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An Introduction to Figures of Speech


Over the years, humans have developed language into what it is today: double meanings, melodic sentences and phrases that evoke emotion. Figures of speech are words or phrases that mean something else than its literal meaning. Here are some of the figures of speech that give color to the English language.

  1. Simile and Metaphor

The simile and metaphor are both figures of speech that are used to further explain a concept by comparing them to another object. The difference is that simile makes use of the words “like” or “as”, while metaphor does the comparison directly.

Simile: Her face was as red as a tomato.

Metaphor: Her face was a red tomato

  1. Personification

This figure of speech applies human characteristics to non-human objects, ergo person-ification.

Example: The sun smiled down on me this morning.

  1. Alliteration and Assonance

These figures of speech have to do with the sounds of English. Alliteration is the repetition of beginning sounds, often consonants. Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds. These repetitions create a rhythm.

Alliteration: The swift steady sway of the ship.

Assonance: A bright white nightlight.

  1. Anaphora

Anaphora is similar to Alliteration and assonance, except whole words are repeated, usually for emphasis.

Example: Of the people, for the people, and by the people. –Abraham Lincoln

  1. Euphemism

A euphemism is a way of softening an otherwise harsh word/phrase. The euphemism is ideally mild, indirect or vague.

Example: “Let go” instead of “fired”

  1. Irony

Irony is a figure of speech that intends to contrast what is said and what is meant.

Example: After years of fearing plane rides, Mr. Jones finally agreed to it. But just as he was relaxing into his seat, the plane started to go down.

  1. Hyperbole

A hyperbole is a term that uses exaggeration for either emphasis or effect.

Example: I’ve been waiting here for ages.

  1. Onomatopoeia

The onomatopoeia is a term which is used to describe sound.

Example: The wind went whoosh as it passed by the window.

  1. Synecdoche

A synecdoche is a part of a whole which is used to represent the whole.

Example: The use of “wheels” for “car,” or “plastic” for “credit card.”

  1. Understatement

The understatement is somewhat similar to the hyperbole. In contrast, the understatement dramatically downsizes an otherwise intense situation.

Example: “Nah, it’s just a scratch,” said John, referring to the bullet wound on his leg.




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