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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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A story told to illustrate a religious, moral or philosophical idea.

Category: Comparison

Secondary Category: illustration

e.g. The Biblical parable of the Prodigal son or of the Good Samaritan

Notes: Can be an extended simile. There may be multiple points of comparison. Parable is a broader term in Semitic thinking than in Greek.

Paradiastole or Neither-Nor

Repetition of the disjunctive pair "neither" and "nor".

Category: Repetition

Secondary Category: disjunctives

e.g. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God. (Romans 8:38-39)


A statement that seems to lead to an illogical contradiction, or to a situation that contradicts common intuition. The statement contains the seeds of its own negation or contradiction, though this may not be apparent on the surface.

Category: Meaning

Secondary Category: logic

e.g. 1. The barber shaves all the men who don't shave themselves, and no-one else. 2. Let A be the set of all sets that do not contain themselves.


An ending to a sentence or phrase that is unexpected given the prior construction. It can be used for levity or for dramatic effect.

Category: Rhetoric

e.g. It was a beautiful day in March when the building fell on me.

Parembole or Digression

A complete parenthetic addition that bears little if any overt relationship with the surrounding material.

Category: Parenthesis

e.g. And David took the head of the Philistine, and brought it to Jerusalem; but he put his armour in his tent. (1 Samuel 17:54).

Notes: Also called a rabbit trail. The context may not be required for a digression to be understood as the subject has been explicitly changed.

Parenthesis or Interpositio

An addition complete in itself, understandable only in its context, but without necessarily any grammatical connection to the surrounding text. The parenthesis may be an illustration of the context or a near-digression into a tangential topic.

Category: Parenthesis

e.g. So when you see standing in the holy place 'the abomination that causes desolation', spoken of through the prophet Daniel--let the reader understand--then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. (Matthew 24:15-16)

Notes: A parenthesis differs from a digression in that it provides an explanation of the material in the surrounding context. That is, the main subject has not been changed. The parenthesis may be an illustration."

Paroemia or Proverb

A succinct or pithy expression of what is commonly observed and believed to be true.

Category: Rhetoric

e.g. 1. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline. (Proverbs 1:7) 2. Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body. (Ecclesiates 12:12)

Notes: A proverb is formed by observation, experimentation, and knowledge sharing and must endure the test of time, but is not an absolute statement of truth, only an observation about what is usually, generally, or normally true. For instance Biblical proverbs should not be regarded as unconditional promises."

Paronomasia or Pun

A play on words that rearranges the meanings of words with similar sounds, usually for humorous effect.

Category: Comparison

e.g. 1. O pun the door! 2. A door is not a door if it is ajar. 3. Very punny. 4. You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church. (Matt 16:18) 4. That was a foul tasting turkey.

Notes: These are language and culture specific and may depend on the way the speaker pronounces the pun. Note the last example, which is one of the best instances of a serious pun, playing between the two Greek words petros and petra."

Periphrasis or Circumlocution

Defining or explaining a single word or concept with many words, can also have the sense of talking around the subject and avoiding coming to the point.

Category: Rhetoric

e.g. The woman whom I married thirty years ago and to whom I am still happily married. (instead of "my wife")

Notes: Any definition of a word (which is generally in terms of several other words) is periphrastic. Circumlocution is also at times evasive, an attempt to avoid answering a question."


The use of more words than necessary.

Category: Meaning

e.g. 1. I know that he is here. 2. We hired him to head up the program.

Notes: The examples illustrate that these may be based on syntax (redundant words) or on semantics (overlapping meanings).

Polyptoton or Many Inflections

Repetition of the same noun in different inflections or the same verb in different conjugations.

Category: Repetition

e.g. ...had, having, and in quest to have, extreme... -- Shakespeare, Sonnet 129

Notes: This may be a verb with a related noun/adjective. Common in Semitic languages.

Polysyndeton or Many-Ands

The repetition of the word "and" at the beginning of successive clauses or sentences.

Category: Grammar

e.g. I went downstairs and out the door and got on my bike and cycled to town and bought a present.

Notes: Each thought or action in the sequence is meant to be considered separately. As the example illustrates, unless used with care for an effect, polysyndeton may appear clumsy and amateurish."

Praeteritio or Paralipsis

Emphasis is achieved by stating that the speaker is passing something by.

Category: Rhetoric

e.g. 1. Not to mention... 2. I won't dignify that with a response. 3. Pay no attention to that fellow over there.


Raising an objection and immediately answering it; strengthening an argument by dealing with possible objections before the audience can raise counter-arguments.

Category: Rhetoric

e.g. You may think programming difficult to understand, but if you bear with me I will show you how to break the discipline into steps.


An extreme form of paralipsis

Category: Rhetoric

e.g. I will not mention my opponents numerous criminal convictions. It would be unseemly to bring them up again.

Prosopopoeia or Personification

Things or ideas are loaned the qualities or attributes of persons.

Category: Comparison

Secondary Category: illustration

e.g. 1. The sea looked and fled...(Ps. 114:3, 4). 2. My old tin lizzy whined and limped up the hill, complaining against my foot on the accelerator.

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