Debora B. Schwartz
Department, California Polytechnic
Language and Rhetorical Devices
SIMILE: An explicit comparison (using
like or as): "Her lips are like roses."
METAPHOR: A word or phrase denoting one
kind of object or idea used in place of another to suggest a likeness or
analogy between them ("the ship ploughs the sea.") A metaphor is generally
an implicit comparison (doesn't use like or as): "Her
lips are roses."
SYNECDOCHE: substituting a part for
a whole or a whole for a part. "Fifty sail" for "fifty ships"; "the smiling
year" for spring.
METONYMY: substituting the name of something
for its attribute or whatever it is associated with ("crown" for king).
PERIPHRASIS: substituting a descriptive
phrase, made up of a concrete adjective and abstract noun, for a precise
word: "fringed curtains of thine eye" (= eyelashes).
PERSONIFICATION: attributing animation
to something inanimate ("a grieving nation"); treating a thing or abstract
quality as though it were a person.
OXYMORON: deliberate combination of seemingly
contradictory words ("helpful bureaucrat"; "bittersweet").
ONOMATOPOEIA: the concordance of sounds
and meaning. "Snap, crackle, pop."
ASSONANCE: recurrent vowel sounds ("sweet,
ALLITERATION: recurrent consonant
sounds, frequently but not exclusively at beginning of words (e.g. in Shakespeare's
Sonnet 30: sessions,
silent, summon, things,
PUN: deliberate confusion of words based upon
similarity of sound (waist/waste).
MALAPROPISM: unconscious pun; confusing
"odious" for "onerous."
WORDPLAY: a serious pun, as when a dying
man says "tomorrow you shall find me a grave man."
PARONOMASIA: wordplay based upon similar
rather than identical sounds (e.g. roots/ rots).
Other Rhetorical Devices
REPETITION, PARALLELISM, CONTRAST, ANTITHESIS:
devices which have the rational appeal of logic and the aesthetic appeal
of symmetry. For example: "Suit the action to the word and the word to
the action" uses
contrasted repetition of "action" and "word" within
parallel grammatical units (noun plus prepositional phrase).
ANAPHORA: repetition of word or words
beginning a series of parallel syntactical units ("this sceptered
isle, ... this blessed plot, this earth, this realm,
this England"). See sonnet 91.
DOUBLE EPITHET: two words of identical
or almost identical meaning joined by a conjunction. The chief effect is
richness or plenitude of style: "extravagant and erring," "foul and pestilent."
One of Shakespeare's favorite devices; usually combines a Latinate and
an Anglo-Saxon word.
HENDIADYS: two words joined by a conjunction
although one modifies the other ("this policy and reverence of age"
means "this policy
of reverencing age").
TRANSPOSITION: rearrangement of normal
word order for effect (Noun-Verb-Direct Object may become N-DO-V, e.g.
"I the apple ate" for "I ate the apple"; "gentle my lord" means "my gentle
APOSTROPHE: direct address of an abstraction
or of someone absent ("O time!..."; "Death, be not proud!")
HYPERBOLE: deliberate overstatement,
exaggeration for effect ("I'm so hungry I could eat a horse").
ALLUSION: reference to or echo of familiar
expressions, persons or objects from a cultural tradition (esp. biblical,
classical, proverbial); e.g., a "prodigal son" alludes to the biblical
CONNOTATION: double- and triple-level
suggestive power of words; gold can connote wealth, but also beauty and
excellence or greed; a dove, peace as well as innocence.
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