Antithesis does not have to be a difficult thing to understand, despite its complicated name, it is a relatively simple form on English grammar which can be easily explained. We are going to take a look at what antithesis is and how it is to be used. We will look at various examples of antithesis in both written and spoken language to further assist us to understand it.
Antithesis is, in fact, a word from ancient Greek that directly translates as ‘opposite.’ When we talk about antithesis in the English language we are referring to a phrase that contains two contrasting ideas. Antithesis is used to express opposing ideas in a more vivid fashion in order that it has more of an impact on the person listening to or reading the language.
Antithesis in Figures of Speech
Antithesis used in figures of speech might sound something like the famous phrase made by Neil Armstrong on his moon landing, he said: “that’s one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind.” The small step and giant step are the antitheses because they are the direct opposite of one another and yet contrast in the sentence.
Antithesis in Rhetorical Devices
Antithesis in rhetoric, when two opposite statements are juxtaposed to create a contrasting notion, can be seen in the speech made by Martin Luther King, in the sentence “I hope that one day my children will be judged not by their skin colour but by their character.” When used in a rhetorical device, antithesis is designed to paint a picture of the concept.
Antithesis in Figurative Language
Antithesis can be used in figurative language, a good example of this is the phrase “man proposes, God disposes.” The two ideas are completely opposite to each other and yet when put in a sentence together create a contrasting idea.
Antithesis in a Literary Device
When used as a literary device, antithesis is designed to be used to sway the opinion of the reader or listener through the statement itself. An example of this comes once again from Martin Luther King when he said: “we must learn to come together as brethren or perish together as fools.” In this context, the antithesis is being used to point out the bad thing and highlight the good thing.
Examples of Antithesis in Speech
There will be many occasions when you are likely to hear antithesis during everyday conversations. We will now take a look at some examples of sentences in which antithesis is present.
- Give all men your ear, but few men your voice.
- Love is an ideal thing but marriage is a real thing.
- Speech is silver but silence is golden.
- Patience is bitter but it bears sweet fruit.
- Money is the root of all evil, poverty is the fruit of all goodness.
- She is easy on the eyes but hard on the heart.
- Everybody doesn’t like something but nobody doesn’t like this.
- Integrity without knowledge is frail and has no use and knowledge without integrity is risky and awful.
- People who have no vices also have not many virtues.
- Burning a fire to stay cool.
- Shutting a door in order to leave.
- Even though the sun shines, I can feel the rain.
- It is never too late but it is never too soon.
Examples of Antithesis in Literature
Many authors have used antithesis in their work in order to provide the reader with a thought-provoking, contrasting statement. We are now going to take a look at some examples of times when writers have used antithesis within poetry, fiction and other types of written work.
- A tale of two cities by Charles Dickens opens with the use of antithesis in the line “Twas the very best in times, Twas the very worst in times. That was a time of wisdom and yet a time of foolishness.” In this example, antithesis is used to imply the conflict of the time in which the story was set.
- “To err is human, to forgive is divine,” This is a line from the play Julius Caesar written by William Shakespeare. Here antithesis is used to refer to the fact that God the creator is forgiving yet he created a race of humans who were far from perfect.
- In the poem ‘community’ written by John Donne, we see the use of antithesis to compare love and hate. “Good we must love and must hate ill.“
- Paradise lost written by John Milton features the use of antithesis when it compares the opposing ideas of heaven and hell alongside the opposing ideas of serving and reigning, in the sentence: “It is better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven.“
- In the Holy Bible, we see the use of antithesis in the book of Matthew, where we can read the line “many are called but few are chosen.”
- “Give me a bit of sunshine, give me a bit of rain.” This is an example of antithesis from the song Give me some sunshine by Swanand Kirkire. The notion of wanting sunshine is completely opposite to the idea of wanting rain and yet both are contained within the same sentence.
- In the song “My girl” by the band The Temptations we see antithesis being used in the line “When it is cold outside, I have got the month of May.”
- “In my beginning is my end.” This is an example of the use of antithesis within the poem Four Quartets which was written by T S Elliot.
- In the comic book featuring the character Green Lantern, an oath is written and the first line of this oath contains antithesis. “In the brightest of days and in the blackest of nights.”
As we have seen, antithesis can be used in various ways in order to compare and contrast two opposing ideas. It can be used in a variety of ways depending on how it is being used, whether that be in the rhetorical, as a literary device or in a figure of speech.