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Figure of Speech

A figure of speech is created when a writer uses figurative language or that which has another meaning other than its basic definition.

The effect of this figurative language might make an idea or image easier to imagine or generally more interesting. Many figures of speech have been used for hundreds of years. These include metaphors, similes, forms of sarcasm, and different rhetorical techniques. 

Figure of Speech pronunciation: Fig-your uhhv Sp-eee-ch

Figure of Speech definition and examples


Definition and Explanation of Figure of Speech 

In a sentence that uses a figure of speech, it is used non-literally to create a specific effect. They are an expressive way to use language to make writing, and reading, more interesting and pleasurable. They are an important part of the English language that helps to make it far more expressive and interesting than it otherwise would be. 


Common Types of Figures of Speech

  • Alliteration: occurs when the same consonant sound is used at the beginning of multiple words. These usually appear one after another. For example: “the red Range Rover ran really randomly.” 
  • Sibilance: a form of alliteration that repeats the letter s. Often used to mimic sounds like water and breeze. For example: “silently Sam sailed circularly.” 
  • Synecdoche: Using one thing to refer to a group. For example: “work is my bread and butter” or “how many hired hands do you have?” 
  • Oxymoron: when two contradictory terms or ideas are placed next to one another. For example “little giant” and “old news.” 
  • Metaphor: a comparison between two things that don’t use “like” or “as.” For example: “His girlfriend is a princess.” 
  • Onomatopoeia: a word that imitates a real sound. For example “boom” or “hiss.” 
  • Parallelism: the use of similar structures in two or more clauses. For example: “that’s one giant step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
  • Idiom: a common phrase with a non-literal meaning. They are used within particular cultures and languages, making them hard to learn for new speakers of English, French, Japanese, etc. For example: “break a leg” or “make hay while the sun shines.” 


Examples of Figures of Speech 

As You Like It by William Shakespeare  

In this well-loved play, as well as in all of Shakespeare’s works, readers can find examples of numerous figures of speech. In this particular play, he uses the lines: 

All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts.

Here, he’s comparing the world to a stage suggesting that life is only a play and the people in it, actors. He’s seeking to draw the reader’s attention to the performative aspects of life that are present no matter who one is or what kind of life they live. 


Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury 

In Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury’s famous classic, the writer uses the following metaphor: 

A book is a loaded gun in the house next door…Who knows who might be the target of the well-read man?

Here, he is comparing a book to a loaded gun, suggesting how powerful (or dangerous) they can be. Free thought, in Bradbury’s world, is a dangerous weapon that the government sought to control.


Jabberwocky by Lewis Caroll

‘Jabberwocky’ is considered to be the most popular nonsense poem in the English language. This kind of poem is noted for its nonsensical language and word use. This allows Carrol to create more than the average number of alliterative moments in his text. For example:

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:


So rested he by the Tumtum tree


One, two! One, two! And through and through

The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!

Here, the use of alliteration is obvious with “Tumtum tree,” “gyre and gimble,” as well as “snicker-snack.”


An Apple Gathering by Christina Rossetti 

‘An Apple Gathering’ is a clever and memorable poem in which Rossetti uses an extended metaphor for the perceived importance of a woman’s purity. Specifically, she uses the image of an apple tree and the fruit it bears to symbolize virginity. Here are a few lines from the poem: 

I plucked pink blossoms from mine apple-tree

And wore them all that evening in my hair:

Then in due season when I went to see

I found no apples there

After these lines, the speaker’s peers are appreciating the apples on their individual trees. The speaker is without a single piece of fruit, though. She picked it too early. This is something that makes her stand out from those around her. They all know that she lost her virginity, as represented by picking her apples too soon.


Why Do Writers Use Figure of Speech? 

Writers use figures of speech to make their writing more interesting. It’s more fun to write when one is able to come up with figures of speech and it’s also far more exciting for the reader who will get to read unexpected comparisons and encounter interesting word usages. Figures of speech also help to clarify what a writer wants to convey. By using more varied language they’re able to create descriptions and expressions that help the reader align themselves with the writer’s intentions. 

Some figures of speech are more effective than others though. It’s possible to write humorous or confusing metaphors, similes, etc, that don’t make a great deal of sense. This can work to one’s advantage if they want to make dialogue for an interesting, out of the box character, or it can damage the reader’s perception of the writer’s imagined world. 


Related Literary Terms

  • Aporia: a figure of speech where a speaker or writer poses a question. This question expresses doubt or confusion
  • Aposiopesis: a figure of speech in which the writer stops a line of text in the middle of a sentence.
  • Apostrophe: a figure of speech in which a character or speaker addresses someone who is absent.
  • Double Entendre: a literary device, phrase, and/or figure of speech that has multiple meanings or interpretations.
  • Figurative Language: refers figures of speech that are used in order to improve a piece of writing.


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