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Language: Linguistics · Semiotics · Speech

Main article: Figurative languge

A figure of speech, sometimes termed a rhetoric, or locution, is a word or phrase that departs from straightforward, literal language. Figures of speech are often used and crafted for emphasis, freshness of expression, or clarity. However, clarity may also suffer from their use. Note that all theories of meaning necessarily have a concept of "literal language" (see literal and figurative language). Under theories that do not, figure of speech is not an entirely coherent concept.

As an example of the figurative use of a word, consider the sentence, I am going to crown you. It may mean:

  • I am going to place a literal crown on your head.
  • I am going to symbolically exalt you to the place of kingship.
  • I am going to put a second checker piece on top of your checker piece to signify that it has become a king (as in the game of checkers).
  • I am going to punch you in the head with my clenched fist.

Scholars of classical Western rhetoric have divided figures of speech into two main categories: schemes and tropes. Schemes (from the Greek schēma, form or shape) are figures of speech in which there is a deviation from the ordinary or expected pattern of words. For example, the phrase, "John, my best friend" uses the scheme known as apposition. Tropes (from the Greek tropein, to turn) involve changing or modifying the general meaning of a term. An example of a trope is the use of irony, which is the use of words in a way that conveys a meaning opposite to its usual meaning ("For Brutus is an honorable man; / So are they all, all honorable men").

During the Renaissance, a time when scholars in every discipline had a passion for classifying all things, writers expended a great deal of energy in devising all manner of classes and sub-classes of figures of speech. Henry Peacham, for example, in his The Garden of Eloquence (1577) enumerated 184 different figures of speech:

"For the sake of simplicity, this article divides the figures between schemes and tropes, but does not attempt further sub-classification (e.g., "Figures of Disorder"). Within each category, words are listed alphabetically. Each figure links to a page that provides greater detail and relevant examples, but a short definition is placed here for convenience. Some of those listed may be considered rhetorical devices, which are similar in many ways."


Main article: Scheme (linguistics)
  • accumulation: Summarization of previous arguments in a forceful manner.
  • adnominatio: Repetition of a word with a change in letter or sound
  • alliteration: A series of words that begin with the same letter or sound alike
  • anacoluthon: A change in the syntax within a sentence
  • anadiplosis: Repetition of a word at the end of a clause at the beginning of another
  • anaphora: The repetition of the same word or group of words at the beginning of successive clauses
  • anastrophe: Inversion of the usual word order
  • anticlimax: the arrangement of words in order of decreasing importance
  • antimetabole: Repetition of words in successive clauses, in reverse order
  • antistrophe: The repetition of the same word or phrase at the end of successive clauses (see epistrophe)
  • antithesis: The juxtaposition of opposing or contrasting ideas
  • aphorismus: statement that calls into question the definition of a word
  • aposiopesis: Breaking off or pausing speech for dramatic or emotional effect
  • apostrophe: Directing the attention away from the audience and to a personified abstraction
  • apposition: The placing of two elements side by side, in which the second defines the first
  • assonance: The repetition of vowel sounds, most commonly within a short passage of verse
  • asteismus: Facetious or mocking answer that plays on a word
  • asyndeton: Omission of conjunctions between related clauses
  • cacophony: The juxtaposition of words producing a harsh sound
  • classification (literature & grammar): linking a proper noun and a common noun with an article
  • chiasmus: Reversal of grammatical structures in successive clauses
  • climax: The arrangement of words in order of increasing importance
  • consonance: The repetition of consonant sounds, most commonly within a short passage of verse
  • dystmesis: A synonym for tmesis
  • ellipsis: Omission of words
  • enallage: The substitution of forms that are grammatically different, but have the same meaning
  • enjambment: A breaking of a syntactic unit (a phrase, clause, or sentence) by the end of a line or between two verses.
  • enthymeme: Informal method of presenting a syllogism
  • epanalepsis: Repetition of the initial word or words of a clause or sentence at the end of the clause or sentence.
  • epistrophe: The repetition of the same word or group of words at the end of successive clauses. The counterpart of anaphora (also known as antistrophe)
  • euphony: The opposite of cacophony - i.e. pleasant sounding
  • hendiadys: Use of two nouns to express an idea when the normal structure would be a noun and a modifier
  • hendiatris: Use of three nouns to express one idea
  • homographs: Words that are identical in spelling but different in origin and meaning
  • homonyms: Words that are identical with each other in pronunciation and spelling, but differing in origin and meaning.
  • homophones:Words that are identical with each other in pronunciation but differing in origin and meaning.
  • hypallage: Changing the order of words so that they are associated with words normally associated with others
  • hyperbaton: Schemes featuring unusual or inverted word order.
  • hyperbole: An exaggeration of a statement.
  • hysteron proteron: The inversion of the usual temporal or causal order between two elements.
  • isocolon: Use of parallel structures of the same length in successive clauses
  • internal rhyme : Using two or more rhyming words in the same sentence
  • kenning: A metonymic compound where the terms together form a sort of synecdoche
  • merism: Referring to a whole by enumerating some of its parts
  • non sequitur: a statement that bears no relationship to the context preceding
  • onomatopoeia: A word imitating a real sound (e.g. tick-tock or boom)
  • paradiastole: Repetition of the disjunctive pair "neither" and "nor"
  • parallelism: The use of similar structures in two or more clauses
  • paraprosdokian: Unexpected ending or truncation of a clause
  • parenthesis: Insertion of a clause or sentence in a place where it interrupts the natural flow of the sentence
  • paroemion: A resolute alliteration in which every word in a sentence or phrase begins with the same letter
  • parrhesia: Speaking openly or boldly, or apologizing for doing so (declaring to do so)
  • perissologia: The fault of wordiness
  • pleonasm: The use of superfluous or redundant words
  • polyptoton: Repetition of words derived from the same root
  • polysyndeton: Repetition of conjunctions
  • pun: When a word or phrase is used in two different senses
  • sibilance: Repetition of letter 's', it is a form of alliteration
  • superlative: Saying something the best of something i.e. the ugliest,the most precious
  • spoonerism: Interchanging of (usually initial) letters of words with amusing effect
  • symploce: Simultaneous use of anaphora and epistrophe: the repetition of the same word or group of words at the beginning and the end of successive clauses
  • synchysis: Interlocked word order
  • synesis: An agreement of words according to the sense, and not the grammatical form
  • synizesis: The pronunciation of two juxtaposed vowels or diphthongs as a single sound
  • synonymia: The use of two or more synonyms in the same clause or sentence
  • tautology: Redundancy due to superfluous qualification; saying the same thing twice
  • tmesis: Division of the elements of a compound word


Main article: Trope (linguistics)
  • allegory: An extended metaphor in which a story is told to illustrate an important attribute of the subject.
  • allusion: An indirect reference to another work of literature or art.
  • anacoenosis: Posing a question to an audience, often with the implication that it shares a common interest with the speaker.
  • antanaclasis: A form of pun in which a word is repeated in two different senses.
  • anthimeria: The substitution of one part of speech for another, often turning a noun into a verb.
  • anthropomorphism: Ascribing human characteristics to something that is not human, such as an animal or a god (see zoomorphism).
  • antiphrasis: A word or words used contradictory to their usual meaning, often with irony
  • antonomasia: The substitution of a phrase for a proper name or vice versa
  • aphorism: A tersely phrased statement of a truth or opinion, an adage
  • apophasis: Invoking an idea by denying its invocation
  • aporia: Deliberating with oneself, often with the use of rhetorical questions
  • apostrophe: Addressing a thing, an abstraction or a person not present
  • archaism: Use of an obsolete, archaic, word(a word used in olden language, e.g. Shakespeare's language)
  • auxesis: A form of hyperbole, in which a more important sounding word is used in place of a more descriptive term
  • catachresis: A mixed metaphor (sometimes used by design and sometimes a rhetorical fault)
  • circumlocution: "Talking around" a topic by substituting or adding words, as in euphemism or periphrasis
  • commiseration: Evoking pity in the audience.
  • correctio: Linguistic device used for correcting one's mistakes, a form of which is epanorthosis.
  • denominatio: Another word for metonymy
  • double negative: grammar construction that can be used as an expression and it is the repetition of negative words
  • dysphemism: Substitution of a harsher, more offensive, or more disagreeable term for another. Opposite of euphemism.
  • epanorthosis: Immediate and emphatic self-correction, often following a slip of the tongue.
  • enumeratio: A form of amplification in which a subject is divided, detailing parts, causes, effects, or consequences to make a point more forcibly.
  • erotema: Synonym for rhetorical question
  • euphemism: Substitution of a less offensive or more agreeable term for another
  • hermeneia: Repetition for the purpose of interpreting what has already been said
  • hyperbole: Use of exaggerated terms for emphasis
  • hypophora: Answering one's own rhetorical question at length
  • hysteron proteron: Reversal of anticipated order of events
  • innuendo: Having a hidden meaning in a sentence that makes sense whether it is detected or not
  • invocation: An apostrophe to a god or muse
  • irony: Use of word in a way that conveys a meaning opposite to its usual meaning
  • litotes: Emphasizing the magnitude of a statement by denying its opposite
  • malapropism: Using a word through confusion with a word that sounds similar
  • meiosis: Use of understatement, usually to diminish the importance of something
  • metalepsis: Referring to something through reference to another thing to which it is remotely related
  • metaphor: An implied comparison of two unlike things
  • metonymy: Substitution of a word to suggest what is really meant
  • neologism: The use of a word or term that has recently been created, or has been in use for a short time. Opposite of archaism.
  • onomatopoeia: Words that sound like their meaning
  • oxymoron: Using two terms together, that normally contradict each other
  • parable: An extended metaphor told as an anecdote to illustrate or teach a moral lesson
  • paradox: Use of apparently contradictory ideas to point out some underlying truth
  • paradiastole: Extenuating a vice in order to flatter or soothe
  • parallel irony: An ironic juxtaposition of sentences or situations (informal)
  • paralipsis: Drawing attention to something while pretending to pass it over
  • paronomasia: A form of pun, in which words similar in sound but with different meanings are used
  • pathetic fallacy: Using a word that refers to a human action on something non-human
  • periphrasis: Using several words instead of few
  • personification/prosopopoeia/anthropomorphism: Attributing or applying human qualities to inanimate objects, animals, or natural phenomena
  • praeteritio: Another word for paralipsis
  • procatalepsis: Refuting anticipated objections as part of the main argument
  • prolepsis: Another word for procatalepsis
  • proslepsis: An extreme form of paralipsis in which the speaker provides great detail while feigning to pass over a topic
  • proverb:A succinct or pithy expression of what is commonly observed and believed to be true.
  • repetition: The repeated usage of word(s)/group of words in the same sentence to create a poetic/rhythmic effect.
  • rhetorical question: Asking a question as a way of asserting something. Or asking a question not for the sake of getting an answer but for asserting something (or as in a poem for creating a poetic effect).
  • simile: An explicit comparison between two things
  • superlative: Saying something the best of something i.e. the ugliest, the most precious etc
  • syllepsis: A form of pun, in which a single word is used to modify two other words, with which it normally would have differing meanings
  • syncatabasis ("condescension, accommodation"): adaptation of style to the level of the audience
  • synecdoche: A form of metonymy, in which a part stands for the whole
  • synesthesia: The description of one kind of sense impression by using words that normally describe another.
  • transferred epithet: The placing of an adjective with what appears to be the incorrect noun
  • truism: a self-evident statement
  • tricolon diminuens: A combination of three elements, each decreasing in size
  • tricolon crescens: A combination of three elements, each increasing in size
  • zeugma: a figure of speech related to syllepsis, but different in that the word used as a modifier is not compatible with one of the two words it modifies
  • zoomorphism: applying animal characteristics to humans or gods


  • Aristotle, The Art of Rhetoric, (Translated by J. H. Freese), Loeb Classical Library.
  • Baldwin, Charles Sears, Ancient Rhetoric and Poetic: Interpreted from Representative Works, Peter Smith, Gloucester, 1959 (reprint).
  • Rhetorica ad Herennium, (Translated by Henry Caplan) Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, 1954.
  • Corbett, Edward P.J., Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student Oxford University Press, New York, 1971.
  • Kennedy, George, Art of Persuasion in Greece. Princeton Univ Press, 1969 (4th printing).
  • Lanham, Richard A., A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1991.
  • Mackin, John H. Classical Rhetoric for Modern Discourse, Free Press, New York, 1969.
  • Quintilian. Institutio oratoria, (In five volumes, trans. Donald A. Russell) Loeb Classical Library, 2002.

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