What are Figures of Speech?
Figures of speech are literary devices which are used to express ideas that move beyond their literal meaning.
Functions of Figures of Speech
- They impart beauty to the language by stimulating the visual, aural and sensory appeal of the verses.
- The reader is made to use his imagination to create rich mental pictures.
- They provide freshness of expression and clarity of meaning.
- They can be used in poetic as well as in everyday language.
- Language of speeches and debates can also be enriched with the use of figures of speech. In short, figures of speech make the language more colourful, descriptive and interesting.
Types of Figures of Speech
There are more than 200 types of figures of speech in English. In this chapter, we will be covering a few of them.
Simile is a figure of speech which directly compares two things which may have similar qualities.
It employs the use of words such as ‗like‘ or ‗as‘.
- The prisoners languished like caged animals. (The prisoners are likened to caged animals.)
- Manish is as thin as a reed. (Manish is compared to a reed.)
She entered with ungainly struggle like some huge awkward chicken, torn, squawking, out of its coop.‖Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventure of the Three Gables
In the eastern sky there was a yellow patch like a rug laid for the feet of the coming sun . . .‖Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage
O my Luve’s like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve’s like the melodie
That’s sweetly played in tune.‖Robert Burns, Red Red Rose
The air smelled sharp as new-cut wood, slicing low and sly around the angles of buildings.‖Joanne Harris, Chocolat
Metaphor is a figure of speech which makes a direct equation between two things which share similar qualities.
Unlike similes, metaphors do not use words such as ‗as‘ or ‗like‘.
- My old employer was the devil incarnate. (The old employer is equated with the devil.)
- The pen is the tongue of the mind. (The pen is equated with the tongue.)
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players‖Shakespeare, As You Like It
I fall upon the thorns of life.‖P. B. Shelly, Ode to the West Wind
Entangled in the cobweb of the schools.‖William Cowper, The Task
We also use various metaphors in our day-to-day language.
|Flogging a dead horse – It is a metaphor for a pointless argument which refuses to die.|
Why does the boss have to flog the dead horse? I thought the matter is already settled.
|Elephant in the room – It is a metaphor for an uncomfortable or unpleasant fact that everyone sees but no one acknowledges for the fear of causing embarrassment or awkwardness.|
Mitesh‘s dismissal from his job is the veritable elephant in the room tonight.
|A gift that keeps on giving – It is a metaphor for something will continue to be useful longer than it is intended to be.|
Friendship with a good person is a gift that keeps on giving.
|Music to my ears – It stands for something which brings joy to the listener.|
The fact that my favourite actor has won an award is music to my ears.
Personification is a figure of speech where human qualities or activities are attributed to animals, non-living things or abstract ideas.
Through personification, writers and poets offer a fresh perspective to the reader.
Readers relate to the inanimate as they would relate to humans.
- The skies wept. (The skies are given the human ability to weep.)
- Your arrogance betrayed you today. (Arrogance is said to have the ability to betray.)
When well-apparelled April on the heel
Of limping winter treadsShakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the big shoulders‖Carl Sandberg, Chicago
Ah, William, we‘re weary of weather,
said the sunflowers, shining with dew.‖William Blake, Two Sunflowers Move in The Yellow Room
O Rose thou are sick‖William Blake, The Sick Rose
Synecdoche is a figure of speech where a part is used to signify the whole.
- The family has many mouths to feed. (The word ‗mouth‘ represents members of the family.)
- Two heads are better than one. (The word ‗heads‘ represents people.)
Blind mouths! that scarce themselves know how to holdJohn Milton, Lycidas
“You run about, my little Maid,
Your limbs they are alive‖William Wordsworth, We are Seven
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.P. B. Shelly, Ozymandias
The western wave was all a-flame.‖Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
I should have been a pair of ragged claws Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.T. S. Elliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
Transferred epithet is a figure of speech where the quality of one noun is ascribed to another.
By doing so, the adjective is transferred to a noun to which it does not belong.
- Phillip‘s happy days are here again. (Phillip is the one who is happy, but the noun ‗days‘ is ascribed the quality of happiness.)
- Priti has committed too many careless mistakes. (Here, Priti is the one who is careless. But the quality is ascribed to the noun ‗mistakes‘.)
“The new man wrote a question at which I stared in wide-eyed amazement‖Ralph Ellison, The Invisible Man
Lord Ullin reach’d that fatal shoreThomas Campbell, Lord Ullin’s Daughter
… may be completely destroyed in that second’s instant of a careless match,”William Faulkner, Golden Land
…until it shines, like her own honest forehead, with perpetual friction.” —CharlesDickens, David Copperfield
Metonymy is a figure of speech where the name of one thing is used for another because of their close association or recurrent relationship with each other.
It is not to be confused with synecdoche because the term used to describe another is not a part of it.
- Europe has opened its doors to the immigrants. (‗Europe‘ is the metonymy for European government or the people of Europe.)
- The court has issued a summon. (‗The court‘ is the metonymy for the judge.)
“The pen is mightier than the sword,”
(The ‗pen‘ stands for the intelligent and educated, while the sword stands for the brawny.)Edward Bulwer Lytton, Richelieu
as doublet and hose ought to show itself courageous to petticoat‖
(The words ‗doublet and hose‘ represent masculinity and ‗petticoat‘ represents ‗femininity‘.)Shakespeare, As You Like It
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears‖
(The word ‗ears‘ represents ‗attention‘.)Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
As he swung toward them holding up the hand
Half in appeal, but half as if to keep
The life from spilling.‖
(The word ‗life‘ represents blood.)Robert Frost, Out, Out
Pun is a figure of speech where multiple meanings of the same word are exploited for poetic or comic effect.
It imparts a ‗double meaning‘ to the word in a witty manner.
It exploits both the literal and the figurative meaning of the word.
- A pessimist‘s blood type is always B-negative.
- (It is a play on the word negative because pessimists always have a negative outlook towards life.)
- An elephant‘s opinion carries a lot of weight.
- (The word ‗weight‘ stands for the elephant‘s weight in the literal sense and for its figurative sense.)
winter of our discontent…made glorious summer by this Son of York.
(The word ‘Son‘ also puns on its homophone ‗Sun‘ since summer and winter are referenced in the sentence.)Shakespeare, Richard
I always told you, Gwendolen, my name was Ernest, didn‘t I? Well, it is Ernest after all. I mean it naturally is Ernest.
(The speaker puns on the word ‗Earnest‘. Along with stating his name, he also wants to emphasise his earnestness.)Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest
You see the earth takes twenty-four hours to turn round on its axis
‗Talking of axes,‘ said the Duchess, ‗chop off her head!‘Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Not I, believe me. You have dancing shoes with nimble soles; I have a soul of lead
(The words ‗sole‘ and ‗soul‘ are homophones.)Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
Euphemism is figure of speech where an offensive or a harsh word is substituted with a milder and a less egregious expression.
By using a euphemism, the writer or the poet makes the unpleasant sound poetic and polite.
The Sharma‘s dog was put to sleep because it was in a lot of pain.
(The term ‗put to sleep‘ is a less offensive term used instead of ‗killed‘ or ‗euthanised‘.)
Let us offer a prayer in the memory of those departed.
(The term ‗the departed‘ is a milder expression used instead of ‗the dead‘.)
For the time being,‖ he explains, ―it had been found necessary to make a readjustment of rations.
(The term ‗a readjustment of rations‘ is a milder term for reduction in food supply.)George Orwell, Animal Farm
But he could do little for them; and now he is gone
(The phrase ‗he is gone‘ stands for death.)Thomas Hardy, Afterward
And will any say when my bell of quittance is heard in the gloom
(The phrase ‗my bell of quittance‘ stands for the death knell or a bell which is rung at the event of a person‘s death.)Thomas Hardy, Afterward
The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States…but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.
(The term ‗Persons‘ is a milder term used for slaves.)Constitution of the United States, Article 1, Section 9