We all are accustomed to the figures of speech in English language but use them less often. However, it is not a bad idea to refresh our memories and throw more light to the stale knowledge we have of the figures of speech in English language.

As we all know, figures of speech is a word or phrase used in a non-literal sense for rhetorical or vivid effect. It is often used to portray life in the use of English language. For instance, the sentence "life is beautiful" is more lively and colourful when put this way..life is as beautiful as the sunset (figure of speech used= simile).

In this article, we will look at;

  • the meaning of figures of speech
  • the types of figures of speech and  examples of each given figure of speech

Meaning of Figures of Speech.

As stated earlier, figures of speech is the word or phrase used to give life to the English language. It is a literary device used to create images and enhance expression. It can also be said to be the colour of the language. Just like every language has idioms and oil to which the words are 'eaten' smoothly, figures of speech is the oil of English language and is what a sauce is to yam.

There are more than 250 figures of speech recorded by Professor Robert DiYanni (an English professor), however we will be looking at the common ones.

Types and Examples of Figures of Speech.

The most common types of figures of speech are;

  1. Simile
  2. Metaphor
  3. Personification
  4. Hyperbole
  5. Irony/ sarcasm
  6. Paradox
  7. Oxymoron
  8. Pun
  9. Synecdoche
  10. Metonymy
  11. Euphemism
  12. Alliteration
  13. Epigram
  14. Litotes
  15. Climax
  16. Anticlimax/ bathos
  17. Exclamation
  18. Interrogation
  19. Tautology/pleonasm
  20. Onomatopoeia
  21. Circumlocution
  22. Transferred epithets
  23. Antithesis

Now, let's look intensively at the first 10 commonly used figures of speech and their examples.

1. Simile:

This literary device focuses on the use of "like" and "as", to express the speaker's message.

For example:

  1. Kelvin is as blind as a bat.
  2. The mistake is as clear as crystal.
  3. She is as cold as ice.

2. Metaphor:

Here the message is stated as it is. The speaker's message appears blunt and makes no use of "like" or "as".

For example:

  1. He is a lion at home.
  2. She is wild.
  3. The lady is quiet.

3. Personification:

This is the giving of human attributes/ characters to mere objects or abstract notions.

For example:

  1. The sun wept today.
  2. The clouds cried on me.
  3. The ground looks thirsty.

4. Hyperbole:

This literary device is a deliberate overstatement. It often exaggerates what the speaker has in mind.

For example:

  1. His hairs are as white as snow.
  2. My mom is going to kill me today.
  3. Today is the worst day of my life.

5. Irony/ Sarcasm:

In this literary device, the speaker says opposite of what he has in mind and usually comes across as sarcastic with intentions hidden. It has four types: verbal irony, dramatic irony, situational irony and comic irony.

For example:

  1. A policeman was robbed.
  2. A hairstylist who has her hair unkempt.
  3. A fire station is on fire now

6. Paradox:

It is the use of two striking opposite words in a sentence. It is often contradictory.

For example:

  1. Less is more.
  2. Shame is pride.
  3. "Whatever you do in life will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.” (Ghandi)

7. Oxymoron:

It is a figure of speech which combines two seemingly contradictory  words for sharp emphasis. This is often mistaken for paradox.

For example:

  1. Darkest light.
  2. Loving hate.
  3. Humble pride.

8. Pun:

This is a play on the various meanings of a word. It  centers on a word with more than one meaning or words that sound alike. It also has different categories and often sounds funny.

For example:

  1. With nimble soles; I have a soul of lead
  2. The constitution is against prostitution and congress is against progress.
  3. Is life worth living? It depends upon the liver.

9. Synecdoche:

Synecdoche is the using of a part to illustrate the whole. It can be said to be the understanding of one thing by means of another.

For example:

  1. All hands on deck.
  2. Heads turned when she walked in.
  3. All eyes was on him.

10.  Metonymy:

Metonymy is usually meant for a change of name. It serves as a substitute of the thing names for the thing meant. It can be mistaken for synecdoche if not carefully constructed.

For example:

  1. The pen is mightier than the sword (meaning carefully thought out words are better than weapons).
  2. From the cradle to the grave (meaning from childhood to death).
  3. Lend me your ears (meaning pay attention).

Wow! We have looked at ten commonly used figures of speech already! Let's look at the extra 13 listed.

11. Euphemism:

This literary device puts unpleasant and disagreeable in an agreeable and pleasant form.

For example:

  1. Her step-father put her in a family way.
  2. Her pregnancy was terminated.
  3. He passed away last night.

12. Alliteration:

Alliteration is a figure of speech in which two consecutive words that begins with the same consonant sound are used.

For example:

  1. Kindly keep the kettle clean for the king.
  2. Four fabulous fish and flowers filled Fayol's farm.
  3. Betty butter has some butter but she said "this butter is bitter if I put it in my batter, it will make my batter bitter, bitter than the better butter".

13. Epigram:

This is a brief pointed saying which couples words that contradict each other to prove a point. It is usually short.

For example:

  1. The child is the father of the man.
  2. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
  3. Silence is sometimes more eloquent than words.

14. Litotes:

This is the opposite of hyperbole. Here an affirmative is conveyed by negation of the opposite.

For example:

  1. He is no dullard.
  2. Sarah is no fool.
  3. You are not looking bad.

15. Climax:

This is the arrangement in which words, phrases, clauses or ideas are arranged in order of increasing importance. It aims at building excitement gradually.

For example:

  1. I came out from the pot, to the frying pan, now I'm in the fire!
  2. "Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird! No, It's a plane! It's Superman!"
  3. “What a piece of work man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculties! In action, like an angel!”

16. Anticlimax/ Bathos:

This is the opposite of climax and signifies use of words with descent from the higher importance to the lower importance.

For example:

  1. He is a lawyer, a statesman, and a drunk.
  2. She had a husband, a child, and a few clothes.
  3. Humans are so great, so vast, so foolish.

17. Exclamation:

Exclamation is used for strong expression of feelings.

For example:

  1. How I fell! Oh death, where is your sting?
  2. Oh fall on me death, shrink my soul; leave me with nothing for I am wasted.
  3. O lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud, I fall upon the thorns of life; I bleed!

18. Interrogation:

This is a rhetorical mode of affirming or denying something more strongly than it could be done in ordinary language.

For example:

  1. Who is here so rude that would not be a Roman?
  2. Who is here so vile that will not love his country? (Shakespeare)
  3. Can anyone here swim who is not from the riverine area?

19. Tautology / Pleonasm:

Tautology repeats the same fact or idea in different words.

For example:

  1. It is better to live than not die.
  2. I'd rather kill myself than commit suicide.
  3. “It is the privilege and birthright of every man to express his ideas without any fear.”

20. Onomatopoeia:

Onomatopoeia simply is the mimicry of sounds. It is the use of words to imitate sounds and is expressive too. Onomatopoeia is derived from two Greek words, onoma meaning "name" and poiein meaning "to make," so onomatopoeia literally means "to make a name (or sound)."

In Onomatopoeia, the word means nothing more than the sound it makes. For example, Beep is a short, high-pitched sound emitted by electronic equipment , but it can also indicate brief warning sound.

For example:

  1. Water sounds: The words related to water or other liquids. For example splash, drizzle, drip, spray.
  2. Vocal sounds: The words describe sounds that come from the back of the throat. For example giggle, growl, grunt, bawl, blurt, belch.
  3. Collision sounds: The words describe sound when two or more objects clash together. For example: Boom (explosion), bang, clap, jingle, click.
  4. Animal sounds: This are words that relate to animal noises. For example: bark, buzz, hiss, meow
  5. Air sounds: These words describe the sound of air blowing through things or thing passing through air. For example: swoosh, whoosh, whizz, whisper, gasp.

21. Circumlocution:

This literary device has a way of expressing some fact or idea in a roundabout or indirect way instead of stating clearly. It can be said to be the use of verbose words or talking in circles.

For example:

  1. The swirling bountiful liquid of the earth - sea.
  2. The light colourless sustainer of humans - air/breath.
  3. Our Father who art in Heaven - God.
  4. You know who..

22. Transferred Epithets:

In transferred epithets, the qualifying objective is transferred to a person or a thing. It is the transfer of a description (adjective) to a noun and it commonly appears as a phrase.

For example:

  1. Sleepless night.
  2. Scornful eye.
  3. Shinning sun.

23. Antithesis:

In antithesis, a striking opposition or contrast of words is made in the same sentence in order to secure emphasis.

For example:

  1. To err is human, to forgive divine.
  2. Man proposes, God disposes.
  3. "Love is an ideal thing, marriage a real thing." - Goethe.

With the 23 listed and explained, you are ready to add spices and colour to your spoken English and written English especially if you are a writer or a journalist. I wish you luck! Remember to use them correctly too.