Figures of Speech in the English Language
Figures of speech in the English Language are words or phrases defined as literary devices used to enhance the quality of language, written or spoken. Generally, these figures of speech are used in the language to give a specialized meaning not based on the literal meaning of the words. In the English language, there are a host of these literary tools but we find here the most important and common figures of speech.
Here is a list of the most important and common Figures of Speech in the English Language
Alliteration is a figure of speech which describes the repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of the neighbouring words or, sometimes, at a stressed syllable within a word.
- She sells seashells by the seashore. (repetition of ‘s’ sound)
- Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. (repetition of ‘p’ sound)
- When wasteful War. (repetition of ‘w’ sound)
- The furrow followed free. (repetition of ‘f’ sound)
- Unswept stone besmeared with sluttish time. (repetition of ‘s’ and ‘t’ sounds)
- Neither stones nor prayers, nor sticks. (repetition of ‘n’, ‘s’ sounds)
- Nick’s nephew needed some new notebooks.
- Peter’s piglet pranced priggishly.
- Quincy’s quilters quit quilting quickly.
- Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer rose rapidly into the air.
- Seven sisters slept soundly on the sand.
- Tim took tons of tools to make toys for the tots.
- The lone and level sands stretch far away
- Survive, stamped on
- Down dropped the breeze
The sails dropped down
Boundless and base
Examples with the names and phrases:
- Peter Parker
- Ronald Reagan
- Ryan Reynolds
- Sammy Sosa
- William Wordsworth
- Busy as a bee
- Dead as a doornail
- Get your goat
- Give up the ghost
- Good as gold
- Home sweet home
- Last laugh
- Leave in the lurch
An allusion is a figure of speech in English Language that makes a direct or indirect reference to people, places, events, literary works, myths, and work of art.
- In the poem ‘The Frog And The Nightingale’, the poet gives the reference of the famous musician, Mozart.
- In the poem ‘Snake’, the poet gives the reference to the albatross in the ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’.
- “Don’t act like a Romeo in front of her.” – “Romeo” is a reference to Shakespeare’s Romeo, a passionate lover of Juliet, in “Romeo and Juliet”.
Antithesis is a figure of speech that tells us about two opposing or contrasting ideas put together in a sentence.
- Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice.
- Man proposes God disposes.
- To err is human, to forgive divine.
- Love is an ideal thing, marriage a real thing.
- Speech is silver, but silence is gold.
- Many are called, but few are chosen.
- Money is the root of all evil: poverty is the fruit of all goodness.
- You are easy on the eyes but hard on the heart.
Euphemism is a literary device used to replace harsh, blunt or unpleasant words or expressions with polite or pleasant expressions.
instead of died
- Passed away
- Bit the dust
- Bought the farm
- Going to the other side
- Dearly departed
- Bite the big one
- Kicked the bucket (for bad people)
- Put to sleep (instead of euthanizing)
- Pregnancy termination (instead of abortion)
- Whacked instead of killed
- Wearing cement shoes instead of killed
- On the streets (instead of homeless)
- Adult entertainment (instead of pornography)
- Comfort woman (instead of a prostitute)
- Between jobs (instead of unemployed)
Hyperbole is a figure of speech used to exaggerate a point extremely or to show emphasis. It is generally used for humour and may not be taken literally.
- He will die if she asks him to dance.
- My friend is as big as an elephant!
- They have told you a million times not to do such things
- The bag weighed a ton.
- She was so hungry; she could eat a horse!
- She is older than the hills.
The irony is a figure of speech in the English Language in which words are used to express something different from and often opposite to their literal meaning. It is the difference between how things seem to be and reality. There are three types of irony: verbal, dramatic and situational.
Verbal Irony involves when a speaker says one thing, but means another. It is a contrast between what is said and what is meant.
Example: When you say, “What a great idea!” for a foolish idea
The actual happening is opposite to what a character expects.
Example: Bill Gates winning a computer
The writer creates a character that will act or speak as his mouthpiece and would be directly contrasting with the truth. (Based on miscommunication and misunderstanding.)
Example: In Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet, when Juliet is drugged, Romeo assumes her to be dead, and kills himself. Upon waking up Juliet finds him dead and kills herself.
Some common examples:
- Two identical twins fight each other and one of them says: “You are ugly”
- The name of Britain’s biggest dog was “Tiny.”
- Oh great! Now you have damaged my bike.
- He is as kind-hearted as a wolf.
- Your hand was as soft as a rock.
- The student was given ‘excellent’ on getting zero in the exam.
- She parked her vehicle right in front of the no-parking sign.
- The CEO of a big tobacco company said he did not smoke.
- The thieves robbed the police station.
The word metaphor is derived from the Greek language meaning “transfer”. It is a figure of speech that compares two or more different things or ideas without using the words ‘like or as’. It is an advanced Simile.
- War is the mother of all battles.
- Her dance is a great poem.
- Laughter is the best medicine.
- Words are daggers when spoken in anger.
- His words are pearls of wisdom.
(In William Shakespeare, As You Like It, 2/7)
- All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
Onomatopoeia is the representation of a sound by an imitation. Poets often convey the meaning of a verse through its very sound.
The word ‘onomatopoeia’ comes from the combination of two Greek words, onoma and poiein which mean “name” and “to make,” respectively. It literally means to make a name (or sound).
Onomatopoeia words may be nouns as well as verbs. For example, ‘slap may be the sound (noun) or it may be an action (verb).
- It cracked and growled, it roared and (The Rime of the Ancient Marine)
- The gushing stream flows in the forest.
- The buzzing bee flew away.
- The sack fell into the river with a splash.
- The books fell on the table with a loud
- The rustling leaves kept me awake.
Oxymoron is a figure of speech in the English Language in which two contradictory ideas or words are put together. Basically, it is used to focus on the apparent contradictions and adds smoothness and crispness to the style of writing.
- Clearly confused
- Pretty ugly
- Deafening silence
- Living dead
- Only choice
- Small crowd
- Run slowly
- Open secret
- Short wait
- Quiet presence
- True myth
Some sentences by famous people using Oxymorons:
- A joke is actually an extremely serious issue. – Winston Churchill
- I can believe anything, provided that it is quite incredible. – Oscar Wilde
- A business that makes nothing but money, is a poor business. – Honey Ford
Personification is a figure of speech in which non-human or inanimate objects are described in such a way that they have the ability to act like human beings.
- Out of the sea came he. (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner)
(Here, the sun is personified as a man.)
- He struck with his overtaking wing (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner)
(Here, the storm is personified as a man.)
- I am important to her (Mirror)
(Here, Mirror has been assumed to be a person.)
- The flowers waltzed in the gentle breeze.
- The window panes were talking as the raindrops fell on them.
- The popcorn jumped out of the packet.
- The stars danced playfully in the moonlit sky.
- The thunder grumbled like an old man.
- The ocean danced in the moonlight.
A pun makes a play on words. It is also called paronomasia. It uses words that have several meanings or words that sound similar but have different meanings. Pun may be used to create a comic, serious, or ironic effect.
Perhaps no other writer is better known for pun than William Shakespeare.
- “Not I, believe me. You have dancing shoes with nimble soles; I have a soul of lead” (Romeo and Juliet).
- At one point, Romeo asks for a torch, saying, “being heavy (sad), I will bear the light.”
- An elephant’s opinion carries a lot of weight.
- Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana
Repetition is a figure of speech in which the same words or phrases are repeated a few times and stress on some topics, words, etc., In repetition, single words, phrases, lines, and sometimes, even whole stanzas are repeated to create a musical effect and also to make an idea clearer and more memorable.
In the poem ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’
- The repetition of the ‘glittering eye’ or ‘bright eye’ stressed the hypnotic looks of the Ancient Mariner.
- ‘Water water everywhere’ is repeated to emphasize the fact that although water is available, there is not a drop of water to drink.
- ‘Day after day, day after day’ is repeated to convey the duration of time as the ship got stuck in the ocean.
A simile is a figure of speech which is used to compare the similarities between two different things. In Simile we use the words ‘like’ or ‘as’.
- My friend fights like a Bruce Lee.
- She swims as fast as a fish.
- Our soldiers are as brave as lions.
- Her cheeks have become red like a rose.
- This old man is as funny as a monkey.
- This fellow is as cunning as a fox.
- As idle as a painted ship (line 117). (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner)
- He lifted his head from his drinking, as cattle do. (In the poem Snake)
- I wandered lonely as a cloud that floats on high o’er vales and hills. (Daffodils)
|Comparison is made with words ‘like’ or its equivalent.
| No use of the words ‘like’ or its equivalent
The word Synecdoche is derived from the Greek meaning “shared understanding”. It is a figure of speech in which a part is made to represent the whole and sometimes, the whole is used to signify a part.
For Example, England lost by three wickets
Different forms of Synecdoche:
A Part to Represent a Whole
- The phrase “hired hands” refers to workers.
- The word “head” refers to counting cattle or people.
- The word “bread” refers to food in general or money
A Whole to Represent a Part
- The word “society” refers to a specific sector of society.
- The word “police” refers to one or several officers.
A Specific Class to Represent a Whole
- The term “coke” generally refers to all carbonated drinks.
Material Representing an Object
- The word “plastic” commonly refers to credit cards.
- The word “woods” sometimes refers to a forest-like setting.
The word tautology is derived from the Greek words ‘tauto’, and ‘logos’ which means ‘same’, and ‘word or idea.’ respectively. Tautology is a statement that refers to the same sense in different words. It is a superfluous repetition to give the impression that the writer is providing extra information.
- You can observe a lot by watching.
- I am my father’s son.
- Forward planning.
- It’s a free gift.
- The mobile phone is a new innovation.
- In my point of view, it is completely useless.
- These are necessary essentials.
- In my opinion, I think…,
- The students gathered in a round circle.