Examples of Oxymorons

An oxymoron is a figure of speech containing words that seem to contradict each other. As with other rhetorical devices, oxymorons are used for a variety of purposes. Sometimes they're used to create a little bit of drama for the reader; sometimes they're used to make a person stop and think, whether that's to laugh or to wonder.

Example of oxymoron imperfect perfection Example of oxymoron imperfect perfection
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What Is an Oxymoron?

The defining characteristic of an oxymoron is combining words or phrases that have opposite meanings. Because of this, an oxymoron is often referred to as a contradiction in terms. Oxymorons are not meant to be taken literally. Instead, meaning should be derived from the context in which an oxymoron is used.

A common oxymoron is the phrase "the same difference." This phrase qualifies as an oxymoron because the words "same" and "difference" have opposite meanings. Bringing them together into one phrase can produce a verbally puzzling, yet engaging, effect.

100+ Common Oxymorons

It's likely you've used, or at least heard, a few oxymorons in your everyday life, even if you didn't realize it at the time. Consider the common oxymorons and think about times they may have been included in conversations you have had.

Oxymoron Examples A-C

There are oxymorons throughout the alphabet, from "a" to "z." There are quite a few in just the first three letters.

  • accidentally on purpose
  • accurate estimate
  • act naturally
  • advanced beginner
  • almost exactly
  • alone together
  • amazingly awful
  • approximately equal
  • bittersweet
  • calculated risk
  • climb down
  • close distance
  • consistently inconsistent
  • conspicuous absence
  • constant variable
  • controlled chaos
  • cool passion
  • crash landing
  • cruel kindness

Oxymoron Examples D-F

Oxymorons aren't limited to the first few letters of the alphabet. Keep going to discover even more.

  • dark light
  • deafening silence
  • deceptive honesty
  • definite maybe
  • definite possibility
  • deliberate mistake
  • devout agnostic
  • disgustingly delicious
  • divided unity
  • double solitaire
  • dull roar
  • endless hour
  • exact estimate
  • fairly accurate
  • fairly obvious
  • final draft
  • fine mess
  • firm pillow
  • found missing
  • free love
  • freezer burn
  • friendly fire
  • full-time hobby
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Oxymoron Examples G-N

Are you still searching for the perfect oxymoron? There are plenty more to be discovered!

  • genuine imitation
  • going nowhere
  • good grief
  • growing smaller
  • guest host
  • hard cushion
  • imperfect perfection
  • joyful noise
  • joyful sorrow
  • jumbo shrimp
  • larger half
  • literal interpretation
  • loosely sealed
  • love-hate
  • loud whisper
  • minor crisis
  • minor miracle
  • mud bath
  • natural makeup

Oxymoron Examples O-R

Is it starting to seem like there is an unlimited supply of oxymorons in the English language? That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but there are certainly more than just a few.

  • old news
  • only alternative
  • only choice
  • only option
  • open secret
  • open circuit
  • organized mess
  • original copy
  • passive learning
  • unbiased opinion
  • painful beauty
  • passive-aggressive
  • passive worship
  • plastic silverware
  • pretty ugly
  • quiet roar
  • random order
  • real knockoff
  • real-life fairy tale
  • rolling stop

Oxymoron Examples S-Z

Approaching the end of the alphabet, there are still more oxymorons to explore. It's really interesting to see how this figure of speech finds its way into everyday communication.

  • same difference
  • serious fun
  • seriously funny
  • student teacher
  • sweet misery
  • silent scream
  • small crowd
  • terribly good
  • terribly nice
  • theoretical experience
  • tragic comedy
  • true myth
  • unpopular celebrity
  • virtual reality
  • upward fall
  • walking dead
  • weirdly normal
  • wise fool
  • working vacation
  • zero deficit

Oxymoron Examples in Sentences

Review the example sentences below to get a better sense of how oxymorons can be used in sentences and dialogue. The sentences in this section feature oxymorons from the list above.

  • My brother's cooking is amazingly awful.
  • I let out a silent scream when the teacher called on me to answer the one question that I didn't know.
  • The scholarship instructions state that I should submit an original copy of my essay.
  • I asked Steve to go to the dance with me. He gave me a definite maybe.
  • A small crowd seems to be gathering in the school gym.
  • Climb down from there this instant!
  • Just act naturally when you ask the superstar for an autograph.
  • The takeout container was only loosely sealed, so there is a mess in the bag.
  • My cousin and I have always had a love-hate relationship.
  • This homemade ice cream is terribly good.
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Oxymoron Examples in Literature and Songs

Authors and musicians often use oxymorons as a rhetorical device. For some real-world examples of oxymorons in writing, review a few lines from literature and songs.

  • "A terrible beauty is born," - from Easter 1916 by William Butler Yeats
  • "All your perfect imperfections" - from All of Me by John Legend
  • "And faith unfaithful kept him falsely true." - from Lancelot and Elaine by Alfred Lord Tennyson
  • "I like a smuggler. He is the only honest thief." - from Essays of Elia by Charles Lamb
  • "O loving hate."- from Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare
  • "Of melancholy merriment, to quote" - from Don Juan by Lord Byron
  • "Parting is such sweet sorrow." - from Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare
  • "We're busy doin' nothin' - from Busy Doing Nothing by Bing Crosby

Oxymorons in Sayings and Quotes

There are some well-known phrases and quotations that make use of oxymorons. Seeing these oxymoron examples used in the context of sentences may provide a better idea of how and why they're used. For some of these examples, the oxymorons are linked to two phrases within the sentence rather than a single phrase.

For even more examples of oxymorons in sentences, take a look at these examples of funny oxymoron quotes.

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Purpose of Oxymorons

Why use phrases that don't seem to make logical sense? They can enhance writing and communication in a variety of ways, including by adding dramatic effect.

Dramatic Effect

Saying that a picture or a scene is "painfully beautiful" calls attention to the speaker and the object of inquiry. Such a phrase shows that an object can have two different qualities at once, making it a subject for study and analysis.

Adding Flavor to Speech

When someone says a phrase such as "clearly confused," the speaker is finding a new way to describe that individual or object.

For Entertainment

Sometimes people aren't trying to make a profound statement when they use oxymorons. Instead, they want to be witty and show they can use words to make people laugh. One example of this is when Oscar Wilde comically reflected on the fact that he "can resist anything, except temptation."

Pointedly Foolish for Literary Effect

Now you can see that oxymorons add humor or drama to speech or writing, allowing you to make a funny or pointed remark. As well as playing with oxymorons, Oscar Wilde was also a master of symbolism. He enjoyed writing things that weren't meant to be taken literally, simply pondered upon. When you're ready to graduate from oxymorons to symbolism, enjoy these examples of symbolism in literature. May they inspire you through all your writing adventures.