You may well have heard of the term a figure of speech but what exactly does this refer to? We are going to look into what a figure of speech is and how it can be used. We will also look in-depth at some examples of figures of speech and explain what they mean.
Figures of speech are an essential aspect of language and communication, serving as creative tools that generate specific effects and enhance the impact of a message. They can be found in everyday language as well as in literature, ranging from oral storytelling to polished poetry and prose. Intentional deviations from literal statements or common usage, these expressions emphasize, clarify, and embellish language to make it more engaging and expressive.
What Is A Figure of Speech?
Figure of Speech Definition
A figure of speech is something that is used to convey a more deep or intense meaning. It is a phrase made up of two or more words that can add effect to the meaning of something and is used in a non-literal sense. When using literal speech, the words and sentences explain what is happening literally, or in other words, what is happening in reality. When we use a figure of speech to explain a situation, the words and sentences become nonliteral and do not convey what is actually happening but rather give a feeling as to what is happening.
An example to show the comparison between literal speech and a figure of speech would be:
- Literal – it is raining heavily.
- Figure of speech – it is raining cats and dogs.
Whilst we know that it is not literally raining cats and dogs, the figure of speech adds intensity to the meaning of the sentence and puts an emphasis on how much it is raining.
A figure of speech is a word or phrase which is used to describe something in a non-literal sense. These can be used as a literary device within a written text in order to explain something in a more artistic sense or they can be used in English speaking. In the latter, they are usually used to compare something, give advice or create a less literal description of something.
When used as a rhetorical device a figure of speech will give an opposite or different meaning to what is intended. It can also be used to convey a meaning or trigger emotion to the reader or listener.
Figures of Speech Examples
There are various different types of figures of speech, whilst there are a large amount of types, there are ten more common ones which we see in both written and spoken English. They are:
- Simile: this makes a comparison between two things using the words like or as, for example ‘she shone as bright as the sun.’
- Metaphor: makes a comparison between two things which have something in common, for example ‘the eyes are the window to the soul.’
- Hyperbole: uses an exaggeration to convey a more profound meaning, for example ‘I have a thousand things to do this morning.’
- Oxymoron: uses a two-word phrase where the words contradict one another to give a positive meaning, for example ‘she is pretty ugly.’
- Pun: a play on words, for example, ‘a boiled egg for breakfast is hard to beat.’
- Alliteration: uses repeated letter sounds throughout a sentence, for example ‘the high horse hopped along the highway.’
- Onomatopoeia: these are words that resemble the sound they are describing, for example ‘the car alarm went beep.’
- Irony: the use of language which is the opposite of what is meant, for example, ‘I love it when I drop my phone, how wonderful.’
- Anaphora: the repetition of a word or phrase for rhythmic effect, for example ‘you must not stop, you must not wane, you must not fail.’
- Antithesis: this makes a comparison or connection between two ideas in a sentence, for example ‘that is one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind.’
Types of Figures of Speech
There are different types of figures of speech and we are now going to look at those types, what they are and how to use them by looking at some examples of them being used in sentences.
Metaphor is when there is a comparison made between two different things which share something in common. Here are some examples of metaphor in use.
- The world is your oyster.
- She was the shining star of the talent show.
- His eyes were ice.
Simile is a phrase that compares something to something else using the words like or as. Here are some examples of simile in use.
- Her hair was as golden as the sun
- The dog is as fit as a fiddle.
- I felt as high as a kite.
Hyperbole is a term that uses exaggeration to add a more dramatic meaning to the sentence. Here are some examples of hyperbole in use.
- My bag weighs a tonne.
- His nose is the length of the river Nile.
- I have a million things to do today.
Irony is a statement that conveys the exact opposite meaning of what is literally being said. It is also a statement that contradicts the situation. Here are some examples of irony in use.
- The fire station burnt to the ground.
- The pilot had a fear of flying.
- ‘What lovely weather.’ she said when it was raining
Alliteration is when there is a repetition of sound within a phrase or sentence. Here are some examples of alliteration in use.
- She sells seashells on the seashore
- Peter piper picked a peck of pickled pepper
- The dog dug deeper into the depths.
- Nicky’s necklace nipped at her neck.
Anaphora is when a word is repeated multiple times within a phrase. Here are some examples of anaphora in use.
- Every morning, every afternoon and every evening I walk by the lake.
- He had one apple, one banana and one pear.
- My life is happy, my life is simple, my life is complete.
- Man proposes and God deposes.
- Love is an ideal thing and marriage is a real thing.
- That is one small step for man and one huge leap for mankind.
Apostrophe is speaking to an object or item that is not alive as if it were in fact, alive. Here are some examples of apostrophe is use.
- Oh come on you stupid door, just unlock.
- Thank you oven, for helping me make this meal.
- Come on trousers, you have to fit me.
- How now, brown cow.
- On the side of the hide.
- Top of the pop
Chiasmus is when two sentences are balanced against one another but with the words reversed. Here are some examples of chiasmus in use.
- Work to live and do not live to work.
- She went to town, off to town went she.
- You forget what you want to remember yet you remember what you want to forget
Euphemism is the replacement of a phrase that might be deemed offensive by one which implies the same meaning but does not carry offense with it. Here are some examples of euphemisms in use.
- Instead of ‘he died’ you would say ‘he passed away.’
- Instead of ‘she had an abortion’ you would say ‘she terminated the pregnancy.’
- Instead of ‘going for a poo’ you would say ‘going to use the bathroom.’
Litotes is an understatement that applies a negative to express the meaning of the affirmative. Here are some examples of litotes in use.
- She isn’t the friendliest woman in the world.
- I wasn’t unhappy with the gift
- That dress is not too bad
Metonymy is when a phrase is replaced with another which has a similar meaning, used to describe something in an indirect manner. Here are some examples of metonymy in use.
- The pen is more mighty than the sword.
- I remain loyal to the crown.
- My husband is considered a silver fox.
Onomatopoeia is a word that resembles the sound it is describing. Here are some examples of onomatopoeia in use.
- The bacon sizzled in the pan.
- My watch ticks loudly.
- The crow cawed overhead.
Oxymoron is when two words in a phrase contradict one another. Here are some examples of oxymoron in use.
- The girl next door is pretty ugly.
- That cat is mighty small.
- Our farewell was bittersweet.
Paradox is a statement that contradicts itself. Here are some examples of paradoxes in use.
- He is a wise fool.
- Deep down Anna is really shallow.
- It is the beginning of the end.
Personification is when an object which is not alive is given human qualities. Here are some examples of personification in use.
- My car is a real beauty.
- That rod will take out someone’s eye.
- My alarm clock screams at me every morning.
A pun is a play on words, it uses a word to give a different sense to the sentence and add a double meaning. Here are some examples of puns in use.
- The two guitarists got on well as they were always in a chord.
- I spend a lot of time doing DIY so I know the drill.
- An egg for breakfast is not easy to beat.
Synecdoche is a statement in which only part of something is expressed to relate to the whole. Here are some examples of synecdoche in use.
- At school, the children learn ABCs and 123s
- He has just got some new wheels.
- There were many hired hands in the factory.
An understatement is a statement that is made to be less important than what is actually being conveyed. Here are some examples of understatement in use.
- The grand canyon is a hole in the ground.
- I only have two million dollars.
- There was a flood in the town, it must have rained a bit in the night.
An epigram is a concise and witty statement that conveys a thought or observation. Typically, it is used to challenge or entertain the reader. Epigrams may be poetic or prose statements, but they usually exhibit a rhythmic, memorable quality.
Example: “I can resist everything except temptation.” – Oscar Wilde
Ellipsis refers to the deliberate omission of words or phrases, typically for the sake of conciseness or to create an effect. It allows the reader to fill in the gaps, which can create suspense or build emphasis.
Example: “The thief was bold, cunning, ruthless…”; in this case, the reader can imagine other adjectives describing the thief.
Antanaclasis is a figure of speech in which a word is repeated within the same sentence or clause, but with a different or opposing meaning each time. It serves to create emphasis on a particular point and often adds a playful or humorous tone to the writing.
Example: “Your argument is sound…all sound!” – Benjamin Franklin
Anthimeria is the use of a word outside of its traditional grammatical role, often for stylistic or creative purposes. It typically involves using a noun as a verb or vice versa.
Example: “I could use a good sleep.”; in this case, the word “sleep” (a noun) is used as a verb.
A rhetorical question is a question asked to make a point, provoke thought, or create emphasis, rather than to elicit a direct response. The answer is usually self-evident, and the question serves to emphasize the intended message.
Example: “Is the Pope Catholic?”; the answer is obvious, but the question drives home a point.
Figures of Speech Infographic
Figures of Speech | Infographic 1
Figures of Speech | Infographic 2
Figures of Speech | Video
FAQs on Figures of Speech
What is a figure of speech?
A figure of speech is a creative use of language that intentionally deviates from the literal meaning or common usage of words to generate an effect. These are found in everyday spoken language as well as in polished poetry, prose, and other types of written work.
What are some common figures of speech?
Some common figures of speech include:
- Metaphor: a comparison between two unlike things without using “like” or “as”
- Simile: a comparison between two unlike things using “like” or “as”
- Personification: attributing human characteristics to non-human entities
- Hyperbole: exaggeration for effect
- Irony: a statement implying its opposite for effect
What is the difference between figures of speech and figurative language?
Figurative language is a broader term that encompasses various types of non-literal language use, including figures of speech. Figures of speech are specific instances of figurative language that rely on creative and intentional deviations from the literal meanings of words or phrases.
How do I use figures of speech effectively in my writing?
To effectively use figures of speech in your writing, consider the following tips:
- Know your audience: tailor your use of figures of speech to the expected readership
- Practice: develop a feel for when and how to use figures of speech through reading, writing, and analyzing various forms of literature
- Be intentional: use figures of speech purposefully and with clear intent to generate the desired effect
- Don’t overuse: too many figures of speech may distract from your message or make your writing appear forced or contrived
Are figures of speech only used in creative writing or can they be used in other types of writing?
While figures of speech are often associated with creative writing, they can also be used effectively in other types of writing, such as persuasive essays, blog articles, and even business communications. The key is to use them judiciously, ensuring that the figure of speech serves a clear purpose and strengthens the overall message of the text.
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