A synecdoche is a type of trope, which is a figure of speech. When used in literature, a synecdoche will add to the visual imagery of the passage and enhance the reader’s experience.
There are several different forms of synecdoche examples including:
- A synecdoche may use part of something to represent the entire whole.
- It may use an entire whole thing to represent a part of it.
- It can use a word or phrase as a class that will express less or more than the word or phrase actually means.
- It may use a group of things that refer to a larger group or use a large group to refer to a smaller group.
- A synecdoche may also refer to an object by the material it is made from or refer to the contents in a container by the name of the container.
Here are examples of each type of synecdoche.
Part to Represent Whole
It is common in our language for part of something to be used to represent the whole.
- The word “bread” can be used to represent food in general or money (e.g. he is the breadwinner; music is my bread and butter).
- The word “sails” is often used to refer to a whole ship.
- The phrase "hired hands" can be used to refer to workmen.
- The word "head" refers to cattle.
- The word "wheels" refers to a vehicle.
Whole to Represent a Part
Using the whole to refer to a part is also a common practice in speech today.
- At the Olympics, you will hear that the United States won a gold medal in an event. That actually means a team from the United States, not the country as a whole.
- If “the world” is not treating you well, that would not be the entire world but just a part of it that you've encountered.
- The word "society" is often used to refer to high society or the social elite.
- The word "police" can be used to represent only one or a few police officers.
- The "pentagon" can refer to a few decision-making generals.
- "Capitol Hill" refers to both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives.
Class as Representing the Whole
A large group or class is sometimes used to represent a portion of it.
- One example of this is referring to the United States as “America” when the “Americas” is actually made up of many countries.
- "Milk" is commonly used to refer to cow's milk when, in reality there are many sources of milk.
Specific Part Representing A Whole
Sometimes a specific thing is used to denote an entire class or group of things.
- Asking someone to put their “John Hancock” on a document refers to anyone putting their signature there.
- It is fairly common in the United States to refer to any carbonated beverage as “Coke”.
- Facial tissue is often referred to as "Kleenex"
Material Representing an Object
The material used to make something, or that was used in the past, is often used to represent the entire object.
- Silverware or dishes made of silver may be called “silver” even if they aren't sold silver.
- The word “plastic” is commonly used to refer to credit cards.
- The word "ivories" is often used to denote piano keys, even though the keys are no longer made of ivory.
- When a golfer plays with their "woods" they are referring to their longest golf clubs.
- The word "lead" is commonly used to refer to bullets.
Container Representing its Contents
Lastly, the name of a container may be used to denote its contents.
- One example is using the word “barrel” for a barrel of oil or beer.
- A "keg" is used to refer to a keg of beer.
Synecdoche vs Metonymy
It is easy to confuse synecdoche and metonymy because they both use a word or phrase to represent something else. They could also both be considered metaphors because the word or words used are not taken literally.
- A synecdoche uses part for the whole or the whole for a part.
- A metonymy is a substitution where a word or phrase is used in place of another word or phrase. A good example is the phrase “The pen is mightier than the sword.” The word “pen” substitutes for written work, and the word “sword” substitutes for violence or warfare.
So, now you have many examples and can recognize a synecdoche when you see one.