Figure of speech

"Figures of speech" redirects here. For the hip hop group, see Figures of Speech.
Whitehall is a road in the City of Westminster, London used synecdochically to refer to the U.K. civil service, as many government departments are nearby.

A figure of speech or rhetorical figure[1] is figurative language in the form of a single word or phrase. It can be a special repetition, arrangement or omission of words with literal meaning, or a phrase with a specialized meaning not based on the literal meaning of the words. Figures of speech often provide emphasis, freshness of expression, or clarity. However, clarity may also suffer from their use, as any figure of speech introduces an ambiguity between literal and figurative interpretation.

The four fundamental operations

Main article: Rhetorical operations

Classical rhetoricians classified figures of speech into four categories or quadripartita ratio:[2]

These categories are often still used. The earliest known text listing them, though not explicitly as a system, is the Rhetorica ad Herennium, of unknown authorship, where they are called πλεονασμός (addition), ἔνδεια (omission), μετάθεσις (transposition) and ἐναλλαγή (permutation).[3] Quintillian then mentioned them in Institutio Oratoria.[4] Philo of Alexandria also listed them as addition (πρόσθεσις), subtraction (ἀφαίρεσις), transposition (μετάθεσις), and transmutation (ἀλλοίωσις).[5]


Figures of speech come in many varieties. The aim is to use the language inventively to accentuate the effect of what is being said. A few examples follow:

Whereas, "Sister Suzy sewing socks for soldiers" is a particular form of alliteration called sibilance, because it repeats the letter s.
Both are commonly used in poetry.
To say "it was like having some butterflies in my stomach" would be a simile, because it uses the word like which is missing in the metaphor.
To say "It was like having a butterfly farm in my stomach," "It felt like a butterfly farm in my stomach," or "I was so nervous that I had a butterfly farm in my stomach" could be a hyperbole, because it is exaggerated.

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 that change 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 trepein, to turn) change the general meaning of words. An example of a trope is irony, which is the use of words to convey the opposite of their usual meaning ("For Brutus is an honorable man; / So are they all, all honorable men").

During the Renaissance, scholars meticulously enumerated and classified figures of speech. Henry Peacham, for example, in his The Garden of Eloquence (1577), enumerated 184 different figures of speech. Professor Robert DiYanni, in his book "Literature – Reading Fiction, Poetry, Drama and the Essay" [6] wrote: "Rhetoricians have catalogued more than 250 different figures of speech, expressions or ways of using words in a nonliteral sense.".

For simplicity, this article divides the figures between schemes and tropes, but does not further sub-classify them (e.g., "Figures of Disorder"). Within each category, words are listed alphabetically. Most entries link 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)

(E.g.: She sells sea shells by the sea shore).

(E.g.: I've told you a million times).

(E.g.: Men, dogs and houses, all are dead).


Main article: Trope (linguistics)

See also


Look up figure of speech in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
  1. Jansen, Jeroen (2008) Imitatio ISBN 978-90-8704-027-7 Summary translated to English by Kristine Steenbergh. Quote from the summary:
    Using these formulas, a pupil could render the same subject or theme in a myriad of ways. For the mature author, this principle offered a set of tools to rework source texts into a new creation. In short, the quadripartita ratio offered the student or author a ready-made framework, whether for changing words or the transformation of entire texts. Since it concerned relatively mechanical procedures of adaptation that for the most part could be learned, the techniques concerned could be taught at school at a relatively early age, for example in the improvement of pupils’ own writing.
  2. Book V, 21.29, pp.303–5
  3. Institutio Oratoria, Vol. I, Book I, Chapter 5, paragraphs 6 and 38–41. And also in Book VI Chapter 3
  4. Rhetorica ad Herennium
  5. Second Edition, McGraw-Hill, ISBN 0-07-557112-9, pp.451
  6. The scientific and literary treasury – Samuel Maunder – Google Books. Retrieved 2013-05-23.
  7. Universal Technological Dictionary Or Familiar Explanation of the Terms Used … – George Crabb – Google Books. Retrieved 2013-05-23.
  8. Naming-day in Eden: The Creation and Recreation of Language – Noah Jonathan Jacobs – Google Books. Retrieved 2013-05-23.
  9. "Henry Peachum., The Garden of Eloquence (1593): Schemas". Retrieved 22 April 2013.
  10. Bernard Marie Dupriez (1991). A Dictionary of Literary Devices: Gradius, A-Z. University of Toronto Press. p. 213. ISBN 978-0-8020-6803-3. Retrieved 31 May 2013.Dupriez, Bernard Marie (1991). A Dictionary of Literary Devices: Gradus, A-Z. University of Toronto Press. p. 213. ISBN 978-0-8020-6803-3.
  11. Kevin Wilson; Jennifer Wauson (2010). The AMA Handbook of Business Writing: The Ultimate Guide to Style, Grammar, Usage, Punctuation, Construction, and Formatting. AMACOM Div American Mgmt Assn. p. 224. ISBN 978-0-8144-1589-4.
  12. 1 2 Stephen Cushman; Clare Cavanagh; Jahan Ramazani; Paul Rouzer (26 August 2012). The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics: Fourth Edition. Princeton University Press. p. 647. ISBN 978-1-4008-4142-4.
  13. "rhythm – definition and examples of rhythm in phonetics and poetics". Retrieved 2013-05-23.
  14. Shipley, Joseph T. (1943). "Trope". Dictionary of World Literature: Criticism, Forms, Technique. Philosophical Library. p. 595.
  15. 1 2 3 Cosmo, Lepota. 2015. Superspeech and its rhetorical figures. 4. Superspeech and its lingual values, rhetorical figures. The journal of advanced rhetorics.
This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 11/7/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.