Figures of speech / Rhetorical Devices – language decorators

A figure of speech (also called Rhetorical Devices) is the use of a word or a phrase, which transcends its literal interpretation. It can be a special repetition, arrangement or omission of words with literal meaning, or a phrase with a specialized meaning not based on the literal meaning of the words in it, as in idiom, metaphor, simile, hyperbole, personification, or synecdoche. Rhetorical devices make your speeches, essays etc. more interesting and lively and help you to get and keep your reader’s / listener’s attention.

Here are some major figures of speeches:

Antithesis – contrasting relationship between two ideas. Antithesis emphasizes the contrast between two ideas. The structure of the phrases / clauses is usually similar in order to draw the reader’s / listener’s attention directly to the contrast. Examples:

  • That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind. (Neil Armstrong)
  • To err is human; to forgive, divine. (Pope)
  • It is easier for a father to have children than for children to have a real father. (Pope)

 Hyperbole – deliberate exaggeration. Used sparingly, hyperbole effectively draws the attention to a message that you want to emphasize. Example:

  • I was so hungry, I could eat an elephant.
  • I have told you a thousand times.

 Metaphor – figurative expression. Metaphor compares two different things in a figurative sense. Unlike in a simile (A is like B.), “like” is not used in metaphor (A is B.). Example:

  • Truths are first clouds, then rain, then harvest and food. (Henry Ward Beecher)
  • Through much of the last century, America’s faith in freedom and democracy was a rock in a raging sea. Now it is a seed upon the wind, taking root in many nations.

 Parallelism – parallel sentence structure. Successive clauses or sentences are similarly structured. This similarity makes it easier for the reader / listener to concentrate on the message. Example:

  • We are bound by ideals that move us beyond our backgrounds, lift us above our interest, and teach us what it means to be citizens.
  • The mediocre teacher tells, The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires. (William A. Ward)

 Parenthesis – additional information. The normal progression of a sentence is interrupted by extra information or explanations enclosed in commas, brackets or dashes. The extra information can be a single word, a phrase or even a sentence. Examples:

  • We (myself, wife Lorraine and daughters Caroline and Joanna) boarded our boat ‘Lynn’, a Duchess class vessel barely a year old, at Black Prince Holidays’ Chirk boatyard.

 Personification – attribution of human characteristics to animals, inanimate objects or abstractions. Animals, inanimate objects or abstractions are represented as having human characteristics (behaviour, feelings, character etc.). Personification can make a narration more interesting and lively. Examples:

  • Why these two countries would remain at each other’s throat for so long.
  • I closed the door, and my stubborn car refused to open it again.

 Repetition – repeating words or phrases. Words or phrases are repeated throughout the text to emphasise certain facts or ideas. Examples:

  • Down, down, down. Would the fall never come to an end! »I wonder how many miles I’ve fallen by this time?« she said aloud. […]
    Down, down, down. There was nothing else to do, so Alice soon began talking again. […]

 Simile – direct comparison. Two things are compared directly by using ‘like’ (A is like B.). Examples:

  • concrete box-style buildings are spreading like inkblots
  • The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel

 Synecdoche – using a part instead of the whole or vice versa. Synechdoche is some kind of generalization or specification that uses a part, a member or a characteristic of what is meant. Example:

  • Turning our long boat round […] on the last morning required all hands on deck … (hands = people)

 Understatement – weaken or soften a statement. A statement is deliberately weakened to sound ironical or softened to sound more polite. Examples:

  • I know a little about running a company. (a successful businessman might modestly say.)


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