Figures of Speech: Meaning, Features, Types and Examples

Figures of Speech: Meaning, Features, Types and Examples

Figures of Speech: Meaning, Features, Types and Examples

Language can be used in two ways – literally and figuratively. Literal language is direct and uses the real definition and meanings of words and phrases. But when we talk figuratively, the meaning of any word/phrase will depend on the context in which they are used. A figure of speech relies on such. Therefore, figures of speech are words or phrases used in a figurative sense for rhetorical or vivid effect. They carry connotative or deeper meanings. In other words, their actual meanings are different from their literal or ordinary meanings. For example, the expression, The man kicked the bucket, literally or ordinarily means "the man kicked bucket," but figuratively means "the man has died." When a speaker uses this expression to mean the latter, the expression becomes a figure of speech; otherwise, it is just an everyday expression.

Features of Figures of Speech
1. The meanings of figures of speech are usually connotative rather than denotative. In other words, their actual meanings are usually different from their surface or literal meanings.

2. They are not everyday expressions. They are used only when necessary since they are used to achieve rhetoric or vivid effect.

Types of Figures of Speech

1. Simile
Simile is an indirect comparison. It is the use of "like" or "as" to compare two things of unequal status. The two things compared must be of different nature or class. You can compare humans to lower animals or inanimate objects, shoe to a charcoal etc. If the two things compared are of equal status, it is not simile despite the use of "like" or "as."

i. Chima looks like a dog. (Correct)

ii. Chima looks like Emma. (Wrong)

iii. Tammy is as gentle as a dove. (Correct)

iv. Tammy is as gentle as his brother. (Wrong)

2. Metaphor
Metaphor shows a direct comparison of two things of unequal status. In this case, you do not use "as" or "like." Just like simile, the two things under comparison must not belong to the same class.
i. Chima is a dog.

ii. Tammy is a dove.

Simile and Metaphor are also known as figures of similarity or comparison.

3. Hyperbole
It is a device that exaggerates the actual situation being represented maybe to produce either a heightened or comic effect.
i. Tammy is taller than a two-storey building.

ii. The woman swallows everybody in her mouth.

It is obvious that the above statements are exaggerated. Tammy may be very tall, but not as tall as (let alone taller than) a two-storey building. On the other hand, the woman may have a big mouth, but it cannot everybody.

4. Personification
This is the idea of giving human attributes to inanimate objects.
i. The sun travelled gently from east to west.

ii. The rain beats the man mercilessly.

5. Assonance
This is the repetition of the same vowel sound in a line of poem.
i. I saw the dead devil. –The /e/ sound.

ii. He touched the hot pot. –The /ɒ/ sound.

iii. The bat is in a bad basket. –The /æ/ sound.

6. Alliteration
Alliteration is the opposite of assonance. It is the repetition of the same consonant sound in a line of poem.
i. Some stupid students stole our shoes. – The /s/ sound.

ii. She was delivered of a bouncing baby boy. –The /b/ sound.

7. Onomatopoeia
This is the use of a word, which through its sound, its meaning can be directly inferred. In other words, you can deduce the meaning of the word through the sound. At times, we refer to this literary term as echoic verse.
i. Boom, boom, so went the gunshots.

ii. The pitter patter of the rain.

iii. The buzz of the bee.

8. Irony
This is the use of words in such a way that the surface meaning is purely opposite to the intended meaning.
"Wow! You are a brilliant child; you scored 1/10 in your test."

This shows that the preceding praise, "You are a brilliant child," is not really genuine though a listener may not quickly note the purpose, but on careful reflection, he laughs at the character being described maybe because of the word, "brilliant."

9. Euphemism
It is a way of expressing an unpleasant situation in a mild or pleasant way.
i. "The man has kicked the bucket." This means the man is dead or has died.

ii. Amina has been put in the family way.

The second example is the Nigerian way of mildly expressing that a young girl who is not married and is still living with her parents is pregnant although it can sometimes be used for married women who are pregnant.

10. Paradox
It is a statement which appears to be untrue on the surface but contains some elements of truth if inwardly examined.
i. He, who must die, shall live; he, who must live, shall die. 

ii. The egg is the father of the cock.

11. Sarcasm
It is a kind of painful remark meant to hurt someone in disguise of eulogising them.
i. She looks beautiful after the beating. 

ii. These are the holy men who will enter paradise alive. 

iii. Buhari's WAEC result is the best you can have; it can accord you the presidential seat.

12. Synecdoche
This is the use of a part to represent a whole or a whole to represent a part.
i. All hands must be on deck to make sure we finish the job on time.

ii. Uneasy lies the heart that bears the crown. 

iii. Nigeria was said to be the most populous African country by the last head count.

Hands, heart and head are all used to represent humans (people).

13. Metonymy
It is the representation of something or somebody with an object associated or related to it or them.
i. "The pulpit should be careful." In this instance, pulpit means clergymen. 

ii. "The change of throne is not an easy task." Throne means kingship in this instance. 

iii. "There are many skirts and trousers along the road." Skirts and trousers refer to girls and boys respectively.

Synecdoche and metonymy are somewhat similar. However, in synecdoche, you use a body part (of humans) to represent all humans whereas in metonymy, you use an item associated with a group of people or things to represent every member of that group.

14. Oxymoron
This is the side-by-side placement of two contradictory words.
i. This drink has a bitter-sweet taste. 

ii. The death of the boy has become an open secret.

iii. Labour, for women, is a painful pleasure.

iv. I can't stay in this illuminating darkness.

15. Epigram
It is a short and witty statement that has philosophical meaning. In other words, it is used to express ideas in a brief and memorable manner. It often embodies apparent contradiction and some bit of satire.
i. Nothing is permanent but change.

ii. Every poet is a fool, but not every fool is a poet.

16. Antithesis
This is the use of contrastive words or phrases to express an idea.
i. Man proposes, God disposes.

ii. Penny wise, pound foolish.

17. Repetition
It is the recurrence of words for purpose of emphasis.
i. Twinkle, Twinkle little star...

ii. Rain, Rain, go away...

iii. He that will come, will come.

18. Pun
It is the deliberate play upon words. It may be used in a way that a particular word is repeated while its meaning may not be really apparent.
i. Better be late than be late.

ii. Seven days of fasting make one weak/week.

19. Rhetorical question
It is a question that does not require an answer. It is a question asked for literary effect in one's writing or speech.
i. Oh God, why me?!

ii. Who can battle with the Lord?

iii. God, where are you?!

20. Litotes
It is a statement of fact in the negative to express a concept or an idea.
i. "She is not wise." This means she is foolish.

ii. "Mr Tamuno is a no-nonsense person." This means Mr Tamuno is strict.

21. Allusion
It is an act of making reference either to events, persons, society or history.
Obedience to God is an act bearing the cross. (Biblical allusion).

22. Apostrophe
It is a form of direct address to a person or object not present as if the person or thing being addressed is present.
i. O' death, where is thy sting?

ii. O' grave, where is thy victory?

23. Symbolism
It is an image or word that stands for something rather than the literary meaning. When a symbol is used in Literature, the purpose is to give it a meaning which goes beyond the physical representation. For example, the eagle in the coat of arms of Nigeria symbolises the pride of Nigeria.

24. Climax
This is the arrangement of ideas, items in an ascending order. Here, one starts from the lowest to the highest. The effect is to arouse suspense in a listener or reader.
i. David Clark lost his pen, money, two children and beautiful wife in a day.

ii. I came, I saw, I conquered.

25. Anticlimax
This is the opposite of climax. It progresses from the highest to the lowest.
David Clark lost his beautiful wife, two children, money and pen in a day.

26. Innuendo
This is another ironical figure of speech. It is a clever way of passing unpleasant comments. Here, the speaker selects his words in such a way that the person being addressed understands the underlying message, yet doesn't get offended or feel insulted.
Tammy is a very honest man, especially with matters unconnected with money.

27. Paraprosdokian
Read about paraprosdokian here.

28. Bathos
This is when you present a declining impression from something impressive to a ridiculous one. For example, "It is better to live in hell than to die in heaven."

29. Chiasmus
This is a reversal of the order of words by corresponding phrases occurring in a sentence.
i. Do not think of what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. 

ii. "Do not fear to negotiate, and do not negotiate out of fear." – J. F. Kennedy.

30. Hendiadys
This is a figure of speech used for emphasis, where two words joined by "and" are used to express a single idea. For instance, instead of simply saying "Tammy took his leave," we may rather say, "Tammy took his hat and his leave." This makes it look as if it were two things that were taken.

31. Prolepsis
This is a representation or an assumption of a future act or development as if it has been accomplished. For instance, a student who is anticipating his Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE) result may boastfully say to his friends: "I have made A1 in all my papers."

32. Antonomasia
This is the use of a proper name to suggest its most obvious quality or aspect. For example, Wole Soyinka is often called William Shakespeare of our time. This is due to his literary prowess which is only comparable to that of William Shakespeare.