38–41. And also in Book VI Chapter 3
  5. ^ Rhetorica ad Herennium
  6. ^ "The Forest of Rhetoric". Silva Rhetoricae. Brigham Young.
  7. ^ Robert DiYanni, Literature: Reading Fiction, Poetry, Drama and the Essay, Second Edition, McGraw-Hill, ISBN 0-07-557112-9, p. 451
  8. ^ Maunder, Samuel (1841). The scientific and literary treasury – Samuel Maunder – Google Books. Archived from the original on 2017-09-06. Retrieved 2013-05-23.
  9. ^ Crabb, George (1823). Universal Technological Dictionary Or Familiar Explanation of the Terms Used … – George Crabb – Google Books. Archived from the original on 2017-09-06. Retrieved 2013-05-23.
  10. ^ Jacobs, Noah Jonathan (1969). Naming-day in Eden: The Creation and Recreation of Language – Noah Jonathan Jacobs – Google Books. ISBN 9780025585102. Archived from the original on 2017-09-06. Retrieved 2013-05-23.
  11. ^ "Henry Peachum., The Garden of Eloquence (1593): Schemas". Archived from the original on 25 September 2013. Retrieved 22 April 2013.
  12. ^ Bernard Marie Dupriez (1991). A Dictionary of Literary Devices: Gradius, A-Z. University of Toronto Press. p. 213. ISBN 978-0-8020-6803-3. Archived from the original on 7 January 2014. Retrieved 31 May 2013.Dupriez, Bernard Marie (1991). A Dictionary of Literary Devices: Gradus, A-Z. University of Toronto Press. p. 213. ISBN 978-0-8020-6803-3. Archived from the original on 2014-01-07.
  13. ^ Kevin Wilson; Jennifer Wauson (2010). The AMA Handbook of Business Writing: The Ultimate Guide to Style, Grammar, Usage, Punctuation, Construction, and Formatting. AMACOM Div American Mgmt Assn. p. 224. ISBN 978-0-8144-1589-4. Archived from the original on 2013-12-05.
  14. ^ a b Stephen Cushman; Clare Cavanagh; Jahan Ramazani; Paul Rouzer (26 August 2012). The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics: Fourth Edition. Princeton University Press. p. 647. ISBN 978-1-4008-4142-4. Archived from the original on 3 November 2013.
  15. ^ a b c Cosmo, Lepota L (2019). "Superspeech and Its Rhetoric Figures". Education Journal. II (2): 21–28. doi:10.31058/
  16. ^ "rhythm – definition and examples of rhythm in phonetics and poetics". Archived from the original on 2013-05-14. Retrieved 2013-05-23.
  17. ^ Shipley, Joseph T. (1943). "Trope". Dictionary of World Literature: Criticism, Forms, Technique. Philosophical Library. p. 595. Archived from the original on 2016-03-10.
  18. ^ Kennedy et al, 2006 p. 4-5
  19. ^ Quinn, 1999. p. 12
  20. ^ Baldick,2008. p. 7
  21. ^ Corbett and Connors, 1999. p.62
  22. ^ Corbett and Connors, 1999. p. 64-65
  23. ^ "Dirimens copulatio". Archived from the original on 2016-07-10. Retrieved 2017-03-15.
  24. ^ Corbett and Connors. 1999. p.69-70
  25. ^ Corbett and Connors, 1999. p.60


External linksEdit