Figure of Speech 

Figure of speech is a phrase, clause or sentence that has an implied (deep) meaning. Unlike parts of speech which have a surface meaning that anyone who understands the language can understand, the meaning of the figure of speech is not easily known. The figure of speech makes someone a critical thinker and allows the person to know much about the aesthetics of language. Figure of speech is also known as rhetorical figure, trope, and figurative device. 

The List of Figures of Speech 

  • Simile

Simile is a method of comparison that allows the similarity of two entities (objects) to be used for a vivid description. Simile highlights two different things that have the same similarity to create effect. Simile is derived from the Latin word, similis, which means similar, like. Simile uses some comparison words, such as;  as, like, as…as.  


i.  As cunning as a fox 

ii. The boy behaves like a goat. 

iii. It is as true as the gospel.

iv. He talks as parrot talks. 

  • Metaphor 

Metaphor is a method of comparison based on the insistence that one thing is another. Just like a simile, metaphor also creates the effect of comparison by using the similar feature of two different things.  Metaphor is from the Greek word, metapherein, which means to transfer. So, metaphor is the transfer of the attribute of the tenor (what is being compared) to the vehicle (what it is being compared to).


i.   Life is a stage 

ii.  The boy, the lion of the field, is here. 

iii.  You are the goddess of beauty. 

iv.  The young woman is a pig. 

  • Personification 

Personification is the figure of speech that allows the attributions of human qualities to abstractions, objects and natural phenomena. In a simpler term, personification gives the qualities of human beings to the inanimate objects. It represents the human features in objects, and abstract ideas. 


i.   The balloon is pregnant (only women get pregnant). 

ii.   The trees wave their hands at us (human beings have hands, not trees). 

iii.   Death lays its icy hand on the king (death does not have a hand). 

iv.   The moon smiles at us today (the moon does not have a mouth to smile). 

  • Apostrophe 

An apostrophe is a figure of speech that addresses an entity that is not present in a work of art. The entity may be a person, object, abstraction or even natural phenomena, such as; death, love, hatred, rain. 


i.   Rain, rain// go away// come again another day// little children want to play (the poetic persona addresses rain in this poem). 

ii.   Twinkle, twinkle, little star// how I wonder what you are!// up above the world so high// like a diamond in the sky (star is addressed in this poem) 

iii. Death, be not proud, though some have called thee __ By John Donne in his poem, Death, Be Not Proud. 

iv. Dear dead father, I believe you have been asleep for centuries; wake up now, your children are suffering on earth. 

  • Hyperbole 

Hyperbole is the rhetorical device that creates humour. It can also be called exaggeration or overstatement, and sometimes, auxesis. Hyperbole creates strong feelings and great emphases. It intends to portray a statement comically without seeming to be literally true. 


i.  I killed a lion with my hands when I was four. 

ii.  Her sorrow is bigger than the world. 

iii. Bimpe’s teeth are sharper than a razor. 

iv. All the world’s dignitaries will attend my wedding ceremony. 

v.  The whole universe will be excited when I graduate from college.  

  • Litote

Litote, the opposite of hyperbole which means exaggeration, is a clever use of language that makes use of sentiment to show an understatement by using negative words to express positive meanings. Litote thrives in the use of understatement. It presents occurrences or wordings that seem insignificant, less important and not too good, but are essential. 


The writer uses his pen to fight a dictator. He can’t win. (Here pen is used as something not important, but it is a tool that can be used to project the evil of the dictator to the world)  

ii. You are not doing badly. (Affirming that the person is doing well) 

Litote embraces the use of irony and understatement to say something positive in a negative way without affirming it directly. 

  • Irony 

Irony is the intentional use of words that denote the opposite of what someone means. In other words, it is the statements or situations that give the direct opposite of what should be the reality. In irony, what happens comes on top of what should happen. Emphasis is on the contradiction of expectation and reality in which the latter takes the ultimate priority of the writer/author. One notable fact about irony is that it reveals the realities that are far to be true. 

Types of Irony 

Verbal Irony: This is the process of saying the opposite of what one means. Verbal means spoken

Imagine that someone who always gets the lowest scores in class asks you whether s/he is brilliant. And you say “Yes, you are.”  That is verbal irony.  

Dramatic Irony: It occurs in drama. It is a situation where the audience in a play knows what a character or characters are not aware of. The audience has  foreground knowledge of happenings in the events of the plot while a character is not living in the present happenings of events. 

For instance: someone pays assassins to eliminate another person in a play. The audience has known about the development. However, the person to be killed does not know. He is still going around, engaging in his daily routine

Situational Irony: it is the reversal of expectation in a situation or circumstance. It makes the occurrence of the opposite of one’s expectation. 

For instance: A child stole someone’s money while his parents were away. He expected his parents to beat him when they came back home. However, they did not beat him. They hugged him and advised him not to steal again.   

What happened is the opposite of what he expected. That is a situational irony. 

  • Euphemism  

Euphemism is the rhetorical device that is used to express words that are hurtful, mild and devastating in a sweet or pleasant way. It gives mild effects rather than the hurt or unpleasantness to people’s hearing. Instead of making people feel sad or uncomfortable, euphemism will make the expression but rather has the effects of pleasantness or relief. 


i. The king has joined his ancestors (died) 

ii. Christians always sleep in the Lord (died) 

iii. Bimpe is now serving the time (in prison) 

iv. His grandfather has finally kicked the bucket (died) 

  • Sarcasm

Sarcasm is a figure of speech which makes use of harsh words to hurt, mock and ridicule someone. Sarcasm makes use of Irony to hurl mockery on a person. It is used to treat people with contempt or disdain. Sarcasm denotes derision, mockery and contemporary that is stated ironically. 

For instance: A man tells a woman, “I’m the best man for you.” 

The woman replies, “Yes, I know. That you can afford to spend a lot on me.” However, in reality, the man has never spent anything on her.  

No doubt, the words of the woman mock the man and hurt his feelings. That is sarcasm.  

  • Paradox 

Paradox is a figurative device that looks witty, yet absurd and contradictory, but has a deep meaning. The meaning of a paradoxical statement cannot be understood easily, unless we give it serious attention and thoughts. More so, it looks absurd (ridiculous), and seems like rubbish. There are two words or phrases or clauses in a paradoxical statement that are in contradiction to each other. However, it has a meaning, an implied one. 


i.  The child is the father of the man (the child will take care of the father when the father cannot work again)

ii. The best way to defend is to attack (when you attack your opponent, it will be difficult for them to come near your territory) 

iii. I must be cruel in order to be kind (for instance: A teacher beats her students. She beats them so that they can focus on their future. To the students, she is cruel (wicked) but to their parents who spend heavily to make them great, the teacher is kind) 

iv. He who wants peace must go to war. 

  • Oxymoron 

This is a figure of speech that allows the placement of two opposite (contradictory) words side by side. It is a paradoxical phrase. It combines two words that are contradictory to create the effects on emphasis, knowledge and wisdom. 


i. The deafening silence of the man raises concerns. 

ii. Chibuzor is just a friendly enemy

iii. Poisonous pleasure of wine 

iv. I believe that the man is a sane lunatic

  • Antithesis 

Antithesis is a rhetorical device that allows the placement of two self contradictory phrases or clauses in an expression. The word antithesis means contradiction. It creates a sharp contrast between two different elements in a sentence. 


i. More haste, less speed.

ii. The more you look, the less you see.

iii. Many are called, few are chosen.

iv. Man proposes, God disposes. 

  • Allusion

Allusion is a figure of speech that is used to make an implied or a direct reference to a person, an event, an action, a place or a speech. The referent must be popular in which many of the audience can relate to. Allusions may be the references of figures in the Bible, Qur’an, Greek mythology, folktales etc. 


i. I came, I saw, but was conquered (by Napoleon Bonaparte) 

ii. Education is the most powerful weapon that can be used to change the world (Nelson Mandela) 

iii. I need a good Samaritan to help me out 

iv. You can deceive more than a snake (an allusion about the subtilty of the snake towards Eve) 

  • Pun 

Pun also known as paronomasia. It simply means playing on words. It is an intentional play on words. It embraces the uses of words that have similar sounds but have different meanings. 


i.   He is the sole mender of the soul

ii.  Seven days of work makes someone weak

iii. I went to a hospital to receive treatment. A nurse came out and told me, “Please, be patient.” What am I before?

iv. We knew we didn’t have any new ideas. 

v. It is ironic that Barack Obama isn’t living in the barracks

  • Synecdoche 

Synecdoche, as a figure of speech, means simultaneous meaning from the Greek word, synekdoche. It allows a writer or a speaker to use an aspect or a part of something to define the whole of it. A part or an aspect or a selection is always used to make reference to the whole form of it or its complete sense. 


i. Many scientific brains run out of the country to seek greener pastures. (Doctors/engineers) 

ii. There are many legs in Russia for the FIFA world cup. (Footballers) 

iii. The eyes that saw me that day were more than 10 million. (People) 

iv. To be frank with you, we need many hired hands to complete the work. (Workers) 

  • Metonymy 

Metonymy, as a figure of speech, means change of name. It is the substitution of something for another thing that is closely associated with it. In metonymy, an idea or an object replaces something that has the same association. 


i. Our president just bought a new ride. (Car) 

ii. I’m reading William Shakespeare presently. (One of his books) 

iii. He gave me a cup immediately after I got to his house. (Tea/beverages/drinks) 

iv. The class always make noise. (The students) 

  • Climax 

Climax is a figure of speech that allows words, phrases or clauses to be arranged according to the order of importance. It is often in an ascending order. The word Climax means ladder


i. “There are three things that will endure: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13 

ii. The soldier lost his boots, gun and wife. 

iii. I came, I saw but was conquered. (Made by Napoleon Bonaparte) 

iv. First, we need to fight indecency, robbery and insecurity at large. 

  • Anticlimax 

Anticlimax is the opposite of climax. It is a figure of speech that is used to descend the order of importance of successive words, phrases or clauses. It highlights the importance of words in a descending order. 


i. The soldier lost his wife, gun and boots. 

ii. We need to fight insecurity, robbery and indecency. 

iii. The Duke of Milan prepared himself for the war, kissed his wife and took a cup of coffee. 

iv. How can I know what heaven is as a man? My intention is to have children and have some nice time. 

  • Rhetorical Question 

Rhetorical question as a figurative expression creates effect in a work of art. It lays emphasis on a subject rather than asking questions. It is used to persuade the audience in order to drive home the points of the author or speaker. A rhetorical question is a known fact to both the author/speaker and the readers/audience. Ipso facto, no one expects anyone to give an answer. 


i.  Can we be in sin and say grace should abound? 

ii.  Are you stupid? 

iii. Is Mohammad not a prophet? 

iv. If we tell, gently, gently

All that we shall one day have to tell,

Who then will hear our voices without laughter,

Sad complaining voices of beggars

Who indeed will hear them without laughter? Vanity by Birago Diop. 

  • Hypophora 

There are similarities and differences between rhetorical questions and hypophoria. First, they are both literary devices. Second, they both ask questions to lay emphasis. However, hypophora provides an answer to the question asked, that is, the author or speaker will provide an answer to the question. Conversely, rhetorical questions do not provide any answer to the questions. The other names of hypophora are: antipophora and anthypophora


“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”

(Palm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage, by Kurt Vonnegut.

  • Inversion

Inversion is also known as anastrophe. It is a figure of speech that allows the change or reversal of word orders in a sentence or a line of poetry in order to create effects. In poetry, it is used to create rhythm, meter or rhyme. Inversion does not allow the sentence or line to be in the  normal sentence structure: Subject, Verb, Object, Adjunct.  


i. Nothing lingers like lizard agama (Agama is supposed to come before Lizard) 

ii. And I again am strong 

  • Antonomasia 

Antonomasia is a figure of speech that replaces the name of a person for a word or a phrase due to their similarity. It originated from a Greek word antonomazein, which means using a name instead. Anti means against or instead, while anoma means a name. That is how its meaning was coined: instead of a name. Some scholars have postulated that antonomasia is an advanced metaphor because it draws similarities of two entities and replaces the name of one with a word or a phrase closely associated with it. 


i. Bello is a writer. However, his friend calls him William Shakespeare. 

ii. Olubadan  is here. (Olubadan is a title for every king in Ibadan) 

iii. I have read the 154 poems written by the Bard of Avon. (Bard of Avon is an antonomasia of William Shakespeare. Bard means a poet while Avon is a city where he was born. He was born at Stratford-upon-Avon. 

  • Alliteration

Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of words. It does not refer to the repetition of consonant letters, but consonant sounds. It occurs when a consonant sound comes at the beginning of two or more words in a line of poetry or a sentence. 


i. Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked. 

ii. Francis’ father fried five fresh fat fish for Francis 

iii. The classic keeper kept it. 

            /k/        /k/        /k/

  • Consonance

Consonance and alliteration are both literary devices that use consonant sounds to make their expressions. Nonetheless, alliteration uses consonant sounds at the beginning of the words at it mostly appear in the stressed syllables. Conversely, consonance appears at the middle or end of words that may have or do not have the same vowel sounds. Consonance indicates half-rhyme or slant rhyme in a line of poetry. 


i. And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain. (The consonance of /s/

ii. The man can come home today. (The consonance of /n/ as in man and can and /m/ as in come and home) 

  • Assonance 

The etymology of assonance is from the Latin word assonare which means to sound. While alliteration and consonance deal with consonant sounds, assonance deals with vowel sounds. It is the repetition of vowel sounds in the word that are close to one another in a line of poetry or a sentence. Assonance is also known as Vowel Rhyme


i. My Nile will revive my Nile (/ai/ comes in My, Nile, Revive, My, Nile) 

ii. In peace, in piece (The repetition of /I/ in In and the repetition of /I:/ in Peace and Piece) 

iii. Go slow on the road. (The repetition of /əʊ/ in Go, Slow and Road)

  • Anaphora 

Anaphora is the repetition of a word or a phrase at the successive sentences or lines of poetry. As a figure of speech, it is used to create rhythm and lay emphasis on a particular word or phrases in poetry. 


i. God bless America 

   God bless me 

ii. Stay safe, stay home, stay happy

  • Epistrophe 

Epistrophe is also known as Epiphora. It is the repetition of words or phrases at the end of sentences or lines of poetry. While anaphora comes at the beginning of successive words or phrases, epistrophe or epiphora comes at the end of words or phrases. 


The government of the people by the people, for the people – Abraham Lincoln. 

  • Onomatopoeia 

Onomatopoeia is a figurative device that describes the sounds of living things and objects. It gives every entity (noun) which produces sounds their uniqueness in sound productions. For instance, the bride tweets or sings, the snake hisses, the lion roars etc. 


i. Rain pitter-patters, drip-drops, and rat-a-tats on the tin roof. 

ii. Boom, boom, the car came to life again. 

  • Invective 

This is a figure of speech that is used to abuse or insult people through the deliberate usage of abusing language and tone. It revolves around using hurtful words and harsh tones to hurt someone’s feelings. 


Thou prostitute, 

Thy mother of a bitch, the amoeba of now

Swollen face like a scarecrow

Uniformed in spreading viruses 

Thy parts are public, 

Thy belongings, non personal 

A community project 

Demonic, satanic, evil, wicked, malign.

  • Chiasmus

Chiasmus also known as chiasm simply means criss-cross. It is the rhetorical device that gives balance to two clauses against each other. The second clause will be a reversal of the structure of the first clause. The words in the first clause will be inverted, not repeated. 


i. Never allow a fool to kiss you and you kiss a fool. 

ii. We live to communicate and communicate to live. 

iii. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. 

iv. A hell of heaven or a heaven of hell. 

v. Pleasure is a sin and sometimes sin is a pleasure. 

  • Antimetabole 

Antimetabole is a subtype of chiasmus. Anti means against while metabole means change. It is the reversal of words in two successive clauses in the same way. There is an exactness in the reversal of wordings of the first clause in the second clause. The difference between antimetabole and chiasmus is; antimetabole uses the same wordings but chaimus can use different words. A chiasmus can express the same idea by using other words. 


i. It is better to be a servant in heaven than to be a king in hell. 

ii. Being the widow of a hero is good but being the wife of a coward is bad. 

iii. “I’d rather die on my feet than live on my knees.” by Emiliano Zapata  

Examples of Antimetabole 

i. She has it, hasn’t she? 

ii. If you fail to prepare, you will prepare to fail. 

iii. The good are odds and the odds are good. 

iv. Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. 

  • Synaesthesia  

There are six senses in literature, better still, imagery: they are; sense of sight, hearing, sense of smelling, sense of tasting, sense of touching, and sense of movement. Synaesthesia is a literary device that the narrator uses to appeal with more than one sense in imagery. The narrator or writer will present an abstract, a character or an object to indicate a phenomenon that embraces more than one sense.  

For instance: The adjective ‘Hot’ goes mainly with temperature, water or beverages. However, when it is used with ‘dress’ as in ‘hot dress’ or ‘hot lady’, it comes synaesthetic. 

In short, synaesthesia stimulates multiple senses. 


i. She put on a warm beautiful dress yesterday. 

ii. The best man stands like a car. 

  • Cliché  

. Cliché means the same thing over and over. The synonyms for cliché include platitudes and banalities. It is a word or an idea that has become overused to the extent of losing its meaning and figurative effect. The consequence of a word or an idea becoming a cliché is that it will become annoying and boring to the ears of men. 

For instance, words and phrases like ‘first and foremost, driving me crazy etc., have become clichés. 

  • Ambiguity  

Ambiguity is a word, phrase, clause, line or sentence that has a multiple meaning due to the choice of words (polysemic) or usage of punctuation marks. It often leads to confusion in the mind of the audience. Nonetheless, authors and poets deliberately use ambiguity to create and explore mixed feelings in the heart of the audience. Most times, human beings are ambiguous. We are often confused about the straightness and balance of life. This shows that we are not static in our opinions, thoughts, and ideas generated through circumstances. Hence, the writers explore it in their works of art. 


i. My mother beats Mary because she was drunk. (Who was drunk – my mother or Mary?) 

ii. He is the master of his people. (A teacher, boss or what? 

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  1. Thanks very much for this. I have some questions though.

    “The best man stands like a car.”
    I didn’t get it as an example of synesthesia.
    Can you be more elaborate on it?

    Thank you.

    “A hell of heaven or a heaven of hell”.

    “Pleasure is a sin and sometimes sin is a pleasure.”

    Will these not be better explained as examples of Antimetabole??

    Thank you!

    1. The example “the best man stands like a car” gives two visual imageries. One is the best man and the other is the car. However, you should understand that a car doesn’t stand. It now gives us the pictorial imagery to see a car stand. If the similarity of the two things that are compared isn’t close, it is synaethesia. Some scholars believe that most examples of simile are also synaethesia.

      I said it that antimetabole is a subtype of chiasmus. They are nearly the same in meaning. Better still, they are interwoven. The difference is that chaimus can use other words to make the statement.

      Thanks for engaging.

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