A figure of speech is a word or phrase that has a meaning other than the literal meaning. It can be a metaphor or simile that's designed to further explain a concept. Or it can be the repetition of alliteration or exaggeration of hyperbole to give further emphasis or effect. There are many different types of figures of speech in the English language. We will give you examples of some of the most commonly used types here.
Examples of Figures of Speech
Alliteration is the repetition of the beginning sounds of neighboring words. Examples are:
- She sells seashells.
- Walter wondered where Winnie was.
- Blue baby bonnets
- Nick needed new notebooks.
- Fred fried frogs.
Anaphora is a technique where several phrases (or verses in a poem) begin with the same word or words. Examples are:
- I came, I saw, I conquered - Julius Caesar
- Mad world! Mad kings! Mad composition! - King John II, William Shakespeare
- It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness - A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
- With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right - Abraham Lincoln
- We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end... we shall never surrender - Winston Churchill
Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in words that are close together. Examples are:
- A - For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels named Lenore (Poe)
- E - Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee (Coleridge)
- I - From what I’ve tasted of desire, I hold with those who favor fire (Frost)
- O - Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn (Wordsworth)
- U - Uncertain rustling of each purple curtain (Poe)
Using a Euphemism
Euphemism is a mild, indirect, or vague term substituting for a harsh, blunt, or offensive term. Examples are:
- 'A little thin on top' instead of 'going bald'
- 'Homeless' instead of 'bum'
- 'Letting him go' instead of 'firing him'
- 'Passed away' instead of 'died'
- 'Economical with the truth' instead of 'liar'
Hyperbole uses exaggeration for emphasis or effect. Examples are:
- I’ve told you a hundred times
- It cost a billion dollars
- I could do this forever
- She is older than dirt
- Everybody knows that
Irony is when there is a contrast between what is said and what is meant, or between appearance and reality. Examples are:
- “How nice!” she said, when I told her I had to work all weekend. (Verbal irony)
- A traffic cop gets suspended for not paying his parking tickets. (Situational irony)
- The Titanic was said to be unsinkable but sank on its first voyage. (Situational irony)
- Naming a Chihuahua Brutus (Verbal irony)
- The audience knows the killer is hiding in a closet in a scary movie but the actors do not. (Dramatic irony)
Metaphor compares two unlike things or ideas. Examples are:
- Heart of stone
- Time is money
- The world is a stage
- She is a night owl
- He is an ogre
Onomatopoeia is a word that sounds like what it is describing. Examples are:
Oxymoron is two contradictory terms used together. Examples are:
- Peace force
- Kosher ham
- Jumbo shrimp
- Small crowd
- Free market
Personification is giving human qualities to non-living things or ideas. Examples are:
- The flowers nodded
- Snowflakes danced
- Thunder grumbled
- Fog crept in
- The wind howled
Simile is a comparison between two unlike things using the words "like" or "as." Examples are:
- As slippery as an eel
- Like peas in a pod
- As blind as a bat
- Eats like a pig
- As wise as an owl
Synecdoche is when a part represents the whole or the whole is represented by a part. Examples are:
- Wheels - a car
- The police - one policeman
- Plastic - credit cards
- Coke - any cola drink
- Army - a soldier
Understatement is when something is said to make something appear less important or less serious. Examples are:
- It's just a scratch - referring to a large dent
- It's a litttle dry and sandy - referring to the driest desert in the world
- The weather is a little cooler today - referring to sub-zero temperatures
- It was interesting - referring to a bad or difficult experience
- It stings a bit - referring to a serious wound or injury
These examples of figures of speech were selected to show a variety of stylistic and rhetorical devices that make the English language more creative, more expressive, and more interesting.