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Stylistic devices

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This is a list of stylistic devices used in verbal communication


  • Simile (Vergleich): an explicit comparison between two things which are basically quite differentusing words such as like or as.She walks like an angel. / I wandered lonely as a cloud. (Wordsworth) A simile is a figure of speech in which the subject is compared to another subject. Frequently,similes are marked by use of the words like or as, "The snow was like a blanket".However, "The snow blanketed the earth" is also a simile and not a metaphor because the verbblanketed is a shortened form of the phrase covered like a blanket.A few other examples are✗ "The deer ran like the wind"✗ "The raindrops sounded as popcorn kernels popping"✗ "the lullaby was like the hush of the winter."The phrase "The snow was a blanket over the earth" is the metaphor in this case.Metaphors differ from similes in that the two objects are not compared, but treated as identical,"We are but a moment's sunlight, fading in the grass."Note: a simile is actually a specific type of metaphor.
  • Metaphor (Metapher): a comparison between two things which are basically quite different withoutusing like or as. While a simile only says that one thing is like another, a metaphor says that onething is another. (adj. metaphorical)All the world’s a stage / And all the men and women merely players ... (Shakespeare)*Personification (Verkörperung): a kind of metaphor in which animals, plants, inanimate (leblos)objects or abstract ideas are represented as if they were human beings and possessed humanqualities.Justice is blind.Necessity is the mother of invention (Not macht erfinderisch).
  • Synecdoche (lat. pars pro toto): a kind of metaphor in which a part of something is used to signify the whole.Lend me your ears (= give me your attention)Symbol (Symbol): something concrete (like a person, object, image, word or event) that stands forsomething abstract or invisible.The Cross is the symbol of Christianity.The dove (Taube) symbolizes peace / is symbolic of peace.


  • Alliteration (Alliteration): the repetition of the same consonant sound in neighbouring words,usually at the beginning of words.Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
  • Assonance (Assonanz): the repetition of internal vowel sounds in neighbouring words that do notend the same.sweet dreams / fertile - birthConsonance (Konsonanz): the repetition of consonant sounds at the end of neighbouring wordswhich have different vowel sounds.strength - earth – birth / home - same
  • Metre (Metrum): a regular pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables within a line of a poem.
    • Iambic metre (Jambus): an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed oneThe way a crow / Shook down on me / The dust of snow / From a hemlock tree (Frost)
    • Trochaic metre (Trochäus): a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed oneTiger, Tiger, burning bright / In the forest of the night. (William Blake)**Anapest metre (Anapäst): two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllableOh he flies through the air / With the greatest of ease.
    • Dactyl metre (Daktylus): a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed onesJust for a handful of silver he left us / Just for a riband (Band) to stick in his coat.
  • Onomatopoeia (Lautmalerei): the use of words which imitate the sound they refer to. (adj.onomatopoeic)the stuttering (stottern) rifles’ rapid rattle / The cuckoo whizzed past the buzzing bees.Rhyme (Reim): the use of words which end with the same sounds, usually at the end of lines.Tiger! Tiger! burning bright / In the forests of the night.Internal rhyme rhyme within a line.letters of joy from girl and boyImpure rhyme inaccurate (ungenau) repetition of sounds.hill - full; man - mean; sky - fine; seem - weak Eye-rhyme rhyme that does not depend on sound but on spelling.flow - how, beat - great, over - discover.In older poems one has to consider that words were (maybe) pronounced differently from today.


  • Parallelism (Parallelismus): the deliberate repetition of similar or identical words, phrases orconstructions in neighbouring lines, sentences or paragraphs.
  • Anaphora (Anapher): a form of parallelism where a word or several words are repeated at the beginning of successive lines, sentences or paragraphs.In every cry of every man / In every infant’s cry of fear / In every voice, in every ban. (BlakeLondon)Inversion (Inversion): a change of the usual word order (subject-verb-object).A lady with a dulcimer (Hackbrett) / In a vision once I saw.
  • Chiasmus (Chiasmus, Kreuzstellung): a reversal in the order of words so that the second half of asentence balances the first half in inverted (umgekehrt) word order.Love’s fire heats water, water cools not love. (Shakespeare)
  • Climax (Steigerung, Höhepunkt, Klimax): a figure of speech in which a series of words or expressions rises step by step, beginning with the least important and ending with the most important(= climactic order). The term may also be used to refer only to the last item in the series.Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.
  • Anticlimax (Antiklimax): the sudden fall from an idea of importance or dignity to somethingunimportant or ridiculous in comparison, especially at the end of a series.The bomb completely destroyed the cathedral, several dozen houses and my dustbin.
  • Enumeration (Aufzählung): the listing of words or phrases. It can stress a certain aspect e.g. bygiving a number of similar or synonymous adjectives to describe something.Today many workers find their labor mechanical, boring, imprisoning, stultifying, repetitive, drearyand heartbreaking.


  • Allusion (Anspielung): a brief reference to a person, place, thing, event or idea in history orliterature. Allusions require common reading and cultural experiences shared by the writer and thereader. (v. to allude to sth., n. an allusion to sth.)The old man and the computer (allusion to The Old man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway)Ambiguity (Ambiguität, Zwei-/Mehrdeutigkeit): the deliberate use of a word or phrase that has twoor more relevant meanings.
  • Ambiguity is the basis for a lot of wordplay.(adj. ambiguous)Enjambment (also: run-on line): In poetry, when one line ends without a pause and continues intothe next line for its meaning.
  • Euphemism (Euphemismus): hiding the real nature of something unpleasant by using a mild orindirect term for it. (adj. euphemistic)“He has passed away.” instead of “He has died.”“the underprivileged” instead of “the poor”Hyperbole (Hyperbel) also: overstatement: deliberate exaggeration. Its purpose is to emphasizesomething or to produce a humorous effect.I'm so hungry I could eat a horse.
  • Understatement (Untertreibung): the opposite of hyperbole; the deliberate presentation ofsomething as being much less important, valuable etc. than it really is.“These figures are a bit disappointing” instead of “… are disastrous.”“He was quite upset” instead of “He went into a terrible rage”.Irony (Ironie): saying the opposite of what you actually mean. Do not use “ironic” in the vaguesense of “funny/humorous”.
  • Sarcasm (Sarkasmus) is a strong form of verbal irony used to hurt someone through mockery ordisapproval. (adj. (to) be sarcastic)Teacher: “You are absolutely the best class I’ve ever had.” Actual meaning: “the worst class”
  • Satire (Satire): a kind of text which criticizes certain conditions, events or people by making themappear ridiculous. Satirical texts often make use of exaggeration, irony and sarcasm. (n. satirist,adj. (to) be satirical, v. to satirize satirisch darstellen)
  • Paradox (Paradoxon): a statement that seems to be self-contradictory or opposed to commonsense. On closer examination it mostly reveals some truth. (adj. (to) be paradoxical)The child is father of the man. (Wordsworth)It is awfully hard work doing nothing. (Oscar Wilde)
  • Oxymoron (Oxymoron): a condensed form of paradox in which two contradictory words (mostlyadjective and noun) are used together.sweet sorrow / wise fool / bittersweet“O hateful love! O loving hate!” (Romeo and Juliet)Pun (Wortspiel): a play on words that have the same (or a similar) sound but different meanings.There are a lot of puns in English because of its many homophones, i.e. words with the same sound as another. Homophones lose their ambiguity as soon as they are written. At the drunkard’s funeral, four of his friends carried the bier. (bier-Totenbahre vs. beer-Bier) A word with the same form as another but with a different meaning is called homonym:“Is life worth living?” – “It depends on the liver” (liver = sb. who lives vs. liver Leber)
  • Rhetorical question (rhetorische Frage): a question to which the answer is obvious and thereforenot expected. In reality rhetorical questions are a kind of statement.Don’t we all love peace and hate war?Shouldn’t we try to be friendlier towards each other?Telling name a name that conveys certain character traits.Darth Vader (dark + death, invader) / Lord Voldemort (“flight of death”) / Willy Loman (low man)

See alsoEdit

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