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Figures of Speech: Metonymy vs. Synecdoche

Updated on October 19, 2011

English language figures of speech

The English language includes many figures of speech. Using figures of speech can help a writer to better convey his message to readers, and figures of speech generally make writing more colorful and interesting. In the English language, figures of speech can be classified into two types: schemes and tropes. Schemes change the traditional pattern of words, as in the use of alliteration: The serpent slithered on the shifting sands. In addition to alliteration, some other examples of schemes include anastrophe, apostrophe, hyperbole, parallelism, pun, and spoonerism. Tropes include allegory, allusion, innuendo, irony, metaphor, oxymoron, onomatopoeia, metonymy, and synecdoche. These last two figures of speech are what I’ll be discussing here.

Many people often get metonymy and synecdoche confused. Actually, some people consider synecdoche to be a form of metonymy, but I learned that they were two distinct figures of speech when I was studying the English language in college. Here are the definitions of metonymy and synecdoche:

Metonymy – a figure of speech that uses something closely associated with a person, thing, or concept to represent that person, thing, or concept

Synecdoche – a figure of speech in which a part stands for the whole, a material stands for a thing, or an individual stands for a class

The way I learned to differentiate between these two figures of speech was to think of the “nec” (neck) in synecdoche as a person’s neck, a body part. Below are some examples of both types of these figures of speech.

Metonymy examples

The White House issued a statement after the speech.

There’s a lot of anger directed at Wall Street these days.

The bank approved my home equity loan.

The Vatican has been mute on the issue.

According to gossip on the Hill, the president is ill.

Washington is often considered corrupt and ineffectual.

Detroit is making more fuel-efficient automobiles.

The soldiers looked to the crown for guidance.

In the Middle Ages, the Church controlled most of the crowned heads of Europe.

Hollywood is cranking out a lot of new films this year.

Synecdoche examples

Could you give me a hand, please?

We need every available hand to clean up the mess.

We need to count heads on the bus before we leave.

My uncle runs 200 head on his horse ranch in Montana.

He won my heart with his kindness.

I’m saving up to buy a new set of wheels.

I never want to see his face again.

Get your nose out of my business.

I don’t have the stomach to work in a slaughterhouse.

He had the senator’s ear.

I tried hard to catch his eye at the party.

My uncle runs 200 head on his horse ranch - an example of synecdoche.
My uncle runs 200 head on his horse ranch - an example of synecdoche.


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    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      8 years ago from Georgia

      Nellie, good for you for even remembering them! Most people don't. lol

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      8 years ago from Georgia

      random, I wouldn't have known much about them, either, if I hadn't been an English major! lol

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 

      8 years ago from TEXAS

      Habee, I had to study them in college too, but English wasn't my major, as I believe it was yours; so apparently if the courses I took covered all the figures of speech, which they probably did, I just picked up on some of them to remember, such as - even - onomatopoeia! haha. So thank you for the much needed refresher course! Keep'em coming!

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 

      8 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Like several others here, I'm fascinated by many aspects of language. These aren't concepts that I am very familiar with, though. Thanks for the great examples!

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      8 years ago from Georgia

      Many thanks, Robin! I'm sure there will be more hubs about the ins and outs of English language!

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      8 years ago from Georgia

      True, Mary. I guess it's just the English language nerds (like me!) who are fascinated by stuff like figures of speech. lol

    • Robin profile image

      Robin Edmondson 

      8 years ago from San Francisco

      A girl after my own heart! I think I'm seeing a theme here, Habee! English teachers have a lot to offer the world; I hope you write more!

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 

      8 years ago from Florida

      Whenever I read one of your Hubs, I learn something new! People use these figures of speedch every day, and think nothing of it (me, included). Once again, thanks.

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      8 years ago from Georgia

      Hi, Nellie! I think most of us native English speakers just take these figures of speech for granted. I did - until I had to study them in college. lol

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      8 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks, kerlyn! I never knew that the English language wasn't native to you.

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 

      8 years ago from TEXAS

      My, my - these two figures of speech are so second-nature, I hardly realized that they are, indeed, figures of speech. I bow to your expertise, Habee! Thank you for this!

    • kerlynb profile image


      8 years ago from Philippines, Southeast Asia, Earth ^_^

      I'm a non-native English speaker so these kinds of mini-lessons in hubs just make me learn more about the English language. Voted useful!


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