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7 Common Figures of Speech

Updated on March 5, 2020
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Darius is a 5th year college student studying BS Information and Communications Tech. and a former high school feature and literary writer.

A text bubble that also means someone is saying something. Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash
A text bubble that also means someone is saying something. Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash | Source

What is a Figure of Speech?

A figure of speech is when a literal phrase or sentence means another, depending on how they are used, delivered, and received

"Figure" is a Latin word and Old French word that means senses of a distinctive shape of a person or thing, the representation of something material or immaterial, any numerical symbol, and among others.

"Speech" was coined from another old English word of West Germanic origins. This basically means to express one's thought or expression by articulating sounds or by saying messages to his or her potential receivers.

Often, figures of speech are used mostly in literary works by known, and even forgotten, English writers in their stories, books, and songs. But it's also present in a day-to-day conversation between two or more people, ancient or modern. If you haven't heard of or learned it yet, you'll be a little shocked when you suddenly discover that you have been using some of them yourself.

Idioms Versus Figures of Speech

An idiom is an expression that conveys something different from its literal meaning, and that cannot be guessed from the meanings of its individual words.

A figure of speech is a phrase or an expression that expresses an idea by using words in a nonliteral and imaginative way. Unlike an idiom, it is possible to understand a figure of speech even if you have never heard it before.

A photo of an adult smiling yellow Labrador. Photo by Jonathan Daniels via Unsplash.
A photo of an adult smiling yellow Labrador. Photo by Jonathan Daniels via Unsplash. | Source

1. Simile

A simile is an expression that uses the helping words like or as to describe something by comparing it with something else. Similes are commonly used in the New Testament to describe the unseen or unknowable by relating it to something familiar to the reader. Oh, and by the way, it's pronounced as "si-muh-lee."

Examples:

  1. He is as funny as a barrel of monkeys.
  2. This house is as clean as a whistle.
  3. He is as strong as an ox.

A heavy downpour.
A heavy downpour. | Source

2. Metaphor

A metaphor is a word or phrase typically used to describe one thing but unexpectedly used to describe something different orc an implicit comparison (i.e. saying something "is" something else). Metaphors make language interesting and help create imagery.

Examples:

  1. Her tears were a river flowing down her cheeks.
  2. It's been raining cats and dogs outside.
  3. The ballerina was a swan, gliding across the stage.

Similes Versus Metaphors

These figures of speech function the same: the comparison of two dissimilar things. One way to distinguish if a phrase or expression is whether a simile or a metaphor is by analyzing the phrase or expression. Helping words, such as "like" and "as," will commonly appear in similes while there will be none in metaphors

Simile to Metaphor and Metaphor to Simile

Let's say, for example, the expression "life is like a journey." It's an incomplete thought, but still understandable and requires further additional information from a writer or speaker. Remove the helping word "like" and the expression is easily transformed into a metaphor. Hence, "life is a journey." Retaining its incomplete thought, yet similar trait with the simile expression.

This also works when a given metaphor is transformed into a simile by adding helping words. Let's have "Her hair is white snow." By adding "as" between the expressions, it is turned into "Her hair is as white as snow." Both expressions still retain their "identity" even if they're transformed into a simile or metaphor.

A herd or dairy cattles grazing on the field. Photo by Leon Ephraïm on Unsplash
A herd or dairy cattles grazing on the field. Photo by Leon Ephraïm on Unsplash | Source

3. Hyperbole

Hyperbole, from a Greek word meaning "excess," is a figure of speech that uses extreme exaggeration to make a point or show emphasis and must not be taken too literally.

Examples:

  1. I'm so hungry I could eat a herd of cows.
  2. Haven't I told a million times already?
  3. Class, please lend me all of your ears.

Three seashells on a sand by the seashore. Photo by Stephan H. on Unsplash
Three seashells on a sand by the seashore. Photo by Stephan H. on Unsplash | Source

4. Alliteration

Alliteration is the occurrence of the same letter or sound at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words. These most commonly exist in tongue twisters.

Examples:

  1. Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
  2. She sells seashells by the seashore.
  3. William wanted warmer weather on Wednesday.

A raging thunderstorm.
A raging thunderstorm. | Source

5. Onomatopoeia

Onomatopœia is the process of creating a word that phonetically imitates, resembles, or suggests the sound that it describes. Although in the English language the term onomatopoeia means "the imitation of a sound," the compound word onomatopoeia in the Greek language means "making or creating names" while the Greek word "echomimetic" is used for words that mimic sounds. It's pronounced as "on-no-ma-to-pee-uh."

Examples:

  1. We roasted marshmallows over the crackling fire.
  2. A loud boom from the thunderstorm scared my sister.
  3. I love the sound of bacon sizzling on a weekend.

Looking above the beautiful trees on a sunny day. Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash.
Looking above the beautiful trees on a sunny day. Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash. | Source

6. Personification

Personification is a figure of speech where human qualities are given to non-living objects. In the arts, personification means representing a non-human thing as if it were human. Personification gives human traits and qualities, such as emotions, desires, sensations, gestures and speech, often by way of a metaphor.

Examples:

  1. It was so windy that the trees were waving.
  2. The wind whispered through dry grass.
  3. The flowers danced in the gentle breeze.

An iron, a teal t-shirt, and an iron board. Photo by Filip Mroz on Unsplash
An iron, a teal t-shirt, and an iron board. Photo by Filip Mroz on Unsplash | Source

7. Irony

Irony are used in such a way that their intended meaning is different from the actual meaning of the words. It may also be a situation that ends up in quite a different way than what is generally anticipated. In simple words, it is a difference between appearance and reality.

Examples:

  1. A fire station burns down.
  2. A marriage counselor files for divorce.
  3. The police station gets robbed.

Irony VS Sarcasm VS Satire

Reserve irony for situations where there's a gap between reality and expectations, especially when such a gap is created for dramatic or humorous effect.

Irony employed in the service of mocking or attacking someone is sarcasm.

Satire is the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices.

Assorted figures of toys and figures. Photo by Hannah Rodrigo on Unsplash
Assorted figures of toys and figures. Photo by Hannah Rodrigo on Unsplash | Source

Other Figures of Speech

  1. Oxymoron

    When contradictory terms appear in one expression.

  2. Euphemism

    A substitution for one offensive term for one considered exclusively explicit.

  3. Anaphora

    The repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses or verses.

  4. Metonymy

    When a word or phrase is substituted with another closely associated with it.

  5. Antithesis

    The juxtaposition of contrasting ideas in balanced phrases.

  6. Apostrophe

    When an inanimate or nonliving object is addressed as a living person.

  7. Assonance

    Similarity of sound in internal vowels in neighboring words.

  8. Chiasmus

    The verbal pattern of the second half of an expression is balanced against the first expression, but with their parts in reverse.

  9. Paradox

    A statement that appears to contradict itself.

  10. Understatement

    When a writer or speaker expresses something of less importance.

  11. Pun

    A play of words that's sometimes in a similar or different sense of the expression or the word.

  12. Synecdoche

    When a part is representing a whole.

  13. Litotes

    An understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by negating its opposite.

© 2019 Darius Razzle Paciente

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