Metonymy: Definition and Examples of Metonymy in Literature and Speech

There will be many times in which you will hear the use of metonymy during an English conversation or indeed within the written text. But what exactly is metonymy and how can it be used? In this article, we will be looking at what metonymy is and we will also look at some examples of it being used in both spoken and written language.


Metonymy Definition

What is Metonymy?

Metonymy is a form of figurative language in which a word is replaced by something very close to the original meaning. For example, instead of referring to businessmen as businessmen, using metonymy you might refer to them as suits. The word “suits” is associated with a businessman as this is usually the style of clothes that they wear. The idea of metonymy is that there is an association between the implied phrase and the phrase which is actually said.

Metonymy Examples

Examples of Metonymy in Spoken Language

Metonymy is often used within the spoken language and is a common form of the figure of speech. We are now going to take a look at some examples of how metonymy can be used during the spoken conversation.

  • Lend me your ear-which means listen to me.
  • The crown-which refers to the royal system or government of a country.
  • Hollywood-this word is not just a place in Los Angeles but refers to the American film industry as a whole.
  • Silicon valley-this is a form of metonymy which is used as a description of the technology industry.
  • To lend a hand-this use of metonymy refers to helping someone.
  • Would you like a piece of my Danish?-in this example the word Danish does not refer to a person from Denmark but rather the food item a Danish pastry.
  • Wall street-this term refers to the financial industry.
  • Washington-this example of metonymy refers to the government of the United States since it is based in the city of Washington DC.
  • Sports teams are often referred to using metonymy, in that their names are shortened or replaced with something very closely associated with the original name, for example, The Yankees, The Red Sox etc
  • Stuffed shirts-this form of metonymy refers to business people in a position of authority, for example, the CEO of a large company.
  • The White House-this is another term of metonymy used to talk about the American Government.
  • She is in dance-here, the word dance refers to the industry in which she works, rather than saying she is a dancer.
  • There are a lot of strong bodies in the team-this example of metonymy refers to a collection of strong people.
  • At the college, there are many good heads-the term good heads is referencing intelligent people.
  • He is a good egg-whilst he is not actually an egg, the term good egg refers to someone who is kind and helpful.
  • The company has taken on a lot of new blood this year-in this sentence, the term new blood is referring to new people with a fresh approach to the company.
  • To hit the bottle-this example of metonymy is talking about drinking alcohol, for example, rather than saying ‘she had a bad day so she is drinking some wine’ you might say ‘she had a bad day and so is hitting the bottle.’
  • The printouts from the laser were excellent-in this case, the laser is referring to the printer as it is a type of printer.
  • I want to sit over there, can you ask seat 14 if he wants to move?-This example of metonymy used the phrase seat 19 to refer to the person sitting in that seat.
  • They are serving a beautiful dish at the restaurant-in this example, the dish is referring to a meal served by the restaurant.

Examples of Metonymy in Literature

As well as featuring in spoken English, you are also likely to find the use of metonymy in written works such as songs, poems and stories. Now we are going to look at some examples of times when metonymy has been used as a literary device. When used in this sense, metonymy adds a more symbolic feel to the piece of writing in which it features, as well as adding a more poetic and interesting flair to the written word.

  • In the play Richelieu written by Edward Bulwer Lytton we see an example of metonymy in the phrase ‘the pen is more mighty than the sword.‘ which means that intellect and thought are more powerful than physical acts of violence during war.
  • In William Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, we can see metonymy being used in the line ‘friends, countrymen and Romans, lend me your ears.‘ as we mentioned previously, ears refers to having the attention of someone and having them listen.
  • In the poem ‘yet do I marvel’ written by Countee Cullen we see an example of metonymy used in the line ‘why the flesh that mirrors him shall one day die.’ The word flesh is referring to humans.
  • In Herman Melville’s novel, Moby Dick we can see an example of metonymy used in the sentence ‘all hands subsided to the bottom.’ In this case, the term ‘all hands‘ refers to the workers onboard a ship.
  • In the song by One Direction, What makes you beautiful, we can see another example of metonymy in the line ‘you are turning heads when you walk through the door.‘ Turning heads refers to grabbing the attention of people as the person enters a room.
  • In the poem Beowulf written by John Crowther, we see an example of metonymy in the line ‘their ocean-keel boarding‘ in which the term ocean keel refers to an entire ship.
  • In the song Juicy by Notorious BIG, we see an example of metonymy when he uses the word ‘limelight‘ to describe fame.


We have learnt from looking at metonymy that it is a form of figurative language which can be used to describe an item, person or situation by using a word which is closely associated with that thing. Metonymy is a common form of figure of speech and can be seen regularly in everyday spoken language as well as being seen in a more literary sense.

Metonymy Infographic

Metonymy: Definition with Useful Examples in Spoken Language & Literature