Oxymoron: Definition and Examples of Oxymoron in Speech and Literature

Oxymoron is a type of figure of speech which will be heard in spoken English many times. It is also found in a literary sense in works such as songs, poems, and fiction. But what exactly is an oxymoron and how can it be used? In this article, we are going to discuss the meaning of oxymoron and look at how it is used in both spoken and written language. We will do this by taking a look at some examples of times in which oxymoron has been used in literature and in everyday conversation.


Oxymoron Definition

What is an oxymoron? Oxymoron is a type of figurative language which involves the use of two words which appear to contradict one another but when used together make a true and sometimes positive statement.

It is a rhetorical device which can be used in order to reveal a paradox by using two self-contradicting terms. It is also used in a literary sense in order to add a more complex feel to the text and in order to cause the reader to think in a more profound way about the situation at hand.

Oxymoron Examples

Examples of Oxymoron in Everyday Speech

There are many times in which oxymoron is used in day to day conversation. It is a common form of figurative language found in informal conversation. We will now take a look at some examples of the use of oxymoron in a conversational sense. The use of oxymoron will be highlighted in bold.

  • He showed a cruel kindness.
  • The living death.
  • The walking dead.
  • It was an open secret.
  • The play was a tragic comedy.
  • We saw a comedian last night, he was seriously funny.
  • The model who won the competition was awfully pretty.
  • He had an air of foolish wisdom about him.
  • These are the original copies of the manuscript.
  • The substance was a liquid gas.
  • The couple seemed to have a love-hate relationship.
  • We wore our virtual reality helmets to play the game.
  • The workers were actually paid volunteers.
  • She kept telling me the same thing, it was old news.
  • I am going to need an exact estimate of the cost.
  • Many fighters were killed in friendly fire.
  • I was absolutely uncertain of the cause.
  • We will have to agree to disagree on the subject.
  • She was regularly irregular.
  • She always felt as though she was alone in a crowd.
  • We came up with an approximate solution to the problem.
  • After the children had gone to bed, there was a deafening silence.
  • If I had to give my unbiased opinion…
  • We were awfully lucky to have avoided any damage from the flood.
  • There were a lot of unpopular celebrities at the award ceremony.
  • We are going to a slumber party.
  • We are suffering from increasing losses.
  • She is a real earth angel.
  • He helped to perform assisted suicide.
  • I prefer to eat jumbo shrimp.
  • I told him to just act natural.
  • There was something about the town which was oddly familiar.
  • The work that the builders did was partially completed.
  • He is known to behave badly.
  • There is a large minority within the company.
  • She is a fairly nasty person.
  • The woman we saw today was pretty ugly.
  • My favorite subject at school is modern history.
  • He lives in a mobile home.
  • His part in the play is the sad clown.

Examples of Oxymoron in Literature

We often see oxymoron used as a literary device, for the purpose of encouraging the reader to think more deeply about the meaning of a statement. We are now going to look at some examples of times that oxymoron has been used within the written text.

  • In the play, Romeo and Juliet written by William Shakespeare, we see many examples of an oxymoron being used, in such phrases as ‘in heavy lightness’ and ‘bright smoke.’ There are other examples in the same play such as ‘in sick health’ and ‘the cold fire.’
  • In Lancelot and Elaine written by Alfred Lord Tennyson, we see an example of oxymoron in the phrase ‘his honour which was rooted in dishonour.’
  • In ‘Petrachs 134th sonnet written by Sir Thomas Wyatt, there is an example of the use of oxymoron in the line ‘I burn like ice.’ We see further examples in the same piece of writing in the lines ‘I find no peace but all my war is finished.’ and ‘I flee above wind and yet I cannot rise above.’ These examples are written in a more old English style but still fall under the category of oxymoron.
  • In ‘essays of criticism’ written by Alexander Pope, we can see an example of oxymoron when we read the line ‘the bookish blockhead who ignorantly reads.’
  • In the play Hamlet written by William Shakespeare, we see many examples of oxymoron, one of these examples comes in the line ‘I must be cruel in order to be kind.’
  • Once again, in the play Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, we see further examples of oxymoron in the lines ‘what a beautiful tyrant’ and he is a damned saint and an honourable thief.’
  • In a speech made by a president of Egypt, we see the use of oxymoron in the line ‘it is a step forward even though there was no progress.’
  • In a speech made by the President of the United States, Donald Trump, we see an example of oxymoron in the sentence which reads ‘there was nothing taken, I had an honest thief.’
  • A statement made by the singer Isaac B, we can see an example of oxymoron in the line ‘we have to believe in free will because we have no other choice.’
  • In the poem entitled ‘the send off’ by Wilfred Owen, we see an example of oxymoron when he describes something as ‘grimly gay.’
  • In ‘A picture of Dorian Grey’ written by Oscar Wilde, we see another example of the use of oxymoron in the statement which reads ‘I can believe in anything provided that it is incredible.’


After looking more in-depth at what an oxymoron is and how it can be used, we have discovered that the rhetorical device is formed by using two contradicting words or terms in order to convey a deeper, more positive meaning.

Oxymoron is used frequently in both a conversational sense and in written works such as poetry, song, and stories. When used in this sense it gives a greater complexity to the piece of writing and can cause the reader to have to think more deeply about what they are reading.

Oxymoron Infographic

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