Paradox: Definition and Examples of Paradox in Speech and Literature

When speaking or listening to the English language you can expect to come across the use of Paradox. You will also find it used as a literary device many times. But what is paradox and how is it used? In this article, we are going to take a look at the meaning of paradox and how it can be used in both everyday conversation and in written English. We are also going to look at some examples of when paradox has been used in literature and examples of how it can be used in day-to-day conversation.


Paradox Definition

What Is a Paradox?

A paradox is a form of the figure of speech which when heard or read can seem to be completely self-contradicting. The phrase may be contrary to what is expected in the situation and can lead to a conclusion which is not logically acceptable conclusion.

The statement may appear to be silly but in reality, contains a truth which seems unreasonable for example ‘the church has a huge amount of money but incurs high running costs every year.’ The example shows that whilst the church has a lot of money, it has to spend that in order to make it, seemingly a contradictory situation.

When used as a literary device, paradox can express an idea which is not in line with a traditional concept. It is regularly used to have the reader or listener think in a more creative way. Using paradox makes reading more enjoyable to the reader by adding a hidden meaning.

Paradox Examples

Examples of Paradox Used in Everyday Language

There are many instances in which paradox is used during day-to-day speech and conversation. We are now going to take a look at some examples of how it can be used in this sense.

  • He is nobody.
  • Your enemy’s friend is your enemy.
  • He is a wise fool.
  • The truth is honey, which is bitter.
  • What a shame that youth should be wasted on the young.
  • I can resist all things apart from temptation.
  • I always lie.
  • Do not go into the water until you have learnt to swim.
  • Let God create a stone which he cannot lift.
  • Nobody goes to that bar, it is too busy.
  • If you get my message then call me but if you don’t get it, then don’t call.
  • Your mission is not to accept the mission. Do you accept your mission?
  • A man goes back in time and murders his own great grandmother.
  • It is weird to not be weird.
  • I know one thing, I know nothing.
  • Anything that you do will be insignificant but it is essential that you do it.

Examples of Paradox in Literature

Writers have long used paradox as a literary device in order to convey a different train of thought to the reader. We are now going to take a look at some examples of times in which paradox has been used in a written context.

  • In the famous novel Animal Farm written by George Orwell, we see an example of paradox in the line ‘the animals were all equal, but some were more equal than others.
  • In the play Hamlet written by William Shakespeare, there is an example in an exclamation from the title character which contains paradox, he says ‘I have to be cruel in order to be kind.
  • In William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet, we see another example of paradox when he compares the earth to being both a birthplace and a tomb, in the line ‘the earth which natures mother is the tomb. What is the grave, is now the womb.
  • In the lyric ‘My heart leaps up and I behold’ written by William Wordsworth, we see an example of paradox in the statement ‘a child is the father of the man.
  • A famous paradox was written on a card, on one side it reads ‘the statement on the other side is true.’ Yet on the reverse of the card, it reads ‘the statement on the other side is false.
  • Many paradoxes have been written with the intention of creating a thought process for the reader, one of the most famous is the Zeno paradox, it reads as follows; ‘A man walks towards a wall which is ten feet away from him. In order to reach the wall he must first walk half of the distance (five feet) and then he must walk half of the remaining distance (two and a half feet) he must then walk half of the next remaining distance (one and a quarter feet) and so forth. This means that for him to reach the wall he must complete an infinite number of walks, making it impossible to reach the wall.
  • In the song ‘shut the door‘ bu Fugazi we can see an example of paradox in the line ‘I shut my eyes so that I can see.
  • Another example of paradox can be seen once again in the play Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare in which we see the line ‘my only true love which is born from my only true hate.
  • In ‘the importance of being earnest‘ by Oscar Wilde we see an example of paradox in a line delivered by Cecily, which reads ‘being natural is such a difficult thing to keep up.
  • In catch 22 written by Joseph Heller we can see another example of paradox which reads ‘there is only one catch and that is catch 22.‘ Catch 22 is a situation in which no matter what you do, the end result will still be the same and any action will cause a conflict resulting in what is known as ‘going around in circles.’


In looking at how paradox is used, we have learnt that it is a statement or phrase which appears to be self-contradicting but on closer inspection contains some sort of truth.

It is used frequently in both written works and in day to day conversations in order to convey an idea or to encourage the reader to think in a more innovative what is a paradox in literature sense. A paradox is the juxtaposition of two phrases which contradict one another but reveal a truth.

Paradox Infographic

Paradox: Definition with Useful Examples of Paradox in Speech & Literature