Oxymoron: Definition, Usage and Helpful Oxymoron Examples

Oxymoron is a type of figure of speech that 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.

What Is an Oxymoron?

Oxymoron Definition

An oxymoron is a figure of speech that combines seemingly contradictory terms or ideas. This rhetorical device is used to emphasize a particular point, often revealing a deeper or hidden truth. It can be found in various forms of literature, poetry, and everyday language. Elements of an oxymoron may include contrasting words or ideas, placed side by side for effect. While an oxymoron may seem nonsensical or contradictory, its main purpose is to provoke thought and convey complexity.

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

It is a rhetorical device that 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.

The term “oxymoron” itself is derived from the Greek words “oxy” meaning “sharp” and “moron” meaning “dull.” It describes the interplay of opposing terms in a word or phrase, essentially creating a “sharp-dull” idea that captures the attention of the reader or listener.

Different Types of Oxymorons

  1. Adjective-noun pairs: The most recognizable oxymorons often include an adjective followed by a noun. These combinations create striking mental images and challenge conventional thinking. Examples include “bitter sweet,” “deafening silence,” and “open secret.”
  2. Verb-noun pairs: In this type, a verb contradicts the noun it modifies, as seen in phrases like “to freeze a burn” or “to organize chaos.”
  3. Adverb-adjective pairs: These oxymorons involve an adverb modifying a contradicting adjective, such as “incredibly ordinary” and “clearly confusing.”
  4. Phrasal oxymorons: These are multi-word expressions that contain contradictory elements. Examples include “living death,” “hurry up and wait,” and “peaceful war.”
Type Example
Adjective-noun Bitter sweet
Verb-noun Organize chaos
Adverb-adjective Clearly confusing
Phrasal oxymoron Peaceful war

In conclusion, understanding oxymorons requires recognizing the deliberate juxtaposition of contradictory terms to create thought-provoking expressions. Through the use of oxymorons in various forms and combinations, writers and speakers can engage the audience’s intellect and encourage deeper exploration of the ideas they present.

Oxymoron Examples in Literature

Shakespeare and Oxymorons

Oxymorons have been widely employed in literature to emphasize contrasts and evoke deeper meanings. One prominent author who made excellent use of oxymorons is William Shakespeare. In his play Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare frequently uses oxymorons to express the complexity and contradictory nature of emotions. For example, in Act 1, Scene 1, Romeo says, “O brawling love, O loving hate,” which highlights the paradoxical relationship between love and hate.

Shakespeare’s utilization of oxymoronic phrases showcases his mastery of language and allows him to convey intricate emotions to his audience.

Oxymoron Examples in Notable Works and Authors

Other esteemed authors have incorporated oxymorons in their works as well. Some notable examples include:

  • Alfred, Lord Tennyson: In his poem Idylls of the King, Tennyson uses oxymorons to describe the melancholic character of King Arthur. An example from the poem is the phrase “faith unfaithful,” which reflects the struggle between trust and betrayal that characterized Arthur’s reign.
  • Lord Byron: The famous Romantic poet, Lord Byron, also employs oxymorons in his writings. In the poem Don Juan, for instance, he pens the line “melancholy merriment” to display the character’s conflicting emotions between sorrow and amusement.
  • Oscar Wilde: Another literary master, Oscar Wilde, artfully employs oxymorons in his works. In The Picture of Dorian Gray, he writes, “the only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it,” skillfully illustrating the contradictory nature of human desires and choices.

Other Examples of Oxymorons in Literature

We often see oxymorons 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.’

These examples illustrate how oxymorons in literature have been used to create nuanced and thought-provoking illustrations of emotions, ideas, and themes. Through the careful use of language and the juxtaposition of seemingly opposing words, authors have employed this figure of speech to enhance their storytelling and engage the reader.

Oxymoron Examples in Everyday Language

Common Phrases and Sentences

Oxymorons are often found in everyday language, enhancing the impact of a statement or adding a touch of humor. These are phrases or sentences that combine contradictory or opposing ideas to create a unique image or idea in the reader or listener’s mind. Some examples of oxymorons frequently used in everyday speech include:

  • Sweet sorrow
  • Cruel kindness
  • Alone together
  • Same difference

These phrases demonstrate the versatility of oxymorons and their ability to capture life’s incongruities in a succinct and memorable way.

Additionally, there are many common oxymoron examples that have integrated themselves into the fabric of the English language:

  • Bittersweet
  • Old news
  • Deafening silence
  • Jumbo shrimp
  • Original copy

These expressions might be used in conversation or texts to convey an idea, emotion, or situation that wouldn’t be as effectively communicated using different words.

Oxymoron Examples in Pop Culture

Oxymorons are a prevalent rhetorical device in various forms of pop culture, including music, film, and literature. They can elicit a range of emotions from love to humor, or even create thought-provoking statements about society, relationships, and the human experience.

A famous example of an oxymoron in pop culture can be found in the song “All of Me” by John Legend. The lyrics contain the phrase “perfect imperfections,” which highlights the beauty and complexity of loving someone despite their flaws.

Within literature and films, oxymorons are often used to heighten drama or create a sense of irony. For example, phrases like “pointedly foolish” and “seriously funny” might be employed to emphasize a character’s qualities or actions in conflict with their intentions or expectations.

Oxymorons are also prevalent in various forms of media and everyday conversation, particularly when discussing modern technology, innovations, or societal trends. Examples include:

  • Virtual reality
  • Business ethics
  • Keen laziness

These oxymorons underscore the inherent contradictions and complexities within the subjects being discussed.

In conclusion, oxymorons are a powerful and versatile literary device that frequently appear in everyday language, pop culture, and various forms of media. They enable individuals to effectively communicate complex ideas and emotions, creating memorable imagery and thought-provoking statements.

More Examples of Oxymorons 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 oxymorons in a conversational sense. The use of oxymorons 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.

Functions and Effects of Oxymorons

Emphasis and Contrast

Oxymorons serve as a literary device to draw attention to a contradictory or incongruous nature within an idea or concept. By joining two conflicting words, like “sharp-dull” or “civil war,” they create a contrast for the reader to process. This can help highlight specific aspects of the subject, emphasizing particular details or elements that may otherwise be overlooked. For example, the phrase “organized chaos” underscores the paradoxical nature of seemingly chaotic situations that still follow some form of structure.

Humor and Irony

Another function of oxymorons is their ability to convey humor and irony in a clever, concise manner. By pairing words that seemingly oppose each other, such as “awfully good” or “working vacation,” oxymorons create a surprising or entertaining effect that engages the reader. This contradiction in terms often elicits laughter or amusement, as it goes against our expectations. Some notable comical oxymorons are “military intelligence” and “passive-aggressive,” which provide a new way of looking at these familiar concepts by highlighting their inherent contrasts.

Uncovering Deeper Truths

While oxymorons can be a source of humor or emphasis, they can also serve a more profound purpose in revealing deeper truths about the subject at hand. When Alexander Pope, a famous poet, used the oxymoron “terrible beauty” to describe the Atlantic Ocean, he intended to capture the dualistic nature of this vast body of water: its enchanting allure and its potentially dangerous power. By using an oxymoron, writers can challenge and invite readers to dive deeper into the subject and consider different facets or layers that might be overlooked in other forms of figurative language.

In conclusion, oxymorons are a versatile literary device that can serve various functions, from emphasizing contrasts and highlighting incongruities to providing humor and irony or unearthing deeper truths. Whether applied to a poetic description or a comical phrase, oxymorons can communicate complex ideas in an engaging, entertaining, and thought-provoking manner.

How to Use Oxymorons in Your Writing

Creating Impact with Oxymorons

Oxymorons, a rhetorical device that combines two contradictory words, can be a powerful tool to create impact in writing. They can evoke strong emotions or provoke thought and can be used to emphasize a point, highlight irony, or add a touch of humor. For example, phrases like “wise fool” and “friendly fire” can bring attention to the inherent contradictions within these concepts.

One way to use oxymorons effectively in writing is to pair an adjective with a noun that has a seemingly opposite meaning. The result is a surprising and thought-provoking image, like the example “deafening silence.” This juxtaposition of words can help express complex ideas that might be difficult to convey otherwise.

Tips for Effective Use

To integrate oxymorons into your writing and make them impactful, follow these tips:

  • Choose words carefully: Select words that have a clear and substantial contrast in meaning. For instance, “student teacher” brings out the paradox of being both a learner and an instructor at the same time.
  • Use appropriate context: Ensure that the oxymoron fits the context of your writing. An oxymoron that conveys humor may not work well in a serious or formal piece.
  • Avoid overuse: While oxymorons can be powerful, using too many within a limited space can make your writing feel cluttered or forced. Remember, the element of surprise is key to their effectiveness.
  • Explore different forms: Oxymorons can be plural, like “living dead,” and can also serve as antonyms for other words. Experimenting with different forms can help you convey your ideas more effectively.

Here’s a concise table summarizing the tips for using oxymorons in your writing:

Tip Description
Choose words carefully Select contrasting words that create thought-provoking combinations.
Use appropriate context Fit the oxymoron within the tone and context of your writing.
Avoid overuse Use oxymorons sparingly to preserve their impact.
Explore different forms Experiment with plurals, antonyms, and other forms to create variety in your writing.

Remember, the use of oxymorons can be a creative and engaging way to enhance your writing. By thoughtfully selecting words and considering their placement in your text, you can make a memorable impact on your readers.


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

Oxymoron Pin

FAQs on Oxymoron

What is an oxymoron?

An oxymoron is a figure of speech that combines contradictory words with opposing meanings to make a point, reveal a deeper truth, or create a unique word or phrase. Examples of oxymorons include “old news,” “deafening silence,” and “organized chaos.”

How are oxymorons used in literature?

Oxymorons can be used in various ways in literature, such as:

  • Creating an interesting contrast for emphasis
  • Highlighting the complexity or ambiguity of a situation
  • Adding humor, wit, or irony to a text
  • Revealing a hidden truth or deeper meaning

What is the difference between an oxymoron and a paradox?

While both oxymorons and paradoxes involve contradictions, they have distinct differences:

  • Oxymoron: A figure of speech combining contradictory terms or ideas, usually in the form of adjective-noun pairs, e.g., “proud humility.”
  • Paradox: A statement or argument that seems contradicting or against common sense but might still be true, e.g., “less is more.”

Are there any famous oxymorons in literature?

Yes, many famous literary works contain oxymorons. For instance, in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” the line, “Why, then, O brawling love! O loving hate!” features an oxymoron.

Is “oxymoronic” a word?

Yes, “oxymoronic” is an adjective derived from “oxymoron,” describing something that is or involves an oxymoron.

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