Figure of Speech Examples

A figure of speech is a word or phrase that possesses a separate meaning from its literal definition. It can be a metaphor or simile, designed to make a comparison. It can be the repetition of alliteration or the exaggeration of hyperbole to provide a dramatic effect.

In truth, there are a wealth of these literary tools in the English language. But, let's start out by exploring some of the most common figure of speech examples.

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Figures of Speech

Figures of speech lend themselves particularly well to literature and poetry. They also pack a punch in speeches and movie lines. Indeed, these tools abound in nearly every corner of life. Let's start with one of the more lyrical devices, alliteration.

Alliteration

Alliteration is the repetition of the beginning sounds of neighboring words.

Examples include:

  • She sells seashells.
  • Walter wondered where Winnie was.
  • Blue baby bonnets bobbed through the bayou.
  • Nick needed new notebooks.
  • Fred fried frogs' legs on Friday.

Anaphora

Anaphora is a technique where several phrases or verses begin with the same word or words.

Examples include:

  • 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

Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds (not just letters) in words that are close together. The sounds don't have to be at the beginning of the word.

Examples include:

  • 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 - Oh hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn. (Wordsworth)
  • U - Uncertain rustling of each purple curtain (Poe)
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Euphemism

Euphemism is a mild, indirect, or vague term that often substitutes a harsh, blunt, or offensive term.

Examples include:

  • 'A little thin on top' instead of 'going bald.'
  • 'Fell of the back of a truck' instead of 'stolen.'
  • 'Letting you go' instead of 'firing you.'
  • 'Passed away' instead of 'died.'
  • 'Economical with the truth' instead of 'liar.'

Hyperbole

Hyperbole uses exaggeration for emphasis or effect.

Examples include:

  • I've told you to stop a thousand times.
  • That must have cost a billion dollars.
  • I could do this forever.
  • She's older than dirt.
  • Everybody knows that.

Irony

Irony occurs when there's a marked contrast between what is said and what is meant, or between appearance and reality.

Examples include:

  • "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 tiny Chihuahua Brutus. (Verbal irony)
  • When the audience knows the killer is hiding in a closet in a scary movie, but the actors do not. (Dramatic irony)

Metaphor

A metaphor makes a comparison between two unlike things or ideas.

Examples include:

  • Heart of stone
  • Time is money
  • The world is a stage
  • She's a night owl
  • He's an ogre

Onomatopoeia

Onomatopoeia is the term for a word that sounds like what it is describing.

Examples include:

  • Whoosh
  • Splat
  • Buzz
  • Click
  • Oink
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Oxymoron

An oxymoron is two contradictory terms used together.

Examples include:

  • Peace force
  • Kosher ham
  • Jumbo shrimp
  • Sweet sorrow
  • Free market

Personification

Personification gives human qualities to non-living things or ideas.

Examples include:

  • The flowers nodded.
  • The snowflakes danced.
  • The thunder grumbled.
  • The fog crept in.
  • The wind howled.

Simile

A simile is a comparison between two unlike things using the words "like" or "as."

Examples include:

  • 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

Synecdoche occurs when a part is represented by the whole or, conversely, the whole is represented by the part.

Examples include:

  • Wheels - a car
  • The police - one policeman
  • Plastic - credit cards
  • Coke - any cola drink
  • Hired hands - workers

Understatement

An understatement occurs when something is said to make something appear less important or less serious.

Examples include:

  • 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 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.

Give Your Writing Some Style

Perhaps this sampling of figures of speech will offer a nice springboard for you to sprinkle a variety of stylistic and rhetorical devices into your writing.

The goal is to be able to express yourself in the more creative, interesting, and eye-catching manner.

Since poetry married figurative language a long time ago, take a look at these Examples of Lyric Poetry and see how many figures of speech you can spot!