Grammar: Figures of Speech

Posted December 19, 2016 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Grammar Explanations, Self-Editing, Writing

Revised as of:
16 Feb 2017

Figures of speech, a.k.a., figurative language, implies ideas and meanings that are more complicated than if you used literal language and can be more effective, persuasive and impactful. In fact, figures of speech are part of the overall category of literary devices (which includes rhetorical devices). Just to make life more confusing, many figures of speech are also rhetorical devices, fit within various forms or categories, and may be used together. And both slide under the general category, literary device.

In general, figurative language can be grouped into categories depending upon the effect you desire:

  • Provide new insight – metaphors, similes, allusions
  • Appeal to the reader’s senses – alliterations, imageries, or onomatopoeia
  • Paint a complex image in the reader’s mind
  • Arouse emotion
  • Convey a complex and/or abstract idea

It’s an overwhelming conglomeration of possibilities, and isn’t finished, so stay tuned for the expanding exploration of these figures of speech.

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Figures of Speech are a Form of Literary Device Along with Rhetorical Devices and Word Play

A literary device is a linguistic or literary technique that creates specific effects, plots, styles, and more in the overall category for figure of speech, rhetorical device, and word play.

A figure of speech alters the meanings of words, going beyond a word’s or phrase’s literal interpretation, like simile, metaphor, hyperbole, and more. It becomes a device in rhetoric when it is aimed at persuading the readers or listeners.

A rhetorical device is used in the art of discourse in which the writer (or speaker) uses different methods to convince, influence, or please an audience. This helps explain why rhetorical devices and figures of speech occasionally swap categories.

Word play is a verbal game of wit and fun that brightens and enhances the reader’s understanding.

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Grammar Explanations is…

…an evolving list of the structural rules and principles that determines where words are placed in phrases or sentences as well as how the language is spoken. Sometimes I run across an example that helps explain better or another “also known as”. Heck, there’s always a better way to explain it, so if it makes quicker and/or better sense, I would appreciate suggestions and comments from anyone… Are there areas of grammar with which you struggle? If you’d like to track it, bookmark this page and consider sharing this Grammar Explanation with friends by tweeting it.

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Figures of Speech
Credit to: Encyclopædia Britannica: irony; Your verbal irony; Wenstrom; Glossary of Rhetorical Terms; Literary Devices
Part of Speech: Literary Device
Definition: A form of literary device which uses a word or phrase that departs from its literal meaning in order to achieve a special effect or meaning, speech, or writing. It can be a different way of pronouncing a word or phrase to give further meaning or a different sound.

Poets and prose writers use this technique to bring out emotions and help their readers form images in their minds. Thus, figurative language is a useful way of conveying an idea that readers cannot understand otherwise, due to its complex and abstract nature. In addition, it helps in analyzing a literary text (Literary Devices).

There are five different forms of figurative language per Merriam Webster’s Encyclopedia:

  1. Understatement or emphasis
  2. Relationship or resemblance
  3. Figures of sound
  4. Errors
  5. Word Play


A.k.a., figurative language, rhetorical figure, locution, stylistic device, style

Acoloutha Definition: Replacing one word with another whose meaning is close enough to the former that the former could, in its turn, be a substitute for the latter.

Its opposite is anacoloutha.

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Jane hurried to work.

Jane ran to work.

Jane booked it to work.

Allusion Definition: Refers either directly or indirectly to a person, event, or thing in history or to a work of art or literature.

It’s useful as a shortcut to pull the reader in with the emotions or ideas associated with that event.

May Use Other Literary Devices including:

  1. Providing new insight

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Hurricane Katrina
a famous battle
the Harry Potter books
Abraham Lincoln
Pol Pot
Queen Victoria
Christians in the Coliseum, etc.
Amplification Definition: Used to embellish the sentence by adding more information to it in order to increase its worth and understanding.

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Original Sentence After Amplification
The thesis paper was difficult. The thesis paper was difficult: it required extensive research, data collection, sample surveys, interviews and a lot of fieldwork.
Anaphora Definition: Uses a repetition of the words and phrases at the beginning of successive sentences in order to achieve an artistic effect.

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May Use Other Literary Devices including:

  1. Emphasis
  2. Rhetorical Device

It is common to use anaphora in everyday speech to lay emphasis on the idea we want to convey or for self affirmation.

The opposite of anaphora is epistrophe, a.k.a., epiphora

A.k.a., epanaphora, epibole

The Bible has a number of examples:

  • “O LORD, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure.
  • Have mercy upon me, O LORD; for I am weak: O LORD, heal me; for my bones are vexed.
  • My soul is also sore vexed: but thou, O LORD, how long?”
  • “Every day, every night, in every way, I am getting better and better.”
  • “My life is my purpose. My life is my goal. My life is my inspiration.”

“This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings
This land of such dear souls, this dear dear land, – William Shakespeare, Richard II

“Buying nappies for the baby, feeding the baby, playing with the baby: This is what your life is when you have a baby.”

“I want my money right now, right here, all right?”

“We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight
on the seas and oceans. We shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our island, whatever the cost shall be.” – Churchill

Anacoloutha Definition: Substituting one word with another whose meaning is very close to the original, but in a non-reciprocal fashion; that is, one could not use the first, original word, as a substitute for the second.

Its opposite is acoloutha.

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“When Diana lighteth Late her crystal lamp,
Her pale glory kindleth
From her brother’s fire.” – the manuscript of Benedictbeuern

In the second line, “glory” is a replacement meaning for “lighteth”, but “lighteth” could be not used as a replacement for “glory”.

Example courtesy of Brigham Young University.

Anthimeria Definition: Using a different part of speech to act as another, such as a verb for a noun, or a noun for a verb, or an adjective as a verb, etc.

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“Gift him with Sports Illustrated magazine for Christmas.”

“he sang his didn’t, he danced his did.” – e. e. cummings, [anyone lived in a pretty how town]

“I am going in search of the great perhaps” – François Rabelais, on his deathbed

Anticlimax Definition: Occurs when the story is built up and up and up, when the reader expects something truly tremendous to happen…and the balloon bursts. Instead of an exciting moment, it descends into boring or disappointing.

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May Use Other Literary Devices including:

  1. Humor
  2. Rhetorical device

Two types of anticlimax:

  1. An overall plot of the story that ends in an anticlimax.
  2. A Rhetorical Device which could occur anywhere in the story.

One excellent reason to avoid using the anticlimax is to avoid disappointing your readers. I know that when I read, I want a payoff at the end. I do not want my expectations to be dashed, thereby destroying my trust in the author.

The only good reasons for authors to incorporate anticlimax into their story is:

  • For comedic purposes
  • Use an anticlimax to set up the actual climax

Similar to bathos, although bathos takes place on a small scale.

The opposite of climax.

A.k.a., anti-climax

“Here thou, great Anna, whom three realms obey,

Dost sometimes counsel take, and sometimes tea….” – Alexander Pope, The Rape of the Lock

There is creepy music playing and the protagonist inches towards a cellar door where he hears strange noises. When he opens it, a cat walks out. Nothing else is there.

In Signs, aliens come to take over planet Earth, and it turns out that they can’t touch water, and so they all die without our having to do a thing.

Insta-love romances
In Kill Bill 2, Uma Thurman’s character has been trying to get revenge on Bill for the past two movies. She is able to take him down easily without a protracted fight at the end of the second movie.

A humorous anticlimax occurs in Monty Python and the Holy Grail when it ends with a police car arresting King Arthur and Lancelot.

Some examples courtesy of Literary Devices.

Cacophony Definition: The use of words with sharp, harsh, hissing, and unmelodious sounds primarily those of consonants — in combinations which requires explosive delivery, e.g., p, b, d, g, k, ch-, sh-, etc. — to achieve desired results.

Its opposite is euphony.

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The assorted sounds of a busy city street or market with the roar of vehicles, announcements on loudspeakers, music, and chatter of people or even a dog barking at the same time and without any harmony. You can rightly point to the situation as being the cacophony of a busy street or market.

I detest war because cause of war is always trivial.

“Because cause” is cacophony as “because” is followed by “cause” with its similar sound but different meaning. Generally, it sounds unpleasant as the same sound is repeated in two different words.

A musical group tuning up their musical instruments, the chatter at a cocktail party

“‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,an
And the mome raths outgrabe.

‘Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!'” – Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Catacosmesis Definition: An extreme form of anticlimax, a reverse climax, which uses an arrangement of phrases or topics from greatest to least in dignity, or in correct order of time, as with best, worse, worst.

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The fire ignites and speaks in fierce crackling flames. But now in the darkness its silent ashes are all that remain.

Time is a knife that shaves us away until nothing is left but a sliver in bed.

Fearing the silence, the dawn, day, and night, I moan at the wall, “There is no Phoenix. There is no cure. Bring me water and morphine and vodka and meat, and wrap my dead body in a fine golden sheet.”

The wall doesn’t answer. The wall doesn’t care. The wall is a wall. It just stands there.

Examples courtesy of Daily Trope.

Aporia Definition: Talking about not being able to talk about something.

Dr. K. Wheeler and Brigham Young University

A.k.a., diaporesis, addubitatio, dubitatio, addubitation, doubht, the doubtfull

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I can’t tell you how often writers use aporia!

It is impossible for me to describe how horrible it was to view the pink, runny mass.

I can’t begin to tell you how awful it was!

The murder site was indescribable.

Aposiopesis It is perhaps…best should you continue on… To visit the post, “Rhetorical Device: Aposiopesis“…
Apostrophe Definition: A sudden turn in a text towards an exclamatory address to a third party who may be absent from the scene or an imaginary person or an inanimate object.

Rule: Frequently introduced by the vocative exclamation O, particularly by poets who may apostrophize a beloved, the Muse, God, love, time, or any other entity that can’t respond in reality.

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“God deliver me from fools.”

“O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” – Saint Paul of Tarsus, 1 Corinthians 15:55

“O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth, / That I am meek and gentle with these butchers! / Thou art the ruins of the noblest man / That ever lived in the tide of times.” – William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 1

“Is this a dagger which I see before me, The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee! I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.” – William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act 2, Scene 1

“To what green altar, O mysterious priest, / Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies, / And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?” – John Keats, “Ode on a Grecian Urn

“O eloquent, just, and mighty Death!” – Sir Walter Raleigh, A Historie of the World

Assonance Look through the post, Word Play”, to leaf through the entry on assonance.
Asyndeton Definition: Occurs in a sentence that does not use a conjunction, e.g., and, or, nor, to separate clauses, but runs clauses into one another, usually marking the separation of clauses with punctuation.

May Use Other Literary Devices including:

  1. Rhetorical Device

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“…that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” – John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961

Veni. Vidi. Visa. “I came. I saw. I shopped.”

Been there. Done that. Bought the t-shirt.

Bathos Definition: An abrupt transition in style from the exalted to the commonplace on a small scale, producing a ludicrous effect. While often unintended, bathos may be used deliberately to produce a humorous effect (Rose).

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May Use Other Literary Devices including:

  1. Humor
  2. Rhetorical Device

Describes amusingly failed attempts at grandeur with an abrupt transition from a lofty style or grand topic to a common or vulgar one, which may be either accidental (through artistic ineptitude) or intentional (for comic effect).

Intentional bathos appears in satiric genres such as burlesque and mock epic.

Similar to anticlimax, although anticlimax takes place in the grand sense.

She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.

Let’s go to the john to alleviate the pain.

Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.

Brachylogia Definition: The absence of conjunctions between single words expressing an idea with a minimum of words. Compare to asyndeton.

The effect is a broken, hurried delivery.

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Phillip! Rise! Eat! Leave!

Rise! Flee!

Stop! Put your hands up.

Cæsura Definition: Primarily used in poetry or music, it’s a break, especially a sense pause, usually near the middle of a verse, and marked in scansion by a double vertical line.

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This technique frequently occurs within a poetic line grammatically connected to the end of the previous line by enjambment.

A.k.a., cesura

“Know then thyself.
Presume not God to scan.”
Catachresis I know, I know, it’s cold comfort that the answer is over in “Metaphor: Catachresis“.
Catchphrase Definition: A well-known term, especially one that is associated with a particular famous person.

Be aware that, if the phrase has become overused, it turns into a cliché.

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“Come on down!” – The Price Is Right

“Yabba dabba doo!” – Fred Flintstone

“You’re fired!” – Donald Trump or Alan Sugar from The Apprentice

“I have a dream…” – Dr. Martin Luther King

Cliché Definition: Clichés began life as a clever turn of phrase used to convey a popular thought or idea that other writers and readers latched onto and used too often and is now more likely to cause readers to groan — writers are strongly warned against using clichés. I think editors and publishers simply want us to invent new ones…

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Writers are recommended to avoid clichés, which is a tricky proposition as there are so many of them.

Sal Glynn‘s post, “How to Avoid Clichés“, notes that some clichés are so out-of-date, that they should only be used in period novels. Y’all know “lock, stock, and barrel” and “sell like hot cakes”. I did enjoy Glynn’s comment about the anti-cliché, lol. He talks about twisting those cliches on their heads to freshen them up. For example, “what goes around comes around” could be twisted into “what goes around probably should”. Gave me a laugh.

Other twists include what J. K. Rowling did in her Harry Potter series and J.D. Robb did in her In Death series.

Grammar-Monster; Paul FitzSimons’ post, “Really Useful Links for Writers: Tropes and Clichés” was excellent!

Instead of inserting the various types of clichés in subcategories directly under “Cliché”, links are provided instead.

The ball is in your court.

Think outside the box.

As useful as a lead balloon.

Every cloud has a silver lining.

Avoid it like the plague.

The pot calling the kettle black.

Think outside the box.

Plenty of fish in the sea.

Every dog has its day

Climax Definition: An arrangement of phrases or topics in increasing order frequently used in persuasion (particularly advertising) to create false dilemmas and to focus attention on the positive aspects of the subject at hand, as with good, better, best.

It is the opposite of catacosmesis and anticlimax.

A.k.a., auxesis (when used with clauses), crescendo

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“It’s a well-hit ball… it’s a long drive… it might be… it could be… it IS… a home run!”

“Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird… it’s a plane… it’s Superman!”

“There are three things that will endure: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

“I think we’ve reached a point of great decision, not just for our nation, not only for all humanity, but for life upon the earth.”

Consonance Discover the resonance of the consonance in the eminence of the post, “Word Play”.
Alliteration Allot your attention to alliteration in the “Word Play” announcement.
Dysphemism Definition: Use of a harsh, more offensive word instead of one considered less harsh and are generally used to shock or offend.

Dysphemism is often contrasted with euphemism.

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snail mail postal mail
cancer stick cigarette
egghead genius
worm food dead
pig policeman
lies lies
dead tree edition paper version of a publication that can be found online
fag homosexual man

Examples courtesy of My English Pages.

Emphasis You absolutely MUST visit the post, “Rhetorical Device: Emphasis” to learn so very much more.
Epanalepsis The post, “Rhetorical Device”, will provide more detail in the entry, Epanalepsis, in the post.
Epizeuxis Dive, dive, dive into into the post, “Rhetorical Device“, for more on epizeuxis, a.k.a., hyperzeuxis.
Hyperbole Definition: Used in exaggeration or overstatement for emphasis to describe something as better or worse than it really is.

May Use Other Literary Devices including:

  1. Humor
  2. Emphasis
  3. Rhetorical Device

A.k.a., overstatement

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The journey took forever… He was so hungry that he ate everything in the refrigerator.

I’m so hungry, I could eat a horse.

Christ, you weigh a ton!

Superjection Definition: An exaggeration or hyperbole.


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Adynaton Definition: A type of hyperbole taken to such extreme lengths as to insinuate a complete impossibility.

The purpose of the exaggeration is to emphasize the idea or contrast it against another.

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I will sooner have a beard grow in the palm of my hand than he shall get one on his cheek.

“This coyness, lady, were no crime.” – Andrew Marvell, “To His Coy Mistress”

That a lady’s “coyness” is a crime is clearly an adynaton since no lawmaker will be sane enough to pass a law to criminalize coyness.

“… Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? …” – a single line from Shakespeare’s Macbeth

Macbeth feels so guilty after having murdered King Duncan, that even the big oceans cannot wash the king’s blood from his hands.

Hypozeuxis Writers shall delve into that emphasis. Writers shall delve into the “Word Play”. Writers shall delve into the depths of the hypozeuxis.
Enallage Definition: The substitution of one grammatical form for another and intentionally misusing grammar to characterize a speaker or to create a memorable phrase.

It is useful to:

  • Show a character as having a limited grasp of language
  • A deliberate ploy to make a point or have a particular effect, directing attention differently
    • Changing pronouns changes the relationship with another person:
      • Changing you to she distances the other person
      • Changing she to you makes it more intimate, more personal

It is classified by Dr. K. Wheeler as a scheme that breaks the rules.

Changing Minds

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Enallage Proper Form
They is happy. They are happy.
Look at you! She who is beautiful. You are beautiful.
It was done by myself.

Passively distances the speaker from the act.

I did it.

Actively admits responsibility.

We was robbed! We were robbed.

I was robbed.

You pays your money, and you takes your choice. You paid your money, and you made your choice.
Euphony Definition: The use of words having pleasant and harmonious effects are generally those of vowels, semi-vowels, and the harmonious consonants, e.g., l, m, n, r, s, w y, th, wh, and soft f and v sounds.

Its opposite is cacophony.

Literary Devices.

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“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch -eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees, ” – John Keats, “Ode to Autumn

cellar door
Euphuism Definition: Consists of an artificial, highly elaborate way of writing or speaking and employs a deliberate excess of a wide range of literary devices.

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May Use Other Literary Devices including:

  1. Alliteration
  2. Antitheses
  3. Repetition
  4. Rhetorical Device

Classical learning and remote knowledge of all kinds are displayed.

It was fashionable in the 1580s, especially in the Elizabethan court, but never previously or subsequently.

Greek for graceful, witty and named from Euphues (1579) the prose romance by John Lyly.

“Is it not far better to abhor sins by the remembrance of others’ faults, than by repentance of thine own follies?” – Euphues, 1, lecture by the wise Neapolitan

The freshest colours soonest fade, the teenest razor soonest turneth his edge, the finest cloth is soonest eaten with moths, and the cambric sooner stained than the coarse canvas: which appeared well in this Euphues, whose wit, being like wax, apt to receive any impression, and bearing the head in his own hand, either to use the rein or the spur, disdaining counsel, leaving his country, loathing his old acquaintance, thought either by wit to obtain some conquest, or by shame to abide some conflict; who, preferring fancy before friends and his present humour before honour to come, laid reason in water, being too salt for his taste, and followed unbridled affection, most pleasant for his tooth.” – John Lyly, Euphues
Holorime It’s a holorime of a rhyme to send you to a more in-depth look at the holorime in “Word Play”.
Idiom Definition: An expression that conveys something different from its literal meaning, and that cannot be guessed from the meanings of its individual words. It is usually a form of expression that is particular to a certain person or group of people.

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May Use Other Literary Devices including:

  1. Word Play

It’s nonliteral meaning will be familiar to speakers of the language, but not to others. The post, “Grammar: Idiom” has more detail.

Idiom Means…
between a rock and a hard place in a difficult or bad position with no good way of getting out of it
chip on your shoulder holding a grudge
high as a kite drunk or on drugs
rub someone the wrong way annoy or bother
jump the gun do something too early
feeling the blues being sad
Imagery Definition: Uses particular — literal or figurative — words and is used to create meaning in a story, that appeals to our senses — smell, sight, taste, touch, kinesthetic, thermal, or hearing — to create create vivid images in the mind of the reader — show.

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  • Visual = sight, e.g., the wind blowing up a gale with small children and pets tumbling down the sidewalk, the glorious pinks and oranges of a setting sun, the slick tubular tunnel, a yapping miniature poodle dancing around a huge mastiff, the terrifying combination of polka dots, stripes, and zigzags on a woman’s dress
  • Aural = sound, e.g., the soft hiss of skis, the bang of a gun, the total silence of fresh-fallen snow
  • Olfactory = smell, e.g., the smell of spilled beer, frying onions, popcorn in a movie theater, the stench of body odor and stale piss
  • Tactile = touch, e.g., bare feet on a hot sidewalk, the softness of velvet, the trial of staggering through a rocky field, the heat of the sun after four hours on the beach, the bitter cold of an Alaskan winter night, ragged edges of a dress torn down the middle, muscles burning from the marathon earlier that day, the feel of a wooden carving, the difference between holding hands with a lover versus a child, the searing scrape from sliding across a gravel road, the feel of a shirt just out of the dryer
  • Gustatory = taste, e.g., the bland taste of starchy bananas, the tartness of a lemon, that hot, buttered, salty popcorn that screams out for an icy cold coke, the spiciness of a Thai curry, the savory comfort of a chicken pot pie, the melting sweetness of dark chocolate
  • Kinesthetic = motion, e.g., an awareness of the position and movement in the muscles and joints, the ache of a overworked back, the dry eyes from too long over a …
May Use Other Literary Devices including:

  1. Allusion
  2. Metaphor
  3. Onomatopoeia
  4. Personification
  5. Simile

Imagery is particularly valuable in showing the reader, pulling them into the story.

See also allegory, motif, or symbolism

A.k.a., sensory detail, image

Virtual Lit

It was dark and dim in the forest.

The children were screaming and shouting in the fields.

The scent of freshly baked bread wafted from the kitchen.

The girl ran her hands over the silken velvet clinging to her body.

The gushing brook stole its way down the lush green mountains, dotted with tiny flowers in a riot of colors and trees coming alive with gaily chirping birds.

“…thrust her own pretty head into the street, letting the wind play with the pink ribbons of her cap.”

“The war zone looked like the moonscape.”

The boy walked along the muddy, wet, gravel road, as the red maples and crimson birch blew in the cold autumn wind.

“The boot was tough and sinewy between his hard-biting teeth. There was no flavor to speak of except for the blandness of all the dirt that the boot had soaked up over the years. The only thing the boot reminded him of was the smell of a wet-dog.”

The fresh and juicy orange is very cold and sweet.

I could hear the popping and crackling as mom dropped the bacon into the frying pan, and soon the salty, greasy smell wafted toward me.

Glittering white, the blanket of snow covered everything in sight.

The golden yellow sunlight filtered down through the pale new leaves on the oak trees, coming to rest on Jessica’s brown toes that were splayed in the red Georgia mud.

“In the hard-packed dirt of the midway, after the glaring lights are out and the people have gone to bed, you will find a veritable treasure of popcorn fragments, frozen custard dribblings, candied apples abandoned by tired children, sugar fluff crystals, salted almonds, popsicles, partially gnawed ice cream cones and wooden sticks of lollipops.” – E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web

“Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven,
Having some business, do entreat her eyes
To twinkle in their spheres till they return.
What if her eyes were there, they in her head?
The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars,
As daylight doth a lamp; her eyes in heaven
Would through the airy region stream so bright
That birds would sing and think it were not night.
See how she leans her cheek upon her hand!
O, that I were a glove upon that hand,
That I might touch that cheek!” – Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Irony Definition: A spoken or written form that creates a discrepancy between what is said or done and what is actually meant.

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Used to make the reading audience stop and think about what has just been said, or to emphasize a central idea. Your reader realizing the difference between what is said and what is normal or expected is essential to the successful use of irony.

Three Categories of Irony:

  1. Dramatic Irony: the audience knows more about the character’s situation than the character does
  2. Situational Irony: occurs when the expected outcome of an action is different than the actual outcome
  3. Verbal Irony: intended meaning of a statement is different from the actual meaning and is often a form of sarcasm
May Use Other Literary Devices including:

  1. Arouse emotion
  2. Humor
  3. Incongruity
  4. Rhetorical Device
  5. Word Play
Dramatic Irony Definition: Depends on the structure of a work rather than its use of words with an incongruity between what is expected and what occurs.

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May Use Other Literary Devices including:

  1. Satire

In plays, it is often created by the audience’s awareness of a fate in store for the characters of which they themselves are unaware.

Popular in works of art such as movies, books, poems, and plays.

Three Stages of Dramatic Irony
  1. Installation – audience is informed of something the character does not know about
  2. Exploitation – using this information to develop curiosity among the audience
  3. Resolution – what happens when the character finally finds out what is going on
A young couple is too poor to buy each other Christmas gifts. The man sells his pocket watch to buy his wife a set of combs for her long, beautiful hair. She, meanwhile, cuts off her beautiful hair and sells it to a wig-maker for money to buy her husband a watch-chain. – O. Henry, “The Gift of the Magi

Agamemnon returns home from the wars expecting to be welcomed, and he believes he is when his queen wraps him in the purple cloak she had woven him. Yep, it imprisons him well as her lover chops him to bits.

Anton Chekhov’s “Lady with the Dog” finds the love ’em-and-leave’em Don Juan falling for a woman no different from his other women.

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert… Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor knew well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that collosal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away. – Percy Bysshe Shelley

Toni Morrison’s Sula places two women in the Bottom, a black neighborhood located in the hills above a largely white town.

Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior disrupts racial stereotypes of women, Chinese-Americans, and the ubiquitous laundry.

Gerald Vizenor’s The Heirs of Columbus pokes fun at the perceived assimilation of Native Americans.

Tragic Irony Definition: Occurs when a character in a play does or says something that communicates a meaning unknown to her but recognized by the audience.

It was common in plays that depicted the lives of legends in ancient Greece.

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When a character orders poisoned food that is supposed to kill him or her, and the audience already knows that the character is destined to die from food poisoning.
Situational Irony Definition: Occurs when a reader thinks a particular event or situation is unlikely to happen…and it happens.

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May Use Other Literary Devices including:

  1. Satire

Be aware that there is a difference between situational irony and coincidence or bad luck.

We’ve been expecting Harry Potter to kill Voldemort in the last novel, only to discover that Harry must let Voldemort kill him.

Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” finds a widow accepting her husband’s death and being content with her widowhood. Until he comes back and she dies of shock.

Frank L. Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz ends with Dorothy discovering she’s always had the ability to go home; the Scarecrow has always been smart, if he could only have accepted it; the Tin Man has always had the metaphysical heart he has desired; and, the Cowardly Lion can be brave when he has to.

Someone buys a gun to protect himself, but the same gun is used by another individual to injure him. One would expect that the gun would keep him safe, but it has actually caused him injury.

Bad luck is…
When someone washes his car and it rains.

Nothing led him or her to think that it would not rain.

Situational irony is…
A TV weather presenter gets caught in an unexpected storm.

He or she is expected to know the exact weather changes.

Verbal Irony Definition: A form of indirection that avoids overt praise or censure with the real meaning concealed or contradicted by the literal meanings of the words.

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May Use Other Literary Devices including:

  1. Humor
  2. Arouse emotion
  3. Understatement
  4. Emphasis
  5. Satire

Types of verbal irony:

  • Overstatement – when a person exaggerates the character of something
  • Understatement – when a person undermines the character of something
  • Sarcasm
That was a smart thing to do! That was foolish.
clear as mud not at all clear
Oh, fantastic! The situation is very poor.
Thanks for the ticket, officer, you just made my day! Not.
It’s just a flesh wound. The Monty Python skit in which the black knight has just lost an arm.
It is sometimes dry and sandy. Referring to the driest desert in the world
The weather is a little cooler today. Referring to sub-zero temperatures
I won’t say it was delicious. Referring to terrible food
Hurricane Katrina caused some damage. The storm that New Orleans is still trying to come back from.

Examples courtesy of

Accismus Definition: A coyness in which a person feigns a lack of interest in something that he or she actually desires.

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When Oliver Cromwell refused the crown of England or Caesar (in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar refused the equivalent in Rome.

Oh, you shouldn’t have done it.

Thank you, but I’m not worthy of such an honor.

The fox pretends he doesn’t care for the grapes. – “The Fox and the Grapes”, Aesop’s Fables


Antiphrasis Definition: A phrase or word employed in a way that is opposite to its literal meaning in order to create an ironic or comic effect.

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“Yes, I killed him. I killed him for money — and a woman — and I didn’t get the money, and I didn’t get the woman. Pretty, isn’t it…” – Billy Wilder and Raymond, Double Indemnity

“I was awakened by the dulcet tones of Frank, the morning doorman, alternately yelling my name, ringing my doorbell, and pounding on my apartment door…” – Dorothy Samuels, Filthy Rich

Examples courtesy of Literary

Asteism Definition: An ingeniously polite insult.

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“I’ve had a wonderful evening; but this wasn’t it.” – Groucho Marx

“Some cause happiness wherever they go; some whenever they go.” – Oscar Wilde

“She looks as if butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth.” – Jonathan Swift

“He has all of the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.” – Winston Churchill

Examples courtesy of Simply CSoft.

Mycterism Definition: A subtle sneering or jibe.

May Use Other Literary Devices including:

  1. Rhetorical Device

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“Yes, that’s quite a pretty dress.”

“I suppose it was the best you could do.”

Paralipsis Definition: A speaker pretends to hide what he exactly wants to say and enforce, explaining (through the use of this device,) that some points are too obvious to mention.

Another way to look at it is as an outline of a message conveyed in a manner that seems to suppress the exact message; an idea is deliberately suggested through a brief treatment of a subject, while most of the significant points are omitted; or, a way of emphasizing a subject by apparently passing over it.

Its purpose is to deliberately emphasize or assert an idea by pretending to ignore or pass over it. Paralipsis examples are very common in literary works, journalism, and political speeches.

Paraliptic strike-through is a form of paralipsis. It is a standard rhetorical device in journalism and print media.


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“I’m not saying I’m responsible for this country’s longest run of uninterrupted peace in 35 years! I’m not saying that from the ashes of captivity, never has a Phoenix metaphor been more personified! I’m not saying Uncle Sam can kick back on a lawn chair, sipping on an iced tea, because I haven’t come across any one man enough to go toe to toe with me on my best day!” – Justin Theroux, Iron Man 2

The music, the service at the feast,
The noble gifts for the great and small,
The rich adornment of Theseus’s palace
All these things I do not mention now.” – Geoffrey Chaucer, The Knight’s Tale

Though all the important points are mentioned clearly, Chaucer seems to pretend in the final line that he has not given any significance to these points.

“Therefore, let no man talk to me of other expedients: of taxing our absentees…of using neither clothes, nor house hold furniture…. of curing the expensiveness of pride, vanity, idleness, and gaming of learning to love our country…” – Jonathan Swift, A Modest Proposal

Swift briefly suggests the idea of expedients, while trying to show that this idea is not of much significance and should be passed over.

Examples courtesy of Literary

Metaphor Definition: The writer describe one thing but unexpectedly used to describe something different. It enables you to create a vivid description using few words as the metaphor does most of the work for you.

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CAUTION: Do not use like or as.

May Use Other Literary Devices including:

  1. Providing new insight
  2. Rhetorical Device
  3. Symbolism
Love is a treasure box…Life is a journey, not a destination.

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;” – William Shakespeare, As You Like It

“Leaves got up in a coil and hissed,
Blindly struck at my knee and missed” – Robert Frost, “Bereft”

My brother was boiling mad.

The assignment was a breeze.

It is going to be clear skies from now on.

Her voice is music to his ears.

He was drowning in paperwork.

Types of Metaphors
The post on Metaphors further explores the various types with the following some of the most common:

Allegory Uses an entire narrative to express an idea or teach a lesson using symbolic objects, characters, figures, or actions.
Conceit Uses unusual and unlikely, sometimes shocking, comparisons to link two vastly different objects, helping the reader see ideas in a new way.

It may use a complex logic that governs a poetic passage or entire poem.

Mixed Metaphors One that leaps from one identification to a second identification inconsistent with the first.
Parable Uses a narrative to tell an anecdote using symbolism, similes, and metaphors to illustrate and teach morality. The most familiar usage are the stories from the Bible.
Simile Makes a comparison using as or like to point out the similarity.
Synecdoche A part used as a metaphor for the whole of something or a part for the whole. It may also function as a metonymic.
Metonymy Definition: Uses an understood association or contiguity. Even though we aren’t aware of it, we use it every day in conversation.

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May Use Other Literary Devices including:

  1. Rhetorical Device
  2. Word play

Other types of metonymy include:

Metonymy Describes
Wall Street the U.S. financial and corporate sector
Hollywood the U.S. film industry
the crown the ruling monarch of the country being discussed
suits In a crime novel, it usually means the FBI


the track a horse racing track
Washington D.C. the government of the U.S.
The Difference Between Metonymy and Synecdoche
Metonymy Synecdoche
Part used to represent the whole is not part of the whole. Part used to represent the whole is part of the whole.
The boxer threw in the towel. She gave her hand in marriage.
Metalepsis Definition: A type of metonomy, it refers to something by means of another thing that is remotely related to it. It’s either a farfetched causal relationship or an implied intermediate substitution of terms.

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May Use Other Literary Devices including:

  1. Relationship
  2. Resemblance
  3. Rhetorical Device

It’s often used for comic effect through its preposterous exaggeration.

pallid death Substitutes pallid to describe the effect of death making the body pale.
He is such a lead foot. Lead foot is a causal relationship; lead is heavy which would push down the accelerator, causing the car to speed.
In Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, Tristam blames his troubled life and character on his parents’ ill-timed conception of him. The effect is “his troubled life and character” with the remote cause being his parents’ ill-timed conception.

Examples are courtesy of Brigham Young University.

Synecdoche Definition: A type of metonomy that is a part of something that refers to the whole of something or a part for the whole.

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A.k.a., simultaneous understanding

May Use Other Literary Devices including:

  1. Metaphor
  2. Relationship
  3. Resemblance
  4. Rhetorical Device
  5. Word Play
Nice wheels!

A car = wheels

We need some more hands.

A helper = hand

It’s a book called The ABCs of Success.

Alphabet = ABCs

How many heads you got?

Cows = heads of cattle

“It’s all those wagging tongues in the village,” she said with a sigh.

Gossip = wagging tongue

Green Bay won by six touchdowns.

Green Bay’s football team

“Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears.” – Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

“Take thy face hence.” – Shakespeare, MacBeth

The White House announced a new plan to reduce hunger.

Read the latest press releases, speeches, and annual reports issued by Buckingham Palace.

Examples are courtesy of SoftSchools.

Onomatopoeia Definition: Uses sound words, which imitate or mimic the natural sounds of a thing, i.e., whisper is the sound of people talking quietly AND describes the action of people talking quietly.

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May Use Other Literary Devices including:

  1. Sound
  2. Appeal to the senses

It’s a great way to incorporate show, in making the description more expressive and interesting.

Many onomatopoeic words develop multiple meanings.

Also see phanopoeia.

Onomatopoeic Words are Classified in Groups
Animal sounds: chirp, moo, meow, baa, tweet, oink, neigh, etc.
Water sounds: plop, splash, gush, sprinkle, drizzle, drip, etc.
Wind sounds: swish, swoosh, whiff, whoosh, whizz, whisper, etc.
Onomatopoeic Base Sentence
The gushing stream flows in the forest. The stream flows in the forest.
The towering waves crashed against the rocky shoreline. The waves lapped onto the shore.
Phanopoeia Definition: A form of onomatopoeia that describes the sense of things rather than their natural sounds.

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“He reached down from a fissure in the earth-wall in the gloom
And trailed his yellow-brown slackness soft-bellied down, over the edge of the stone trough
And rested his throat upon the stone bottom,
And where the water had dripped from the tap, in a small clearness
He sipped with his straight mouth, …” – D.H Lawrence, “Snake”

“The rhythm and length of the above lines, along with the use of ‘hissing’ sounds, create a picture of a snake in the minds of the readers.”

Oxymoron Definition: Two opposite ideas join to create an effect (Literary Devices).

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May Use Other Literary Devices including:

  1. Incongruity
  2. Rhetorical Device

The common oxymoron phrase is a combination of an adjective proceeded by a noun with contrasting meanings.

A.k.a., compressed paradox, “show-off” figure

act naturally
alone together
awful good
clearly misunderstood
conspicuous absence
criminal justice
cruel kindness
deafening silence
definite maybe
definite possibility
even odds
found missing
fresh-frozen jumbo shrimp
honest politician
ill health
in order to lead, you must walk behind
living death
loose tights
military intelligence
old news
open secret
original copy
paid volunteer
peace force
random order
seriously funny
sight unseen
small crowd
student teacher
terrible beauty
terribly pleased
turn up missing
working vacation

Several sites have lists of oxymorons, including, OxymoronList, one- and two-word oxymora lists from Literary Devices, and Word Explorations.

Paradox Definition: Uses a statement that appears to be self-contradictory or silly but may include a latent truth, something contrary to expectations, existing belief, or perceived opinion.

May Use Other Literary Devices including:

  1. Rhetorical Device

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“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

“War is peace / freedom is slavery…”

Parody Definition: Use of ridicule by overstated imitation of the style of a particular writer, artist, or genre with deliberate exaggeration for comic effect, usually humorous and frequently confused with satire.

The difference between parody and satire is:

  • Parody
    • Imitates the style of another writer, normally for comic effect
  • Satire
    • Tries to improve humanity and its institutions by arousing the reader’s disapproval of a vice, abuse, or faulty belief

A.k.a., spoof, send-up, take-off, lampoon, satire, burlesque, pastiche, caricature

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MAD Magazine
National Lampoon’s Bored of the Rings
Piers Anthony’s Xanth series
Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
Pastiche Definition: Uses forms and styles from another author, generally as an affectionate tribute. As opposed to parody.

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Stories featuring Sherlock Holmes that are not written by Arthur Conan Doyle

August Derleth’s The Cthulhu Mythos based on H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos

Personification Definition: Both a trope and a figure of speech, it is a thing, an idea, or an animal which is given human attributes. The non-human objects are portrayed in such a way that we feel they have the ability to act like human beings, i.e., anthropomorphism.

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Oreo: Milk’s favorite cookie.

Is this your new car? Yep, she’s a beauty, ain’t she.

The flowers danced in the gentle breeze.

The branches scrabbled at our hair and our clothes, ripping and tearing, angry at our passage.

It was a breezy day with the wind playing hide-and-seek with their hair.

“The wind stood up and gave a shout.
He whistled on his fingers and

Kicked the withered leaves about
And thumped the branches with his hand

And said he’d kill and kill and kill,
And so he will! And so he will!” – James Stephens, “The Wind”

“The small waves were the same, chucking the rowboat under the chin as we fished at anchor.” – E.B. White, “Once More to the Lake“, 1941

“Dirk turned on the car wipers, which grumbled because they didn’t have quite enough rain to wipe away, so he turned them off again. Rain quickly speckled the windscreen.

“He turned on the wipers again, but they still refused to feel that the exercise was worthwhile, and scraped and squeaked in protest.” – Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

Prosopopoeia Definition: Representation of absent or imaginary person as speaking.

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“The iron tongue of midnight hath told twelve:
Lovers, to bed; ’tis almost fairy time.” – Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 5, Scene 1

A train at the top of a hill sniffs a flower before swooping down the other slope.

Holsters spread themselves to receive Panchito’s revolvers.

A steam engine is given eyes, piston chambers that thrust like feet when it pulls, and a mouth and voice that cry ‘All aboard’.

A building hoist, falling at breakneck speed, politely slides across to the next shaft on meeting someone, sliding back again after it has passed him.

Definition and examples courtesy of About: Prosopopoeia.

Polyptoton Definition: Polyptotons are words derived from the same root in a sentence.
A.k.a., adnominatio, agnominatio, agnomination

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“Not as a call to battle, though embattled we are.” – John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961.
Polysemy Definition: Uses words that have multiple yet related meanings of a single word or phrase.

Homonyms, on the other hand, are multiple meanings of a word that may be unconnected or unrelated.

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Base Word Means For Example
to get procure I’ll get the drinks.
become She got scared
understand I get it.
mole small burrowing mammal We’ve got moles in the back garden again.
a person digging for information We sent Mary in as a mole.
book bound collection of pages I picked up four books at the library.
text reproduced and distributed I read that book on my Kindle.
make an action or event a matter of record Unable to book a hotel room, a man sneaked into a nearby private residence where police arrested him and later booked him for unlawful entry.
bank building that offers financial services Jane had to go to the bank today.
rely upon I’m your friend, you can bank on me
newspaper company that publishes written news Henry used to work for the newspaper.
single physical item published by the company The Milwaukee Journal only publishes an evening newspaper.
newspaper as an edited work in a specific format They changed the layout of the newspaper’s front page.
milk process of obtaining something He’s milking it for all he can get.
to exploit or defraud He milked his mother for $20k.
elicit a favorable reaction and prolong it for as long as possible He milked the crowd for every last drop of applause.
wood piece of a tree Did John chop the wood up?
geographical area with many trees Let’s take a walk through the woods.
hard, fibrous material What kind of wood did they use for their deck?
Polysyndeton Definition: Uses several conjunctions in close succession, this provides a sense of exaggeration designed to wear down the audience.

May Use Other Literary Devices including:

  1. Emphasis
  2. Rhetorical Device

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“A man who had been soaked in water, and smothered in mud, and lamed by stones, and cut by flints, and stung by nettles, and torn by briars; who limped, and shivered, and glared and growled; and whose teeth chattered in his head as he seized me by the chin.” – Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
Pun Drawing a blank? End the stalemate with a click on “Word Play: Pun” instead.
Antanaclasis A readable post, “Word Play: Antanaclasis“, has some immensely readable examples.
Sarcasm Definition: A negative used with the intention of cutting at someone, wounding them, mocking, ridiculing, or expressing contempt…while disguised as a compliment.

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May Use Other Literary Devices including:

  1. Satire

Sarcasm is different from verbal irony in that:

  • Verbal irony means the opposite of what is said
  • Sarcasm means what it says
Oh, yeah, that looks great on you.

You make a better door than you do a window.

This is an excellent time for you to become a missing person.

I’m busy now. Can I ignore you some other time?

If you were twice as smart as you are now, you’d be absolutely stupid.

That man is cruelly depriving a village somewhere of an idiot.

I don’t know what makes you so dumb but it really works.

You should do some soul-searching. You might just find one.

You can always rely on military intelligence.

Definition: Schemes are figures of speech that deal with word order, syntax, repetition, letters, and sounds.

Authors known for their use of schemes and tropes include William Shakespeare.

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Structures of Balance
Changes in Word Order
Other Figures of Speech, Rhetorical Devices, or Word Plays Used in Scheme Structure and Balance
Breaking the Rules, Misspelling Words, and Ignoring Grammar
Symploce Definition: Repetition that combines anaphora and “Rhetorical Device: Epistrophe” in which the first and last word or words in one phrase, clause, or sentence are repeated in one or more successive phrases, clauses, or sentences; repetition of the first and last words in a clause over successive clauses.

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“Let us let our own children know that we will stand against the forces of fear. When there is talk of hatred, let us stand up and talk against it. When there is talk of violence, let us stand up and talk against it.” – Bill Clinton, Oklahoma Bombing Memorial Prayer Service Address

“Much of what I say might sound bitter, but it’s the truth. Much of what I say might sound like it’s stirring up trouble, but it’s the truth. Much of what I say might sound like it is hate, but it’s the truth.” – Malcolm X

“We owe protection to those men first, and we owe the security for their families if they die. I say it! I voice it! I proclaim it! And I care not who in heaven or hell opposes it!” – John Lewis

“…And I’m fallin’ over…

I’m not like all of the other girls
I can’t take it like the other girls
I won’t share it like the other girls
That you used to know

You look so fine.” – Shirley Manson and Garbage, “You Look So Fine”

Examples courtesy of American Rhetoric.

Sibilance See the news on sibilance seething away on the “Word Play”site.
Simile Like pages in a book, leaf through the post, “Metaphor: Simile to discover more.
Synæsthesia Definition: Mixing one type of sensory input with another in an impossible way, such as speaking of how a color sounds, or how a smell looks.

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The scent of the rose rang like a bell through the garden.
I caressed the darkness with cool fingers.
Tautology Definition: A repetitive use of words, phrases, sentence, or paragraph, which have similar meanings, i.e., expressing the same thing, an idea, or saying two or more times. It may be used to give an impression that the writer is providing extra information.

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May Use Other Literary Devices including:

  1. Rhetorical Device

Reiteration of words was a common trend during the 19th century, where writers deliberately used it as a literary tool. Many 19th century writers and poets exploited this literary device to highlight important points, convey important messages, and spruce up the beauty of their literary work (I Love

And etc.

CD-ROM disk

ATM machine

PIN number

GPS system

ISBN number

RAM memory

DVD disk

VIN number

I got up at 5 am in the morning.

The dress cost me $300 dollars.

They are giving free gifts!

In my opinion, I think that…

I made it with my own hands for you.

I have heard this with my own ears.

This is a short summary of…

Mr. James was first introduced in the meeting.

It’s déjà vu all over again.

Your acting is completely devoid of emotion.

Devoid is tautologic and defined as completely empty.

Repeat that again and reiterate again

To repeat or reiterate something is to do or say something again.

“Shout It Out Loud!” – Kiss

When a person shouts, it is always loud.

“This is like déjà vu all over again. – Yogi Berra

Many examples are from I Love

Pleonasm Definition: The use of more words or parts of words than are necessary or sufficient for clear expression.

Use it for emphasis; to reinforce an idea, contention, or question; to render writing clearer and easier to understand or because the phrase has already become established in a certain form; or, to aid in achieving a specific linguistic effect, be it social, poetic, or literary.

Pleonasms can also serve as a redundancy check: If a word is unknown, misunderstood, or misheard, or the medium of communication is poor—a wireless telephone connection or sloppy handwriting—pleonastic phrases can help ensure that the entire meaning gets across even if some of the words get lost.

CAUTION: A word or phrase may be considered useless, clichéd, repetitive, or simply an unremarkable use of idiom.

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black darkness
burning fire
safe haven
tuna fish
null and void
terms and conditions

It may be that possibly we can…

“This was the most unkindest cut of all.” – Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 2, 183

“I will be brief: your noble son is mad:
Mad call I it; for, to define true madness,
What is’t but to be nothing else but mad?” – Shakespeare, Hamlet Act 2, Scene 2

“Beyond the garage were some decorative trees trimmed as carefully as poodle dogs.” – Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep

“Let me tell you this, when social workers offer you, free, gratis and for nothing, something to hinder you from swooning, which with them is an obsession, it is useless to recoil …” – Samuel Beckett, Molloy.

Definition and examples courtesy of Wikipedia: Pleonasm.

Trope Definition: Tropes are figures of speech that deal with an unexpected twist in the meaning of words.

You may also want to explore trope as a literary device.

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That said, tropes have two sides to them:

  1. The literary trope is a common term that covers a variety of different figures of speech that use a word, phrase, or image, the actual meaning of which is different from the literal, dictionary sense.
    • It is also used for describing commonly recurring literary and rhetorical devices, motifs, or clichés in creative works.
  2. The theme trope or literary device which describes a common or overused (clichéd) theme or device that you can easily recognize and understand because you’ve seen it so often.

As a Figure of Speech

Chicago’s worker bees buzz around the streets.

Workers aren’t literally bees, but it suggests how fast they move.

Understatement Definition: Calls attention to what is usually very obvious and underplays the situation. It usually has an ironic effect.

Think of it as the opposite of exaggeration.

It’s opposite is emphasis, hyperbole (overstatement).

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The broken ends of the long bone were sticking through the bleeding skin, but it wasn’t something that always killed a man.

The scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail in which the Black Knight keeps insisting the loss of a limb is but a flesh wound.
A reporter interviews a person who won the lottery, and he says “I am delighted”.

No, shit.

The team loses 50–0, and its captain says “we did not do well”.

Another no kidding… as the captain tries to underplay how bad it was.

A friend returns the boots she borrowed and the heel has broken off.

You may tell her that “the heels were too high anyway”.

Litotes Definition: Uses a form of understatement to emphasize a point, always deliberate and with the intention of emphasizing that point, i.e., makes a positive statement by using double negatives.

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May Use Other Literary Devices including:

  1. Humor
  2. Understatement
  3. Emphasis
  4. Rhetorical Device

A.k.a., understatement

The Sentence… …May Express…
She’s not bad looking. Someone is gorgeous
She’s not particularly ugly, but also isn’t particularly attractive.
She’s not bad… Could be someone was okay or really good
He isn’t the cleanest person I know. Diminish the harshness of a statement
You won’t be sorry. You’ll be glad.
She was a wee bit upset. She was extremely upset.
This won’t hurt a bit. Ow!!

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Resources for Figures of Speech

Dr. K. Wheeler at Carson-Newman University laid out tropes and schemes very succinctly.

Pinterest Photo Credits:

“Figures of Speech — Metonymy and Synecdoche” courtesy of Lousy