Figures Of Speech

Figure of Speech is a word or expression used to give particular emphasis to an idea or sentiment. Some figures of speech, such as simile, metaphor, personification and apostrophe are based on resemblance. Some are based on contrast (antithesis, epigram) while some others are based on the construction of the plot, such as climax and anticlimax.


Here a comparison is made between two distinctly different objects which have at least one point in common. The simile is usually introduced by such words as like, so or as.

  • The righteous shall flourish as the palm tree.
  • O my Love is like a red, red rose.
  • O my Love is like a melodie.
  • Life is as tedious as a twice-told tale.
  • Her eyes were like diamonds.

Note that a comparison of two things of the same kind is not a simile.

Some common similes of everyday speech are given below:

  • As proud as a peacock
  • As bold as brass
  • As clear as crystal
  • As good as gold
  • As old as the hills
  • As cool as cucumber


Metaphor is an implied simile. Here a word or expression that in literal usage denotes one thing is applied to a distinctly different kind of thing for the purpose of suggesting a likeness between the two. Metaphor does not, like the simile, state that one thing is like another or acts as another, but it takes that for granted and proceeds as if the two things were one.

  • Life is a dream.
  • Variety is the spice of life.
  • Revenge is a kind of wild justice.

Note that every simile can be compressed into a metaphor and every metaphor can be expanded into a simile. When we say, “Her eyes were like diamonds” we use a simile, but when we say, “Her eyes were diamonds” we use a metaphor.

  • O my Love’s like a red, red rose. (Simile)
  • O my Love’s is a red, red rose. (Metaphor)
  • He fought like a lion. (Simile)
  • He was a lion in the fight. (Metaphor)

Not only nouns, but other parts of speech may also be used metaphorically. In the following example, the verb is used metaphorically.

  • How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank. (Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare)

In a mixed metaphor an object is identified with two or more different things in the same sentence. When used inadvertently, the effect can be ludicrous.

  • I smell a rat, I see it floating in the air, but I will nip it in the bud.


Here inanimate objects or abstract ideas are spoken of as though they were endowed with life and intelligence.

  • Necessity is the mother of invention.
  • Pride goeth forth on horseback, grand and gay.
  • Sky lowered and muttering thunder, some sad drops
  • Wept at completing of the mortal sin. (Paradise Lost by Milton)


An apostrophe is a direct and explicit address either to an absent person or to an abstract or nonhuman entity. Many odes are such an address to a listener who is not literally able to listen. John Keats’ ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ is an apostrophe addressed to an Urn and Samuel Coleridge’s, “Reflections of Love’ is an apostrophe addressed to an absent woman.

Many apostrophes imply a personification of the nonhuman object that is addressed. If such an address is to a god or other supernatural being to assist the poet in the composition, it is called an invocation.

Here is how John Milton invokes divine guidance at the opening of Paradise Lost.

And chiefly Thou, O spirit, that dost prefer

Before all temples th’ upright heart and pure,

Instruct me…

An apostrophe is a special form of personification.

Roll on, thou deep and dark Blue Ocean, roll!

O solitude! Where are the charms
That sages have seen in thy face?

O death! Where is thy sting?
O grave! Where is thy victory?


The figure of speech called hyperbole is the extravagant exaggeration of fact or of possibility according to which a person or thing is depicted as being better or worse or larger or smaller that is actually the case.

Here is the smell of blood still; all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.

Why, man, if the river were dry, I am able to fill it with my tears.

Loved Ophelia; forty thousand brothers
Could not with all their quantity of love
Make up the sum. (Hamlet by Shakespeare)


Euphemism consists in the substitution of a delicate or inoffensive term or phrase for a blunt one that is felt to be disagreeable or embarrassing, as in the case of ‘lavatory’ or ‘rest room’ for toilet and ‘pass away’ for ‘die.

  • You are telling me a fairy tale. (ie., a lie)
  • He has fallen asleep. (ie., he is dead)


Here the same sentence contains a striking opposition or contrast of words or sentiments. Antithesis is employed to secure emphasis.

  • Man proposes, God disposes.
  • Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more.
  • Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice.
  • Speech is silver, but silence is Golden.
  • Many are called, few are chosen.


Oxymoron is a special form of antithesis. Here two contradictory qualities of the same thing are predicted at once.

  • She accepted it as the kind cruelty of the surgeon’s knife.
  • So innocent arch, so cunningly simple.


An epigram is a brief pointed saying. It introduces ideas which excite surprise and arrest attention.

  • Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
  • A man can’t be careful in the choice of his enemies.
  • He makes no friend, who never made a foe.
  • The proper study of mankind is man.
  • The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.
  • In the midst of the life we are in death.


Irony is a mode of speech in which the real meaning is exactly the opposite of that which is literally conveyed.

Here under leave of Brutus and the rest
(For Brutus is a honourable man:
So are they all, all honourable men)
Come I to speak in Caesar’s funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just to me;
But Brutus says he was ambitious,
And Brutus is a honourable man.


Pun is a humorous use of words that involves a word or phrase that has more than one possible meaning.

Is life worth living? – It depends upon the liver.

An ambassador is an honest man who lies abroad for the good of his country.


In metonymy an object is designated by the name of something which is generally associated with it.

The bench, for the judges

The Crown, for the King or Queen

The laurel, for success


Climax is the arrangement of a series of ideas in the order of increasing importance.

Simple, erect, severe, austere, sublime

What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculties! In action, how like an angel! In apprehension, how like a God!


Anticlimax is the opposite of climax – a sudden descent from higher to lower. It is chiefly used for the purpose of satire or ridicule.

Here thou, great Anna! Whom three realms obey,
Dost sometimes counsel take – and sometimes tea.

Manjusha Nambiar

Hi, I am Manjusha. This is my blog where I give English grammar lessons and worksheets.

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