Chiasmus: Definition and Useful Examples of Chiasmus in Speech & Literature

Without even realising it, many of your day to day conversations taking place in English may contain some form of chiasmus. We are going to take a look further into this form of speech and find out how it is used. We will look at examples of chiasmus being used in both spoken conversation and within written work such as song, poetry and fiction.


Chiasmus Definition

Chiasmus is a type of figure of speech which is seen when two or more parts of a sentence are reversed. This type of language is used to add an artistic flair to what is being said and can also be used to compare two similar statements by contrasting them. An example of this would be ‘never allow a fool to kiss you or never kiss a fool.’ This sentence brings two ideas together which have a similar meaning and contrast them within the same statement.

Chiasmus can be used as a rhetorical device and in its original and classic form was designed so that grammatical structures are reversed. A good example of this is the following sentence. “We forget what we want to remember and we remember what we want to forget.”

Chiasmus can directly reverse a phrase back on itself or it can be two phrases, the second of which carries the same meaning as the first, using synonyms to make the reversal.

Chiasmus Examples

Examples of Chiasmus in Speech

There will surely be many times that you will hear chiasmus being used in day to day conversation. We are now going to take a look at some examples of it being used in a sentence.

  • Love as though you will sometime hate, hate as though you will sometime love.
  • Bad men live in order to eat and drink, whereas good men eat and drink in order to live.
  • She has all my love; my heart is hers.
  • We walked tiredly along the path, along the road we tiredly wandered.
  • She loved a good cup of coffee; a cup of coffee was loved by her.
  • It is nice to be important but it is more important to be nice.
  • She walked to church, to the pub walked him.
  • The day did dawn but the set did his life.
  • You can take the boy out of the city but you cannot take the city out of the boy.
  • It is not the promise that makes us believe the man but the man the promise.
  • I would rather live on my feet than die upon my knees.
  • We don’t land at the rock, the rock landed at us.
  • Champagne for our real friends and pain for our sham friends.
  • Home is where the great are small and the small is great.
  • Love makes time pass and time makes love pass.
  • He lives to work, he doesn’t work to live.
  • I said what I meant because I meant what I said.
  • It is not the women in my life but the life in my women.
  • It is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.
  • Don’t sweat the petty things and don’t pet the sweaty things.
  • Change facts to suit theories, don’t change theories to suit facts.
  • Do as I say not as I do.

Examples of When Chiasmus is Used in Literature

We see chiasmus used as a literary device on many occasions. We will take now a look at some examples of when chiasmus has been used in written works.

  • In the play Macbeth written by William Shakespeare we see an example of chiasmus in the line which reads; “fair is foul and foul is fair.”
  • Once again, in a play written by William Shakespeare, we see another example of chiasmus. This is from the play Hamlet. “fit the action to the word and the word to the action.”
  • Another example of chiasmus from the Shakespeare play, Hamlet is “It is a question which is yet to be proven, whether love leads to fortune or if fortune leads to love.”
  • We can even find examples of chiasmus being used in the Holy Bible, as in the following phrase. “Those who are first will be last, and those who are last will come first.”
  • A good man is hard to find but a hard man is good to find.” This was a play on the original phrase of simply a good man is hard to find, written by Mae West.
  • In a speech made by J F Kennedy, we can see another example of when chiasmus has been used. “Let us not negotiate from fear but let us not fear to negotiate.”
  • In the piece Essay on Man by Alexander Pope, there is an example of chiasmus in use in the following sentence; “His time is a moment and his point is a space.”
  • In a poem written by Oscar Hammerstein, titled ‘do I love you because you are beautiful?‘ we can see an example of chiasmus being used alongside the title. “do I love you because you are beautiful or are you beautiful because of my love?
  • By day they frolic, they dance by night.” This is an example of chiasmus in the piece The vanity of human wishes by Samuel Johnson.
  • Men wants to be the first love of a woman, but women want to be the last romance of a man.” This is chiasmus in a quote from Oscar Wilde.
  • We do what we like and we like what we do.” This is a form of chiasmus found in a song written by Andrew WK called Party hard.
  • In another speech from J F Kennedy, we see another example of chiasmus. “Man must end war or war will be the end of man.”


Chiasmus is a form of speech where grammatical structures are reversed in order to have a more artistic phrase. It is something which has been used repeatedly within literature, enabling the author to really express their point. You are likely to hear some form of chiasmus regularly during a spoken conversation in the English language.

Chiasmus Infographic