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Figures of Speech

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Figure of Speech Dictionary

A figure of speech or a trope (the latter word has a more specific use) is a non-ordinary use of language employed to create an emphasis, amplify a meaning, draw a comparison or contrast, or to make a rhetorical point. The figure may be achieved by employing repetition of words or sounds in a specific pattern, making an interjection, stating or implying a comparison, using synonyms, or using a specific pattern of argument. This searchable dictionary collects some of the common forms (about half of all figures). Use the Contact Page to advise of corrections, additional examples or forms we have missed.

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Ad Hominem

Literally "toward, the man". Refers to a negative or scurrilous remark (often name calling) attacking the person of one's opponent rather than arguing the substance of the matter at hand.

Category: Rhetoric

Secondary Category: negative

e.g. You believe that (voted for.. etc.) You're an idiot, a fool.

Notes: The speaker cuts off real debate by calling the other person names. The more negative and perjorative the name calling, the less likely debate can resume. The most effective names are ethnic or political slurs. Calling a conservative a Nazi or a socialist a communist is typical. Once the opponent has been silenced, the name-caller need no longer hear the opinions of others, can even imagine the argument has been won.


A story, narrative, or fable in which a moral principle or truth is presented by means of fictional characters and events which stand symbolically for real persons or events.

Category: Comparison

e.g. Psalm 80:8 ff portrays God planting and tending Israel as a vineyard. Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress is an extended allegory of the Christian life. Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene is a well-known allegorical poem. Animal Farm is another example in prose.

Notes: In Biblical languages, allegory may be quite broad compared with modern ones.


An indirect reference to a person, place or event made by mentioning or quoting a characteristic or aspect of the thing alluded to. Often A reference in one literary work to a character or theme found in another literary work.

Category: Comparison

e.g. He had my head on a platter. (allusion to John the Baptist)


The expansion upon an idea in greater detail or depth.

Category: Rhetoric

e.g. So much for the definition. Now let me explain in detail.

Anabasis or Gradual Ascent

An increase of emphasis on some meaning in successive sentences.

Category: Rhetoric

e.g. Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. (Psalm 1:1)

Anadiplosis or Like Endings & Beginnings

A "doubling back" or repetition of the same word or words from the end of one sentence or clause at the beginning of another.

Category: Repetition

e.g. Men in great place are thrice servants: servants of the sovereign or state; servants of fame; and servants of business. -- Francis Bacon

Anaeresis or Detraction

A negative parenthetic addition that is complete in itself.

Category: Parenthesis

Secondary Category: negative

e.g. When I was last in Paris--but you wouldn't know what Paris is like, now would you dear--I stopped at the most divine restaurant.

Anaphora or Like-Beginnings

The repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses or sentences.

Category: Repetition

e.g. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. (Winston Churchill)


An inversion of the natural order of words.

Category: Rhetoric

e.g. Long hours worked the men. instead of The men worked long hours.

Notes: Changes in word order like this cause subtle shifts in emphasis.


A repetition of the same word in the same sentence or in very close proximity but with two different meanings.

Category: Repetition

e.g. They cast lots to see which of the two lots they would be buying.

Notes: This may be done for humorous effect. Unless handled with great care, or used for a specific effect, repetition of the same word or derivatives thereof in close proximity catches the eye as amateurish or clumsy writing.


The use of a word of one class as though it were a member of another, typically the use of a noun as a verb.

Category: Meaning

e.g. The knight was unhorsed.

Anthropomorphism or Condescension

1. A person of higher rank reaches down to one of lower rank to communicate or establish a relationship. 2. The ascribing of human attributes to God.

Category: Comparison

e.g. God's eye was upon me, his hand was with me, his arm guided me.

Notes: May be used in a positive sense of God condescending to deal with humans, or in a negative sense where one human being condescends to speak to another but does so in a demeaning or belittling manner. See also anthropomorphism.


A seeming contradiction of ideas, words, clauses, or sentences creating a parallelism that serves to emphasize opposition of ideas.

Category: Meaning

e.g. The king proposes, parliament disposes.

Antonomasia or Name Change

Change of proper name for a common or other name or vice versa.

Category: Meaning

Secondary Category: names

e.g. Have you seen old sideburns lately?

Notes: This is often a descriptive nickname. The description takes place of the literal name.


A concise statement or popular saying that expresses a principle or truth in a terse manner. Usually shorter than a proverb, and may have an element of the trite.

Category: Rhetoric

e.g. People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.


The speaker expresses doubt about his or her position or asks rhetorically how to proceed.

Category: Rhetoric

e.g. How shall I put this?


A form of ellipsis, in which the speaker breaks off suddenly in the middle of speaking, giving the impression of being unwilling or unable to continue, perhaps portraying being overcome with emotion.

Category: Rhetoric

e.g. This outrage is beyond all...


A form of aside directed in an abstract direction.

Category: Parenthesis

e.g. 1. Ah, sword of the Lord! How long till you are quiet? (JeremiahJeremiah. 47:6). 2. O Death, where is thy sting? (1 Corinthians 15:55) 3. O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree...

Notes: The parenthesis is short, often sharp, and is intended to catch the attention of hearers and emphasize the point being made. It usually begins with "O" (a form of address)."


Turning from the immediate hearers or from the subject at hand to address an absent or imaginary person or thing.

Category: Parenthesis

e.g. See Iago in Shakespeare's Othello addressing the audience and informing them of his plans.


The repetition of vowel sounds within a short passage.

Category: Repetition

e.g. Moses supposes his toeses are roses.

Notes: Generally used in poetry, not prose."

Asyndeton or No-Ands

An enumeration of items without using conjunctions.

Category: Grammar

e.g. Veni, vidi, vincit.

Notes: One must view the group as a whole unit. There may be an emphasis on last item.


Magnifying the importance of something by giving it another name. It can be the opposite of Meiosis.

Category: Meaning

e.g. Two dollars for that piece of junk? That's highway robbery!


A self-evident truth, generally accepted idea, or undefined term upon which other knowledge rests, or is built up.

Category: Rhetoric

Secondary Category: logic

e.g. Two points determine a line.

Like what you see? Want to exchange links? Want to contribute original or attributed material or add one of the many figures of speech we've not got around to yet? Contact Us. If we use your material, we'll acknowledge the source. Offended by something here? Tell us why. We'll ask for a second opinion from a neutral party and if that person agrees, the item will be removed. But hey, don't take yourself too seriously. The world needs some levity.


About's page
American Rhetoric in Sound
Brainy Encyclopedia's List (Also found elsewhere)
Earnest Speakers
Figures of Speech Exercises
Figures of Speech Quiz
Figures of Speech Tables
The Forest of Rhetoric
RinkWorks Fun With Words
Stephen Hecht's page
Important Grammatical & Linguistical Terms
Infoplease Glossary of Poetry Terms
List of Poetry Terms
Deborah Rudd's page
Brian Tung's page
UNCP Glossary of Literary Terms
Kip Wheeler's page
Grant William's page
Who is the brain (sic) behind opundo?

Biblical Figures of Speech
Basics of Biblical Interpretation
Biblical Idioms
Bullinger's Biblical Figures
Figures of Speech Introduction
Keys to the Word's Interpretation
A. E. Knoch's page
NT Figures of Speech
Truth or Tradition's List

Related Pages
Rhyme Zone
Writing Resource Links


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Updated 2005 12 28