What are stylistic devices?
In literature and writing, a figure of speech (also called stylistic device or rhetorical device) is the use of any of a variety of techniques to give an auxiliary meaning, idea, or feeling.
Sometimes a word diverges from its normal meaning, or a phrase has a specialized meaning not based on the literal meaning of the words in it. Examples are metaphor, simile, or personification.
Stylistic devices often provide emphasis, freshness of expression, or clarity.
Here is a list of some of the most important figures of speech:
Figures of Speech - Adjunction
What is adjunctionAdjunction is a figure of speech in which a word, phrase or clause is placed at the beginning or the end of a sentence.
- Fades physical beauty with disease or age.
- Either with disease or age physical beauty fades
- High the bird flew
- The bird flew high
Stylistic devices: alliteration
What is an alliteration?Alliteration is the repetition of initial sounds in neighboring words.
Alliteration draws attention to the phrase and is often used for emphasis.The initial consonant sound is usually repeated in two neighboring words although sometimes the repetition occurs also in words that are not neighbors.
Here is an example of alliteration in a poem by Wordsworth:
- sweet smell of success,
- a dime a dozen,
- bigger and better,
- jump for joy
- share a continent but not a country
And sings a solitary song That whistles in the wind.
Remember1. Only the repetition of the same sound is valid in an alliteration not the consonants themselves.
Although they start with different consonants, they constitute perfect instances of alliteration;
- keen camarad.
- philosophy fan.
- A neat knot need not be re-knotted.
2. By contrast, if neighboring words start with the same consonant but have a different initial sound, the words are not alliterated.
Although they start with the same consonants, they are not instances of alliteration since the sounds differ.
- a cute child
- highly honored (pay attention to the ‘h’ in honored; it is silent)
Stylistic Devices - Allusion
What is an allusion?
AllusionThe act of alluding is to make indirect reference. It is a literary device, a figure of speech that quickly stimulates different ideas and associations using only a couple of words.
Allusion relies on the reader being able to understand the allusion and being familiar with the meaning hidden behind the words.
In an allusion the reference may be to a place, event, literary work, myth, or work of art, either directly or by implication.
Example:Describing someone as a "Romeo" makes an allusion to the famous young lover in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
Examples of allusion:
There are many advantages when you use an allusion:
- David was being such a scrooge!. (Scrooge" is the allusion, and it refers to Charles Dicken's novel, A Christmas Carol. Scrooge was very greedy and unkind, which David was being compared to.)
- The software included a Trojan Horse. (allusion on the Trojan horse from Greek mythology)
- to wash one’s hands of it. (allusion on Pontius Pilatus, who sentenced Jesus to death, but washed his hands afterwards to demonstrate that he was not to blame for it.)
- to be as old as Methusalem (allusion on Joseph’s grandfather, who was 969 years old according to the Old Testament)
- You don't need to explain or clarify a problem in a lengthy way.
- You make the reader become active by reflecting on the analogy.
- You make your message memorable.
Stylistic Devices - Anaphora
What is anaphora?
Anaphora is a stylistic device that consists of repeating a sequence of words at the beginnings of neighboring clauses to give them emphasis. This rhetorical device is contrasted with epiphora, also called epistrophe, which consists of repeating words at the end of clauses.
Examples of anaphoraSome examples of the literary works that use anaphora are listed below:
In time the savage bull sustains the yoke,
In time all haggard hawks will stoop to lure,
In time small wedges cleave the hardest oak,
In time the flint is pierced with softest shower.
Thomas Kyd, The Spanish Tragedy, I, vi. 3Mad world! Mad kings! Mad composition!
William Shakespeare, King John, II,What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?
William Blake, "The Tyger"Strike as I struck the foe!
Strike as I would
Have struck those tyrants!
Strike deep as my curse!
Strike!—and but once!
Byron, Marino FalieroIt was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way...
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Stylistic Devices - Antanaclasis
What is antanaclasis?
Antanaclasis is a rhetorical device in which a word is repeated and whose meaning changes in the second instance. Antanaclasis is a common type of pun.
Examples of antanaclasisSome examples of the use of antanaclasis are listed below:
1. Put out the light, then put out the light. - Shakespeare in Othello. This is said by Othello when he enters Desdemona's chamber while she sleeps, intending to murder her. The first instance of put the light out means he will quench the candle, and the second instance means he will end the life of Desdemona.
2. Your argument is sound, nothing but sound. - Benjamin Franklin.
The word sound in the first instance means solid or reasonable. The second instance of sound means empty.
3. If you aren't fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm. - The American football coach Vince Lombardi to his team.
Stylistic Devices - Anticlimax
Anticlimax (figure of speech)
Anticlimax refers to a figure of speech in which statements gradually descend in order of importance. Unlike climax, anticlimax is the arrangement of a series of words, phrases, or clauses in order of decreasing importance.
Examples of anticlimax
These are some examples of anticlimax:
1. She is a great writer, a mother and a good humorist.
2. He lost his family, his car and his cell phone.
Stylistic Devices - Antiphrasis
What is antiphrasis?
Antiphrasis is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is used to mean the opposite of its normal meaning to create ironic humorous effect. From the Greek : anti "opposite" and phrasis, "diction". The adjective form is antiphrastic.
Examples of antiphrasis
He's only a child of 50 years old.
She's so beautiful. She has an attractive long nose.
"Get in , little man," he told his fat old friend.
It is a cool 45 degrees Celsius in the shade.
Figures of Speech - Antithesis
What is antithesis?Antithesis is a figure of speech which refers to the juxtaposition of opposing or contrasting ideas. It involves the bringing out of a contrast in the ideas by an obvious contrast in the words, clauses, or sentences, within a parallel grammatical structure.
Examples:These are examples of antithesis:
- Man proposes, God disposes.
- "Love is an ideal thing, marriage a real thing." Goethe
- "We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools." Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice
- Many are called, but few are chosen.
Stylistic Devices - Apostrophe
What is apostrophe?
Apostrophe is an exclamatory rhetorical figure of speech, when a speaker or writer breaks off and directs speech to an imaginary person or abstract quality or idea.
ExamplesSome examples of apostrophe are listed below:
"O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth,2.
That I am meek and gentle with these butchers!
Thou art the ruins of the noblest man
That ever lived in the tide of times."
Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 1
"Death, be not proud, though some have called thee3.
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so."
John Donne, Holy Sonnet X
"Hello darkness, my old friend
I've come to talk with you again."
Paul Simon, The Sounds of Silence
Stylistic Devices - Assonance
Assonance is a figure of speech that is found more often in verse than in prose. It refers to the repetition of vowel sounds to create internal rhyming within phrases or sentences.
Examples of Assonance
These are some examples:
Listen to the Raven by Edgar Allan Poe
- "the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain" - The Raven By Edgar Allan Poe
- "The crumbling thunder of seas" - Robert Louis Stevenson
- "That solitude which suits abstruser musings" - The Princess VII.203 by Alfred Lord Tennyson
Stylistic Devices - Cataphora
Cataphora refers to a figure of speech where an earlier expression refers to or describes a forward expression. Cataphora is the opposite of anaphora, a reference forward as opposed to backward in the discourse.
Examples of cataphora
These are some examples:
- If you want them, there are cookies in the kitchen. (them is an instance of cataphora because it refers to cookies which hasn't been mentioned in the discourse prior to that point.)
- After he had received his orders, the soldier left the barracks. (he is also a cataphoric reference to the soldier which is mentioned later in the discourse)
Figures of Speech - Chiasmus
What is chiasmus?Chiasmus is a figure of speech in which words, grammatical constructions, or concepts are repeated in reverse order, in the same or a modified form. In other words, the clauses display inverted parallelism.
Examples:These are examples of chiasmus:
- He knowingly led and we followed blindly
- Swift as an arrow flying, fleeing like a hare afraid
- 'Bad men live that they may eat and drink,
whereas good men eat and drink that they may live.'
Socrates (fifth century B.C.)
Stylistic Devices - Climax
Climax (figure of speech)
Climax refers to a figure of speech in which words, phrases, or clauses are arranged in order of increasing importance.
Examples of climax
These are some examples:
Beauty is but a vain and doubtful good;2.
A shining gloss that vadeth suddenly;
A flower that dies when first it gins to bud;
A brittle glass that's broken presently:
A doubtful good, a gloss, a glass, a flower,
Lost, vaded, broken, dead within an hour.
Shakespear, The Passionate Pilgrim
"There are three things that will endure: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love."3.
1 Corinthians 13:13
This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Martin Luther King, I Have a Dream
Figures of Speech - Dysphemism
What is Dysphemism?Dysphemism is the use of a harsh, more offensive word instead of one considered less harsh. Dysphemism is often contrasted with euphemism. Dysphemisms are generally used to shock or offend.
Examples:These are examples of dysphemism:
- Snail mail for postal mail,
- Cancer stick in reference to a cigarette.
- Egghead for genius.
- Worm food for dead.
- Pig for policeman.
- Bullshit for lies.
- Dead tree edition for the paper version of a publication that can be found online
- Fag for homosexual man.
Stylistic Devices - Ellipsis
What is ellipsis?
Ellipsis (or elliptical construction ) is the omission of a word or words. It refers to constructions in which words are left out of a sentence but the sentence can still be understood.
Ellipsis helps us avoid a lot of redundancy. In fact there is a lot of redundancy in language and it can be surprising how much can be left out without losing much meaning, particularly when there are contextual clues as to the real meaning.
ExamplesSome examples of ellipsis are listed below:
The words between parentheses can be omitted and the sentences can still be meaningful.
- Lacy can do something about the problem, but I don’t know what (she can do.)
- She can help with the housework; Nancy can (help with the housework), too.
- John can speak seven languages, but Ron can speak only two (languages.)
Figures of Speech - Euphemism
What is euphemism?Euphemism is used to express a mild, indirect, or vague term to substitute for a harsh, blunt, or offensive term. Euphemism is often contrasted with dysphemism. Some euphemisms intend to amuse, while others intend to give positive appearances to negative events or even mislead entirely.
Examples:These are examples of euphemism:
- Going to the other side for death,
- Do it or come together in reference to a sexual act.
- Passed away for die.
- On the streets for homeless.
- Adult entertainment for pornography.
- Comfort woman for prostitute
- Between jobs for unemployed.
Stylistic Devices - Epigram
What is an epigram?
An epigram refers to a concise, witty, memorable, and sometimes surprising or satirical statement. The origin of the word epigram is Greek, from epigraphein (epi- + graphein to write)
ExamplesSome examples of epigram are listed below:
- The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws."
- "I am not young enough to know everything."
- "Arguments are to be avoided; they are always vulgar and often convincing."
- "I can resist everything but temptation." - Oscar Wilde
- "Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put and end to mankind." - John F. Kennedy
- "No one is completely unhappy at the failure of his best friend."
Stylistic Devices - Epiphora (Epistrophe)
What is epiphora?
Epiphora (also called epistrophe) is a rhetorical device that consists of repeating a sequence of words at the end of neighboring clauses to give them emphasis. This stylistic device is contrasted with anaphora which consists of repeating words at the beginning of clauses.
Examples of anaphoraSome examples of epiphora are listed below:
1. There is no Negro problem. There is no Southern problem. There is no Northern problem. There is only an American problem.
Lyndon B. Johnson in We Shall Overcome2. ... this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Abraham Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address
Stylistic Devices - Hyperbole
What is hyperbole?Hyperbole is the use of exaggeration as a rhetorical device or figure of speech. It may be used to evoke strong feelings or to create a strong impression, but is not meant to be taken literally. Hyperboles are exaggerations to create emphasis or effect.
ExamplesExamples of hyperbole include:
- The bag weighed a ton.
- I was so hungry; I could eat a horse!
- She's older than the hills.
- I could sleep for a year; I was so tired.
- He's filthy rich. He's got tons of money.
- I've told you a million times to help with the housework.
Stylistic Devices - Irony
What is irony?
Irony is a figure of speech in which there is a contradiction of expectation between what is said what is really meant. It is characterized by an incongruity, a contrast, between reality and appearance. There are three types of irony: verbal, dramatic and situational.
Types of irony
- Verbal irony:
It is a contrast between what is said and what is meant
- Dramatic irony:
It occurs when the audience or the reader knows more than the character about events. In other words, what the character thinks is true is incongruous with what the audience knows.
- Situational irony:
This refers to the contrast between the actual result of a situation and what was intended or expected to happen.
Examples of irony
- His argument was as clear as mud.
- The two identical twins were arguing. One of them told the other: "You're ugly"
- The thieves robbed the police station.
Stylistic Devices - Lilotes
What is lilotes?
Lilotes is a figure of speech consisting of an understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by negating its opposite. For example, instead of saying that someone is mean, you can say he is not very generous.
Examples of lilotes
He's not a very generous man.
She is not very beautiful.
He is not the friendliest person I 've met.
Don't be too wicked.
It won't be an easy trip
He is not unaware of his wife's foolishness.
Figures of Speech - Oxymoron
What is oxymoron?An oxymoron is a figure of speech that combines incongruous or contradictory terms. The plural is oxymorons or oxymora.
Examples:An oximoron can be made of an adjective and a noun:
- Dark light
- Deafening silence
- Living dead
- Open secret
- Virtual reality
- The silence whistles
Stylistic Devices - Personification
What is Personification?Personification is a figure of speech in which human characteristics are attributed to an abstract quality, animal, or inanimate object.
ExamplesNotice the use of personification in William Blake's poem below:
Two Sunflowers Move in the Yellow Room.
"Ah, William, we're weary of weather,"
said the sunflowers, shining with dew.
"Our traveling habits have tired us.
Can you give us a room with a view?"
They arranged themselves at the window
and counted the steps of the sun,
and they both took root in the carpet
where the topaz tortoises run.
Figures of Speech - Puns
What are puns?A pun, also called paronomasia, involves a word play which suggests two or more meanings, by exploiting multiple meanings of words, or of similar-sounding words, for an intended humorous or rhetorical effect. Puns are constructions used in jokes and idioms whose usage and meaning are entirely local to a particular language and its culture. To be understood, puns require a large vocabulary.
Examples:These are examples of puns:
- "Atheism is a non-prophet institution"
The word "prophet" is put in place of its homophone "profit", altering the common phrase "non-profit institution".
- "Question: Why do we still have troops in Germany?
Answer: To keep the Russians in Czech" - Joke.
This joke relies on the aural ambiguity of the homophones "check" and "Czech"
- "You can tune a guitar, but you can't tuna fish. Unless of course, you play bass." - Douglas Adams
The phrase uses the homophonic qualities of "tune a" and "tuna", as well as the homographic pun on "bass", in which ambiguity is reached through the identical spellings but different pronunciation of "bass": /'be?s/ (a string instrument), and /'bæs/ (a kind of fish).
Figures of Speech - Merism
What is merism?Merism is a figure of speech by which something is referred to by a conventional phrase that enumerates several of its constituents or traits.
Examples of merism:Hook, line, and sinker. (To swallow something hook, line, and sinker means to swallow it completely.)
High and low. (To search high and low means to look for something everywhere)
Lock, stock, and barrel. (Referring to the different parts of a gun. As a mersim, it refers to the whole of any object)
Flesh and bone. (Referring to the body).
Search every nook and cranny. (Search everywhere).
Sun, sea and sand. (Referring to a holiday destination).
Young and old. (Describing all the population.)
Figures of Speech - Metalepsis
What is metalepsis?Metalepsis is a figure of speech in which reference is made to something by means of another thing that is remotely related to it, either through a causal relationship, or through another figure of speech.
Examples of metalepsis1.
Was this the face that launched a thousand ships
and burnt the topless towers of Ilium?
- Chistopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus
A reference to the mythological figure Helen of Troy (or some would say, to Aphrodite). Her abduction by Paris was said to be the reason for a fleet of a thousand ships to be launched into battle, initiating the Trojan Wars.
I've got to catch the worm tomorrow.
"The early bird catches the worm" is a common maxim, advocating getting an early start on the day to achieve success. The subject, by referring to this maxim, is compared to the bird; tomorrow, the speaker will awaken early in order to achieve success.
A lead foot is driving behind me.
This refers to someone who drives fast. This metalepsis is achieved only through a cause and effect relationship. Lead is heavy and a heavy foot would press the accelerator, and this would cause the car to speed.
He experienced a pallid death.
While death has the effect of making the body look pale, describing death itself with the adjective pallid created a metaleptic expression.
Stylistic Devices - Metaphor
What is a metaphor?
Unlike simile, metaphor (from the Greek language: meaning "transfer") is language that directly compares seemingly unrelated subjects. It is a figure of speech that compares two or more things not using like or as. In the simplest case, this takes the form:
X - is - Y
Examples of metaphor:All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
(William Shakespeare, As You Like It, 2/7)
Figures of Speech - Metonymy
What is metonymy?Metonymy is a figure of speech in which a thing or concept is not called by its own name, but by the name of something intimately associated with that thing or concept.
Examples:Here are some examples of metonymy:
- Crown. (For the power of a king.)
- The White House. (Referring to the American administration.)
- Dish. (To refer an entire plate of food.)
- The Pentagon. (For the Department of Defense and the offices of the U.S. Armed Forces.)
- Pen. (For the written word.)
- Sword - (For military force.)
- Hollywood. (For US Cinema.)
- Hand. (For help.)
"The pen is mightier than the sword."
Stylistic devices: simile
What is a simile?A simile is a figure of speech comparing two unlike things, often introduced with the word "like" or "as". It takes the form of:
- X is (not) like Y
- X is (not) as Y
- X is (not) similar to Y
Examples of simile:
- He fights like a lion.
- He swims as fast as a fish.
- He slithers like a snake.
- "My dad was a mechanic by trade when he was in the Army, When he got the tools out, he was like a surgeon."
Stylistic devices: Synecdoche
What is a synecdoche?Synecdoche is a figure of speech in which a part of something is used to represent the whole or the whole of something is used to represent part of it. It is considered to be a special kind of metonymy.
Types and examples of synecdoche
- Part of something is used to refer to the whole thing -
A hundred head of cattle (using the part head to refer to the whole animal)
- The whole of a thing is used to represent part of it -
The world treated him badly (using the world to refer to part of the world)
- A specific class of thing is used to refer to a larger, more general class -
A bug (used to refer to any kind of insect or arachnid, even if it is not a true bug)
- A general class of thing is used to refer to a smaller, more specific class -
The good book (referring to the Bible or the Qur'an)
- A material is used to refer to an object composed of that material -
Glasses or steel ( referring to spectacles or sword)
- A container is used to refer to its contents -
A barrel (referring to a barrel of oil)
Stylistic devices: Tautology
What is tautology?Tautology is a statement that says the same thing twice in different ways, or a statement that is unconditionally true by the way it is phrased.
Examples of tautology
- 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.
- My first priority is to buy food the children.
- Socrates is either mortal or he's not.