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Figures of Speech vs Literary Devices: What’s The Difference?

Welcome to this Literature tutorial on Figures of Speech vs Literary Devices. You are about to uncover the difference between these two terms once and for all. Also, get ready to find out what they share in common.


Although the terms ‘figure of speech’ and ‘literary device’ are often used interchangeably, they do not mean the same thing. In this post, you will learn the definitions and differences between figures of speech and literary devices.

I will also draw your attention to any similarities between these two terms in Literature. We will illustrate this tutorial on the difference between figures of speech and literary devices with appropriate examples.

Therefore, if you are looking for notes that will clear any confusion in your mind about the difference between a figure of speech and a literary device, you’ve just landed on the right spot.

Without any further delay, let’s get it done.

What are literary devices and figures of speech?

Literary devices and figures of speech are tools that writers use to enhance the quality of their writing to create a more engaging experience for readers.

We shall quickly define the two terms separately.

Definition of Literary Devices

Literary devices are techniques that writers employ to add style, convey meaning, create mood, or evoke certain emotions in their readers.

These include various styles of writing, narrative techniques, storytelling methods, and language choices that add depth and richness to the text.

Examples of literary devices include personification, similes, metaphors, paradoxes, symbolism, subplots, dramatic irony, plot twists and realism.

35 Narrative Techniques in Literature with Examples

Literary Devices and Figures of Speech 101: FREE PDF

Definition of Figures of Speech

Figures of speech, on the other hand, are specific types of literary devices that involve the use of language in a non-literal way to create vivid images or effects.

They are expressions where words are used to deviate from their literal meanings to achieve a special effect. This is why we often associate figures of speech with the literary technique known as imagery.

  • 6 Types of Imagery in Literature

Examples of figures of speech include similes, metaphors, personification, hyperbole, and alliteration.

The Difference Between Figures of Speech and Literary Devices

We can now tackle the main issue of Figures of Speech vs Literary devices.

While both terms are related, the key difference lies in their scope .

Literary devices cover a broad range of techniques used in writing, including figures of speech.

Figures of speech, on the other hand, specifically refer to the intentional and artful use of language in a non-literal manner.

In other words, all figures of speech are literary devices, but not all literary devices are figures of speech.

Let’s illustrate further with examples of literary devices that may not be figures of speech.

Literary Device Examples

Here are a few examples of literary devices that are not necessarily figures of speech.


Definition: In foreshadowing, the author gives hints or clues about what will happen later in the story.

Example: In a mystery novel, the author may subtly mention a mysterious character or event early on, creating anticipation for the reader.

Definition: The narrative shifts to a scene that happened before the current time. Flashback, as a literary technique, helps provide background information to the reader.

Example: In a story, a character might have a flashback to their childhood, helping readers understand their motivations or past experiences.

Definition: The use of symbols to represent ideas or qualities. Symbolism is a literary device that adds depth and layers of meaning to a work.

Example: A dove in literature often symbolizes peace or freedom, going beyond its literal representation as a bird.

Best 10 Examples of Symbolism in Literature

Definition: A reference to a well-known person, place, event, or work of art within a literary work.

Example: A character in a novel might allude to Shakespeare, adding a layer of meaning for readers familiar with his works.

Irony (Verbal, Situational, Dramatic)

Definition: A situation with a difference between appearance and reality, or between what is expected and what actually occurs.

Example: Verbal irony occurs when a character says something but means the opposite, adding a layer of humour or sarcasm.

You can get the definitions and examples of situational irony and dramatic irony in this post.

Related Posts

  • Literary Devices & Figures of Speech 101 (+ PDF)
  • Best 10 Examples of Symbolism in Literature (with Definition)
  • 40 Easy Examples of Oxymoron in Literature
  • Examples of Resolution and Denouement in Literature (with Definitions)

To Summarize: Figures of Speech vs Literary Devices

Always remember that literary devices are the broader category of tools writers use. Figures of speech constitute just a specific subset within the broader category of literary devices or techniques.

Therefore, while all figures of speech such as metaphor, personification, metonymy and alliteration are literary devices, many literary devices are not necessarily figures of speech.

These include poetic techniques such as diction and symbolism, dramatic techniques such as humour and dramatic irony and narrative techniques such as narrative hook and cliffhanger .

literary devices vs figures of speech

Ralph Nyadzi

Ralph Nyadzi is the Director of Studies at Cegast Academy. He is a qualified English tutor with decades of experience behind him. Since 2001, he has successfully coached thousands of High School General Arts WASSCE candidates in English, Literature and related subjects. He combines his expertise with a passion for lifelong learning to guide learners from varying backgrounds to achieve their educational goals. Ralph shares lessons from his blogging journey on BloggingtotheMax . He lives with River, his pet cat, in the Central Region of Ghana.

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literary devices vs figures of speech

Figures of Speech vs. Literary Devices

What's the difference.

Figures of speech and literary devices are both important elements in writing that enhance the overall impact and effectiveness of a piece of literature. However, they differ in their specific functions. Figures of speech are specific language techniques that add depth and creativity to the text, such as metaphors, similes, and personification. They are used to create vivid imagery and evoke emotions in the reader. On the other hand, literary devices encompass a broader range of techniques that contribute to the overall structure and style of a literary work. These include elements like symbolism, irony, foreshadowing, and allusion, which are used to convey deeper meanings, develop themes, and engage the reader's attention. While figures of speech focus on the use of language, literary devices encompass a wider range of techniques that contribute to the overall artistic and intellectual impact of a literary work.

Further Detail


Figures of speech and literary devices are essential tools in the writer's arsenal, enabling them to add depth, creativity, and impact to their writing. While these terms are often used interchangeably, they have distinct attributes that set them apart. In this article, we will explore the characteristics of figures of speech and literary devices, highlighting their similarities and differences.

Figures of Speech

Figures of speech are linguistic devices that add figurative meaning to words or phrases, going beyond their literal interpretation. They are used to create vivid imagery, evoke emotions, and enhance the overall impact of the text. Figures of speech can be categorized into various types, including similes, metaphors, personification, hyperbole, and more.

Similes are figures of speech that compare two unlike things using "like" or "as." For example, "Her smile was as bright as the sun." This comparison helps the reader visualize the intensity of the smile.

Metaphors, on the other hand, make a direct comparison between two unrelated things, stating that one thing is another. For instance, "The world is a stage." This metaphor suggests that life is like a play, with individuals playing different roles.

Personification is a figure of speech that attributes human characteristics to inanimate objects or abstract concepts. For example, "The wind whispered through the trees." By giving the wind the ability to whisper, the writer creates a vivid and engaging image.

Hyperbole is an exaggerated statement or claim that is not meant to be taken literally. It is used to emphasize a point or create a humorous effect. For instance, "I've told you a million times!" This hyperbolic statement emphasizes the speaker's frustration rather than the literal number of times they have spoken.

Figures of speech serve as powerful tools to engage readers, evoke emotions, and create memorable imagery within a text.

Literary Devices

Literary devices, on the other hand, encompass a broader range of techniques used in literature to enhance the overall impact of the text. While figures of speech are a subset of literary devices, the latter includes additional techniques such as symbolism, irony, allusion, foreshadowing, and more.

Symbolism is a literary device that uses objects, characters, or actions to represent abstract ideas or concepts. For example, a red rose often symbolizes love or passion, while a dove symbolizes peace.

Irony is a literary device that involves a contrast between what is expected and what actually happens. It can be situational, verbal, or dramatic. Situational irony occurs when the outcome of a situation is different from what is expected. Verbal irony is when someone says the opposite of what they actually mean. Dramatic irony is when the audience knows something that the characters do not. Irony adds depth and complexity to a story.

Allusion is a literary device that refers to a well-known person, event, or work of art. It allows the writer to tap into the reader's existing knowledge or cultural references to convey meaning or create a specific atmosphere. For instance, referencing Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet in a love story adds depth and resonance to the narrative.

Foreshadowing is a literary device that hints at future events or outcomes in a story. It creates suspense and anticipation, keeping the reader engaged. By dropping subtle clues, the writer prepares the reader for what is to come, adding layers of meaning to the text.

Literary devices, including figures of speech, are essential in creating a rich and engaging reading experience, allowing writers to convey complex ideas and emotions effectively.

Similarities and Differences

While figures of speech and literary devices share the common goal of enhancing the impact of a text, they differ in their scope and application. Figures of speech primarily focus on the use of language to create vivid imagery and evoke emotions, while literary devices encompass a broader range of techniques that contribute to the overall structure, meaning, and depth of a literary work.

Both figures of speech and literary devices require a deep understanding of language and its nuances. They rely on the writer's creativity and skill to effectively communicate their intended message to the reader. Additionally, both figures of speech and literary devices are used across various forms of literature, including poetry, prose, drama, and even speeches.

However, figures of speech are more specific in their application, often used within a sentence or a phrase to add figurative meaning. They are more focused on the use of language itself, employing techniques such as comparison, personification, or exaggeration to create impact. On the other hand, literary devices encompass a wider range of techniques that contribute to the overall structure and meaning of a literary work, including symbolism, irony, allusion, and foreshadowing.

Figures of speech are often used to engage the reader's senses and imagination, creating vivid mental images and evoking emotions. They add color and depth to the text, making it more memorable and impactful. Literary devices, on the other hand, contribute to the overall structure and meaning of the work, providing layers of depth and complexity. They help convey themes, develop characters, and create a cohesive narrative.

In conclusion, figures of speech and literary devices are essential tools in the writer's toolbox, enabling them to create impactful and engaging texts. While figures of speech focus on the use of language to add figurative meaning, literary devices encompass a broader range of techniques that contribute to the overall structure and meaning of a literary work. Both are crucial in creating a rich and immersive reading experience, captivating the reader's imagination and emotions.

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literary devices vs figures of speech

Figurative Language

literary devices vs figures of speech

Figurative Language Definition

What is figurative language? Here’s a quick and simple definition:

Figurative language is language that contains or uses figures of speech . When people use the term "figurative language," however, they often do so in a slightly narrower way. In this narrower definition, figurative language refers to language that uses words in ways that deviate from their literal interpretation to achieve a more complex or powerful effect. This view of figurative language focuses on the use of figures of speech that play with the meaning of words, such as metaphor , simile , personification , and hyperbole .

Some additional key details about figurative language:

  • Figurative language is common in all sorts of writing, as well as in spoken language.
  • Figurative language refers to language that contains figures of speech, while figures of speech are the particular techniques. If figurative speech is like a dance routine, figures of speech are like the various moves that make up the routine.
  • It's a common misconception that imagery, or vivid descriptive language, is a kind of figurative language. In fact, writers can use figurative language as one tool to help create imagery, but imagery does not have to use figurative language.

Figurative Language Pronunciation

Here's how to pronounce figurative language: fig -yer-uh-tiv lang -gwij

Figures of Speech and Figurative Language

To fully understand figurative language, it's helpful to have a basic understanding of figures of speech. More specifically, it's helpful to understand the two main types of figures of speech: tropes and schemes .

  • Tropes are figures of speech that play with and shift the expected and literal meaning of words.
  • Schemes are figures of speech that involve a change from the typical mechanics of a sentence, such as the order, pattern, or arrangement of words.

Put even more simply: tropes play with the meaning of words, while schemes play with the structure of words, phrases, and sentences.

The Different Things People Mean When They Say Figurative Language

When people say figurative language, they don't always mean the precise same thing. Here are the three different ways people usually talk about figurative language:

  • Dictionary definition of figurative language: According to the dictionary, figurative language is simply any language that contains or uses figures of speech. This definition would mean that figurative language includes the use of both tropes and schemes.
  • Much more common real world use of figurative language: However, when people (including teachers) refer to figurative language, they usually mean language that plays with the literal meaning of words. This definition sees figurative language as language that primarily involves the use of tropes.
  • Another common real world use of figurative language: Some people define figurative language as including figures of speech that play with meaning as well as a few other common schemes that affect the rhythm and sound of text, such as alliteration and assonance .

What does all that boil down to for you? If you hear someone talking about figurative language, you can usually safely assume they are referring to language that uses figures of speech to play with the meaning of words and, perhaps, with the way that language sounds or feels.

Common Types of Figurative Language

There are many, many types of figures of speech that can be involved in figurative language. Some of the most common are:

  • Metaphor : A figure of speech that makes a comparison between two unrelated things by stating that one thing is another thing, even though this isn't literally true. For example, the phrase "her lips are a blooming rose" obviously doesn't literally mean what it says—it's a metaphor that makes a comparison between the red beauty and promise of a blooming rose with that of the lips of the woman being described.
  • Simile : A simile, like a metaphor, makes a comparison between two unrelated things. However, instead of stating that one thing is another thing (as in metaphor), a simile states that one thing is like another thing. An example of a simile would be to say "they fought like cats and dogs."
  • Oxymoron : An oxymoron pairs contradictory words in order to express new or complex meanings. In the phrase "parting is such sweet sorrow" from Romeo and Juliet , "sweet sorrow" is an oxymoron that captures the complex and simultaneous feelings of pain and pleasure associated with passionate love.
  • Hyperbole : Hyperbole is an intentional exaggeration of the truth, used to emphasize the importance of something or to create a comic effect. An example of a hyperbole is to say that a backpack "weighs a ton." No backpack literally weighs a ton, but to say "my backpack weighs ten pounds" doesn't effectively communicate how burdensome a heavy backpack feels.
  • Personification : In personification, non-human things are described as having human attributes, as in the sentence, "The rain poured down on the wedding guests, indifferent to their plans." Describing the rain as "indifferent" is an example of personification, because rain can't be "indifferent," nor can it feel any other human emotion.
  • Idiom : An idiom is a phrase that, through general usage within a particular group or society, has gained a meaning that is different from the literal meaning of the words. The phrase "it's raining cats and dogs" is known to most Americans to mean that it's raining hard, but an English-speaking foreigner in the United States might find the phrase totally confusing.
  • Onomatopoeia : Onomatopoeia is a figure of speech in which words evoke the actual sound of the thing they refer to or describe. The “boom” of a firework exploding, the “tick tock” of a clock, and the “ding dong” of a doorbell are all examples of onomatopoeia.
  • Synecdoche : In synecdoche, a part of something is used to refer to its whole . For example, "The captain commands one hundred sails" is a synecdoche that uses "sails" to refer to ships—ships being the thing of which a sail is a part.
  • Metonymy : Metonymy is a figure of speech in which an object or concept is referred to not by its own name, but instead by the name of something closely associated with it. For example, in "Wall Street prefers lower taxes," the New York City street that was the original home of the New York Stock Exchange stands in for (or is a "metonym" for) the entire American financial industry.
  • Alliteration : In alliteration, the same sound repeats in a group of words, such as the “ b ” sound in: “ B ob b rought the b ox of b ricks to the b asement.” Alliteration uses repetition to create a musical effect that helps phrases to stand out from the language around them.
  • Assonance : The repetition of vowel sounds repeat in nearby words, such as the " ee " sound: "the squ ea ky wh ee l gets the gr ea se." Like alliteration, assonance uses repeated sounds to create a musical effect in which words echo one another.

Figurative Language vs. Imagery

Many people (and websites) argue that imagery is a type of figurative language. That is actually incorrect. Imagery refers to a writers use of vivid and descriptive language to appeal to the reader's senses and more deeply evoke places, things, emotions, and more. The following sentence uses imagery to give the reader a sense of how what is being described looks, feels, smells, and sounds:

The night was dark and humid, the scent of rotting vegetation hung in the air, and only the sound of mosquitoes broke the quiet of the swamp.

This sentence uses no figurative language. Every word means exactly what it says, and the sentence is still an example of the use of imagery. That said, imagery can use figurative language, often to powerful effect:

The night was dark and humid, heavy with a scent of rotting vegetation like a great-aunt's heavy and inescapable perfume, and only the whining buzz of mosquitoes broke the silence of the swamp.

In this sentence, the description has been made more powerful through the use of a simile ("like a great-aunt's..."), onomatopoeia ("whining buzz," which not only describes but actually sounds like the noise made by mosquitoes), and even a bit of alliteration in the " s ilence of the s wamp."

To sum up: imagery is not a form of figurative language. But a writer can enhance his or her effort to write imagery through the use of figurative language.

Figurative Language Examples

Figurative language is more interesting, lively, beautiful, and memorable than language that's purely literal. Figurative language is found in all sorts of writing, from poetry to prose to speeches to song lyrics, and is also a common part of spoken speech. The examples below show a variety of different types of figures of speech. You can see many more examples of each type at their own specific LitChart entries.

Figurative Language Example: Metaphor

Metaphor in shakespeare's romeo and juliet.

In Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet , Romeo uses the following metaphor in Act 2 Scene 2 of Romeo and Juliet , after sneaking into Juliet's garden and catching a glimpse of her on her balcony:

But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.

Romeo compares Juliet to the sun not only to describe how radiantly beautiful she is, but also to convey the full extent of her power over him. He's so taken with Juliet that her appearances and disappearances affect him like those of the sun. His life "revolves" around Juliet like the earth orbits the sun.

Figurative Language Example: Simile

In this example of a simile from Slaughterhouse-Five , Billy Pilgrim emerges from an underground slaughterhouse where he has been held prisoner by the Germans during the deadly World War II firebombing of Dresden:

It wasn't safe to come out of the shelter until noon the next day. When the Americans and their guards did come out, the sky was black with smoke. The sun was an angry little pinhead. Dresden was like the moon now , nothing but minerals. The stones were hot. Everybody else in the neighborhood was dead.

Vonnegut uses simile to compare the bombed city of Dresden to the moon in order to capture the totality of the devastation—the city is so lifeless that it is like the barren moon.

Figurative Language Example: Oxymoron

These lines from Chapter 7 of Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls describe an encounter between Robert Jordan, a young American soldier fighting in the Spanish Civil War, and his lover María.

She held herself tight to him and her lips looked for his and then found them and were against them and he felt her, fresh, new and smooth and young and lovely with the warm, scalding coolness and unbelievable to be there in the robe that was as familiar as his clothes, or his shoes, or his duty and then she said, frightenedly, “And now let us do quickly what it is we do so that the other is all gone.”

The couple's relationship becomes a bright spot for both of them in the midst of war, but ultimately also a source of pain and confusion for Jordan, as he struggles to balance his obligation to fight with his desire to live happily by Maria's side. The contradiction contained within the oxymoron "scalding coolness" emphasizes the couple's conflicting emotions and impossible situation.

Figurative Language Example: Hyperbole

Elizabeth Bennet, the most free-spirited character in Pride and Prejudice , refuses Mr. Darcy's first marriage proposal with a string of hyperbole :

From the very beginning, from the first moment I may almost say, of my acquaintance with you, your manners impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others, were such as to form that ground-work of disapprobation, on which succeeding events have built so immoveable a dislike; and I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.

Elizabeth's closing statement, that Darcy is the "last man in the world" whom she would ever marry, is an obvious hyperbole. It's hard to believe that Elizabeth would rather marry, say, an axe murderer or a diseased pirate than Mr. Darcy. Even beyond the obvious exaggeration, Austen's use of hyperbole in this exchange hints at the fact that Elizabeth's feelings for Darcy are more complicated than she admits, even to herself. Austen drops various hints throughout the beginning of the novel that Elizabeth feels something beyond mere dislike for Darcy. Taken together with these hints, Elizabeth's hyperbolic statements seem designed to convince not only Darcy, but also herself, that their relationship has no future.

Figurative Language Example: Personification

In Chapter 1 of The Scarlet Letter , Nathaniel Hawthorne describes a wild rose bush that grows in front of Salem's gloomy wooden jail:

But, on one side of the portal, and rooted almost at the threshold, was a wild rose-bush, covered, in this month of June, with its delicate gems, which might be imagined to offer their fragrance and fragile beauty to the prisoner as he went in, and to the condemned criminal as he came forth to his doom, in token that the deep heart of Nature could pity and be kind to him.

In the context of the novel's setting in 17th century Boston, this rose bush, which grows wild in front of an establishment dedicated to enforcing harsh puritan values, symbolizes those elements of human nature that cannot be repressed, no matter how strict a community's moral code may be: desire, fertility, and a love of beauty. By personifying the rosebush as "offering" its blossoms to reflect Nature's pity (Nature is also personified here as having a "heart"), Hawthorne turns the passive coincidence of the rosebush's location into an image of human nature actively resisting its constraints.

Figurative Language Example: Idiom

Figurative language example: onomatopoeia.

In Act 3, Scene 3 of Shakespeare's The Tempest , Caliban uses onomatopoeia to convey the noises of the island.

Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises, Sounds, and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not. Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices...

The use of onomatopoeia makes the audience feel the sounds on the island, rather than just have to take Caliban's word about there being noises.

Figurative Language Example: Synecdoche

In Act 4, Scene 3 of Shakespeare's Macbeth , an angry Macbeth kicks out a servant by saying:

Take thy face hence.

Here, "thy face" stands in for "you." Macbeth is simply telling the servant to leave, but his use of synecdoche makes the tone of his command more harsh and insulting because he uses synecdoche to treat the servant not as a person but as an object, a body part.

Figurative Language Example: Metonymy

In his song "Juicy," Notorious B.I.G. raps:

Now I'm in the limelight 'cause I rhyme tight

Here he's using "limelight" as a metonymy for fame (a "limelight" was a kind of spotlight used in old theaters, and so it came to be associated with the fame of being in the spotlight). Biggie's use of metonymy here also sets him up for a sweet rhyme.

Figurative Language Example: Alliteration

In his song "Rap God," Eminem shows his incredible lyrical dexterity by loading up the alliteration :

S o I wanna make sure, s omewhere in this chicken s cratch I S cribble and doodle enough rhymes T o maybe t ry t o help get s ome people through t ough t imes But I gotta k eep a few punchlines Just in c ase, ‘ c ause even you un s igned Rappers are hungry l ooking at me l ike it's l unchtime…

Why Do Writers Use Figurative Language?

The term figurative language refers to a whole host of different figures of speech, so it's difficult to provide a single definitive answer to why writers use figurative language. That said, writers use figurative language for a wide variety of reasons:

  • Interest and beauty: Figurative language allows writes to express descriptions, ideas, and more in ways that are unique and beautiful.
  • Complexity and power: Because figurative language can create meanings that go beyond the literal, it can capture complex ideas, feelings, descriptions, or truths that cause readers to see things in a new way, or more closely mirror the complex reality of the world.
  • Visceral affect: Because figurative language can both impact the rhythm and sound of language, and also connect the abstract (say, love) with the concrete (say, a rose), it can help language make an almost physical impact on a reader.
  • Humor: By allowing a writer to layer additional meanings over literal meanings, or even to imply intended meanings that are the opposite of the literal meaning, figurative language gives writers all sorts of options for creating humor in their writing.
  • Realism: People speak and even think in terms of the sorts of comparisons that underlie so much figurative language. Rather than being flowery, figurative language allows writers to describe things in ways that match how people really think about them, and to create characters who themselves feel real.

In general, figurative language often makes writing feel at once more accessible and powerful, more colorful, surprising, and deep.

Other Helpful Figurative Language Resources

  • The dictionary definition of figurative : Touches on figurative language, as well as some other meanings of the word.
  • Figurative and Frost : Examples of figurative language in the context of the poetry of Robert Frost.
  • Figurative YouTube : A video identifying various forms of figurative language from movies and television shows.
  • Wikipedia on literal and figurative language : A bit technical, but with a good list of examples.

The printed PDF version of the LitCharts literary term guide on Figurative Language

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  • Alliteration
  • Figure of Speech
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figure of speech

What is a figure of speech definition, usage, and literary examples, figure of speech definition.

Figures of speech  (FIG-yurs of SPEEchuh) are words or phrases used in a non-literal sense for  rhetorical  effect. They are often constructed using literary devices such as  metaphor ,  simile ,  alliteration , metonymy, synecdoche, and personification. Figures of speech allow writers to apply familiar ideas and  imagery  to less familiar concepts, and they are widespread in written and spoken language.

Figure of Speech Categories

Figures of speech fall into two broad categories: tropes and scheme. These are  dozens of figures of speech  that fall into each category, so the following are a select few examples.

These are figures of speech that play with syntax, sound, and words. They often achieve their effects by utilizing repetition of words, phrases, or sounds; omission of words or punctuation; unexpected changes in word order; or paired identical grammatical structures.

  • Alliteration : Repeating consonant sounds in a series of words
  • Diacope: Repeating words or phrases, interrupted by one or two other words
  • Homonyms: Identical words that have different meanings
  • Sibilance: Repeating hissing sounds
  • Asyndeton: Omitting conjunctions between related series of clauses
  • Brachylogia: Omitting conjunctions between individual words
  • Ellipsis: Omitting words without losing  context  or understanding
  • Syncope: Omitting word or phrase parts

Changes in Word Order

  • Anastrophe: Rearranging the subject, object and verb order in a phrase
  • Apposition: Two phrases, often separated by commas, where the second defines the first
  • Parenthesis: A rhetorical, qualifying phrase inserted into a sentence or passage
  • Spoonerism: Switching syllables between two words

Paired Grammatical Structures

  • Antithesis : Juxtaposing ideas
  • Isocolon: Consecutive phrases of identical length in words or syllables
  • Parallelism: Similar grammatical structure between two or more clauses
  • Tricolon: Three consecutive phrases of identical length in words or syllables

These are figures of speech that deviate in some way from the literal meanings of words. They tend to include association or comparison to shift readers’ perceptions from words’ true definitions to a layered figurative meaning. They can be broken into five categories: reference, word play/puns, substitutions, overstatement/understatement, and inversion.

  • Allegory : A narrative that is an indirect metaphor for a broader, real-world concept
  • Allusion : An intertextual reference to another creative work
  • Metaphor : A direct comparison between two unrelated things
  • Personification: Attributing human characteristics to non-human entities

Word Play/Puns

  • Innuendo: A phrase or  sentence  with a hidden (often salacious) meaning
  • Malapropism: Confusing a word with a similar sounding one
  • Paraprosdokian : An unexpected ending to a phrase
  • Pun : Word play that makes use of a word’s multiple meanings


  • Dysphemism: Using a harsh word or phrase to replace a gentler one
  • Euphemism : Using a more agreeable word or phrase to replace an offensive one
  • Metonymy: Replacing a word or term with something associated with it
  • Synecdoche: Referring to a whole by its part(s) or vice versa


  • Grandiloquence: Speech that is pompous or grandiose
  • Hyperbole : An emphatic exaggeration
  • Litotes : Emphasizing a statement by negating its opposite
  • Satire: Criticism of society through humorous means
  • Irony : Conveying the opposite of a word’s literal meaning
  • Oxymoron : Using contradictory words together
  • Paradox: Using contradictory ideas to make a point
  • Synesthesia: Using sensory-specific words to describe a different sense

Most Common Figures of Speech

The following are some of the most common figures of speech that appear in literature and other written forms.

  • Alliteration :  This is a scheme that uses repetition of the same first consonant sound to create a musical effect. “Francine found France quite lovely” is an example of alliteration because of the repeating  f  sound in the words  Francine ,  found , and  France .
  • Apostrophe:  With apostrophe, a speaker directly addresses an inanimate object, an abstract concept, or a person who is either imaginary or not present. John Donne use apostrophe in his poem “ Holy Sonnet: Death, be not proud ,” wherein he speaks directly to a personified idea of death.
  • Chiasmus:  This is a scheme where the second half of an expression is balanced against the first half in a reversed order. “You should eat to live, not live to eat” is one example; it repeats the words  eat  and  live  but reverses the order the second time they occur.
  • Euphemism:  This literary device takes a mild or indirect word or expression and replaces something harsh, unpleasant, or offensive with it. Saying someone  passed on  is a euphemism for  died ;  powder my nose  is a euphemism for  go to the bathroom .
  • Hyperbole:  This is the use of exaggeration for emphasis or heightened effect. “If I don’t nap right now, I will die” is a hyperbolic statement; it conveys the experience of feeling tired, but readers understand the speaker won’t literally die.
  • Irony:  This literary device occurs when words are used to convey the opposite of their meaning or when a situation seems directly contrary to what is expected. Famously, Alanis Morissette’s song “Ironic” lists many situations she deems ironic when they aren’t ironic at all; thus, irony.
  • Litotes:  This figure of speech refers to a type of understatement. It is used to negate a statement in a way that actually affirms it. For example, saying “That’s no small chunk of change” indicates that the sum in question is, in fact, large.
  • Metaphor :  A form of trope, metaphors make an implicit comparison between two unrelated things. “Love is a battlefield” is metaphoric, as it implies the experience of being in love is the same as being on a battlefield.
  • Onomatopoeia :  Words that are onomatopoeic evoke the sounds of the thing they are referring to.  Hiss ,  crash , and  tick tock  are all examples because they sound like what they are describing—the sound of a snake, thunder, and a clock, respectively.
  • Oxymoron:  This literary device consists of contradictory words paired together. Although the words initially appear to negate each other, they make sense when joined.  Deafening silence  is an oxymoronic pair; the adjective  deafening  means “a volume so high that nothing can be heard over it,” and the noun  silence  means “without sound.” These words are incongruous, but together they mean an overbearing, noticeable absence of sound.
  • Personification:  When greater qualities of animation are given to a non-human or inanimate object, that is personification. In T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” fog is described as “The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes/The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes.” Here, Eliot is personifying the fog by giving it the attributes of a cat.
  • Pun :  This is a humorous play on words, often using homonyms, homographs, or homophones. For example, “I’ve been to the dentist many times, so I know the drill” is a pun; it plays with the double meaning of the word  drill  as a tool of the dentistry trade and as a concept of something being routine.
  • Simile :  Related to metaphors, similes are explicit comparisons made using the words  like  or  as . “Lucille’s dress was as red as a fire truck” makes an explicit comparison between the color of the dress and the color of a fire truck. This allows the reader to properly visualize what Lucille is wearing.
  • Synecdoche:  This is a figure of speech wherein a part of something stands in for the whole thing. “All hands on deck” is a synecdoche because  hands  stands in for the whole crew of a ship.”

Figure of Speech and Figurative Language

People often use the terms  figurative language  and  figure of speech  interchangeably; however, they are not the same. Instead, figurative language is a broad category that contains figures of speech, as well as  imagery  and  sound devices .

Imagery adds additional aesthetic resonance to texts through the evocation of sensory details. Sound devices enhance the text through sonic means. These elements, in conjunction with figures of speech, give a deeper meaning to the language a writer uses in their work.

Why Figures of Speech Are Used

These literary devices emphasize, embellish, or clarify written or spoken language. They allow an audience to understand ideas through implied or suggested meaning, thus giving the language a more surprising, creative, and playful effect. Some figures of speech enhance imagery, while others allow writers to employ rich cultural traditions to express their ideas. Even further, other figures of speech allow writers to experiment with structure and sound to create specific effects. No matter which type is used, the expressive quality of figures of speech helps keep audiences engaged.

Examples of Figures of Speech in Literature

1. Hafizah Geter, “ Testimony ”

Geter begins her  poem :

Mr. President,
After they shot me they tackled my sister.
the sound of her knees hitting the sidewalk
made my stomach ache. It was a bad pain.

The poem is a  dramatic monologue  spoken by Tamir Rice, a 12-year old black child who was killed by police officers who mistook his toy gun for a real one. This poem uses apostrophe as the speaker, Tamir, talks directly to “Mr. President” (then president Barack Obama).

2. William Shakespeare,   Macbeth

In Act III, Scene iii., of this play, before King Duncan’s murder is discovered, Lennox and Macbeth converse:

LENNOX: The night has been unruly: where we lay,
Our chimneys were blown down: and, as they say,
Lamentings heard i’the air; strange screams of death,
And prophesying with accents terrible
Of fire combustion and confused events
New hatch’d to the woeful time: the obscure bird
Clamour’d the livelong night: some say, the earth
Was feverous and did shake.
MACBETH: ‘Twas a rough night.
LENNOX: My young remembrance cannot parallel
A fellow to it.

Pathetic fallacy is a type of trope. It occurs when human feelings and attributes are ascribed to nature. This figure of speech is used throughout this  Shakespearean  tragedy. In this particular scene, Lennox describes how terrible and strange the weather was on the evening of the murder. The way the wind and earth seem to embody the horror of King Duncan’s death is pathetic fallacy.

3. Karl Marx,   Das Kapital

In Part I (“Commodities and Money”) of Marx’s treatise on economics, philosophy, history, and political science, he claims:

In the pre-capitalist stages of society, commerce rules industry. In capitalist society, industry rules commerce.

These two sentences are an example of chiasmus. Here, “commerce” first rules “industry,” and then “industry” rules “commerce.” By reversing the order of these words/concepts, Marx employs chiasmus.

4. Toni Morrison,  Sula

The last line of Morrison’s novel is considered by some to be one of the best lines in fiction and nonfiction. The sentence describes protagonist Nel’s grief at the death of her childhood friend Sula:

It was a fine cry—loud and long—but it had no bottom and it had no top, just circles and circles of sorrow.

This sentence is rich in alliteration: “loud and long” contain  L  sounds at the beginning, as well as the repetition of  c  and  s  sounds with  cry ,  circles ,  circles , and  sorrow . The latter is also an example of sibilance.

5. Oscar Wilde,   The Importance of Being Earnest

In Wilde’s play, the main characters John Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff pose as men named Ernest, only for Jack to learn that his given name really is Ernest. He delivers the final line of the play:

On the contrary, Aunt Augusta, I’ve now realized for the first time in my life the vital importance of being Earnest.

Jack/Ernest’s declaration is a homographic pun. It means both that he understands the importance of being Ernest (his real name), as well as the importance of being  earnest  (sincere).

6. Aimee Nezhukumatathil, “ On Listening to Your Teacher Take Attendance ”

In this poem, Nezhukumatathil describes the experience of one’s name being mispronounced by a teacher taking attendance:

everyone turns around to check out
your face, no need to flush red and warm.
Just picture all the eyes as if your classroom
is one big scallop with its dozens of icy blues
and you will remember that winter your family
took you to the China see and you sank
your face in it to gaze at baby clams and sea stars

She uses a simile, “Just picture all the eyes as if your classroom/is one big scallop with its dozens of icy blues,” to explicitly compare the staring kids to the dozens of eyes that a sea scallop has.

Further Resources on Figure of Speech

Thought Catalog has a wonderful list of  figures of speech used by Homer Simpson  in  The Simpsons.

Jamcampus published a  great list  of twenty examples of metaphors in popular songs.

This is an entertaining round up of  oxymorons .

SuperSummary's library of resources and content , such as " A Beginner's Guide to Literary Analysis " and " How to Write a Summary ."

Related Terms

  • Figurative language

literary devices vs figures of speech

  • Literary Terms
  • Figures of Speech
  • Definition & Examples
  • When & How to Use Figures of Speech

I. What are Figures of Speech?

A figure of speech is a word or phrase using figurative language—language that has other meaning than its normal definition. In other words, figures of speeches rely on implied or suggested meaning, rather than a dictionary definition.  We express and develop them through hundreds of different rhetorical techniques, from specific types like metaphors and similes , to more general forms like sarcasm and slang.

Figures of speech make up a huge portion of the English language, making it more creative, more expressive, and just more interesting! Many have been around for hundreds of years—some even thousands—and more are added to our language essentially every day. This article will focus on a few key forms of figures of speech, but remember, the types are nearly endless!

III. Types of Figure of Speech

There are countless figures of speech in every language, and they fall into hundreds of categories. Here, though, is a short list of some of the most common types of figure of speech:

A. Metaphor

Many common figures of speech are metaphors. That is, they use words in a manner other than their literal meaning. However, metaphors use figurative language to make comparisons between unrelated things or ideas. The “peak of her career,” for example, is a metaphor, since a career is not a literal mountain with a peak , but the metaphor represents the idea of arriving at the highest point of one’s career.

An idiom is a common phrase with a figurative meaning. Idioms are different from other figures of speech in that their figurative meanings are mostly known within a particular language, culture, or group of people. In fact, the English language alone has about 25,000 idioms. Some examples include “it’s raining cats and dogs” when it is raining hard, or “break a leg” when wishing someone good luck.

This sentence uses an idiom to make it more interesting:

There’s a supermarket and a pharmacy in the mall, so if we go there, we can kill two birds with one stone.

The idiom is a common way of saying that two tasks can be completed in the same amount of time or same place.

A proverb is a short, commonplace saying that is universally understood in today’s language and used to express general truths. “Don’t cry over spilt milk” is a popular example. Most proverbs employ metaphors (e.g. the proverb about milk isn’t  literally  about milk).

This example uses a proverb to emphasize the situation:

I know you think you’re going to sell all of those cookies, but don’t count your chickens before they hatch!

Here, “don’t count your chickens before they hatch” means that you shouldn’t act like something has happened before it actually does.

A simile is a very common figure of speech that uses the words “like” and “as” to compare two things that are not related by definition. For example, “he is as tall as a mountain,” doesn’t mean he was actually 1,000 feet tall, it just means he was really tall.

This example uses a simile for comparison:

The internet is like a window to the world —you can learn about everything online!

The common phrase “window to the world” refers to a hypothetical window that lets you see the whole world from it. So, saying the internet is like a window to the world implies that it lets you see anything and everything.

E. Oxymoron

An oxymoron is when you use two words together that have contradictory meanings. Some common examples include s mall crowd, definitely possible, old news, little giant , and so on.

A metonym is a word or phrase that is used to represent something related to bigger meaning. For example, fleets are sometimes described as being “thirty sails strong,” meaning thirty (curiously, this metonym survives in some places, even when the ships in question are not sail-powered!) Similarly, the crew on board those ships may be described as “hands” rather than people.

Irony is when a word or phrase’s literal meaning is the opposite of its figurative meaning. Many times (but not always), irony is expressed with sarcasm (see Related Terms). For example, maybe you eat a really bad cookie, and then say “Wow, that was the best cookie I ever had”—of course, what you really mean is that it’s the worst cookie you ever had, but being ironic actually emphasizes just how bad it was!

IV. The Importance of Figures of Speech

In general, the purpose of a figure of speech is to lend texture and color to your writing. (This is itself a figure of speech, since figures of speech don’t actually change the colors or textures on the page!) For instance, metaphors allow you to add key details that make the writing more lively and relatable. Slang and verbal irony, on the other hand, make the writing seem much more informal and youthful (although they can have the opposite effect when misused!) Finally, other figures of speech, like idioms and proverbs, allows a writer to draw on a rich cultural tradition and express complex ideas in a short space.

V. Examples of Figures of Speech in Literature

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts.” (William Shakespeare, As You Like It)

This is one of the most famous metaphors ever crafted in the English language. Shakespeare uses his extended metaphor to persuade the audience of the similarities between the stage and real life. But rather than making his play seem more like life, he suggests that life is more like a play. His metaphor calls attention to the performative, creative, and fictional aspects of human life.

“Our words are b ut crumbs that fall down from the feast o f the mind.” (Khalil Gibran, Sand & Foam )

Gibran’s timeless metaphor succeeds for a number of reasons. For one thing, it is not a cliché – had Gibran said “words are just the tip of the iceberg ,” he would have been making roughly the same point, but in a much more clichéd way. But the feast of the mind is a highly original metaphor. In addition, it’s a successful double metaphor. The crumbs and the feast are two parts of the same image, but they work together rather than being “mixed” (see How to Use Figures of Speech ).

“If you chase two rabbits, you will lose them both.” (Russian Proverb)

Like many proverbs, this one draws on a simple metaphor of chasing rabbits. The rabbits can stand in for all sorts of objectives, from jobs to relationships, but the coded message is quite clear – focus your energy on a single objective, or you will likely fail. This literal statement, though, is quite dry and not terribly memorable, which shows the power of figures of speech.

VI. Examples of Figures of Speech in Pop Culture

The chorus to Sean Kingston’s Fire Burning contains a couple of figures of speech. First of all, there’s the word “shorty” used as a slang term (see Related Terms ) for a young woman. She may or may not be literally short, but the figure of speech applies either way (though it could easily be taken as belittling and derogatory). Second, Kingston sings the metaphor: “she’s fire, burning on the dance floor.” Hopefully this is a figure of speech and not a literal statement; otherwise, Kingston and everyone else in the club are in mortal danger!

“Oh, thanks! This is much better!” (Townspeople, South Park )

This is an example of irony. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, South Park satirized the government’s response to the disaster by writing about a similar disaster in South Park. In a bumbling effort to rescue people from the floods, the authorities accidentally spill oil on the flood waters and set it on fire, making the situation far more dangerous. In response, they ironically “thank” the people responsible—their meaning is obviously the opposite of their words!

Years of talks between Washington and Havana resulted in Obama’s historic visit to Cuba on March 21st. (Patreon 2016)

This is a common form of metonym in foreign policy and news media. The capital city of a country is used as a metonym for the national government. The talks, of course, are not literally between these two cities, but between the leaders and government officials of the two countries (US and Cuba).

VII. Related Terms

Literal and figurative language.

Language is generally divided into two categories: literal, and figurative. Literal language relies on the real definition of words and phrases, or their literal meanings. Figurative language, on the other hand, relies on implied meanings, which can be understood differently depending on the location or who is using it. For example, “the sky is blue” relies on the literal definition of the word “blue,” while “I am feeling blue” relies on the figurative definition. All figures of speech rely on the use of figurative language for their meaning.

Sarcasm is mocking or bitter language that we use to express different meaning than what we say; often the exact opposite. When your intended meaning is the opposite of the literal meaning, that’s irony (another type of figure of speech), which includes common phrases like “Oh, great…” when you really mean something is bad.

Slang is language that uses atypical words and phrases to express specific meanings. It varies greatly by region, demographic, and language—for example, you would find different slang in the U.S. and in the U.K. even though they are both English speaking countries. Likewise, teenagers and the elderly will use different slang terms, as would Spanish and English. Many slang terms are figures of speech. For example, “bro” could be used to describe a friend rather than an actual brother; this would be using the word as a figure of speech.

List of Terms

  • Alliteration
  • Amplification
  • Anachronism
  • Anthropomorphism
  • Antonomasia
  • APA Citation
  • Aposiopesis
  • Autobiography
  • Bildungsroman
  • Characterization
  • Circumlocution
  • Cliffhanger
  • Comic Relief
  • Connotation
  • Deus ex machina
  • Deuteragonist
  • Doppelganger
  • Double Entendre
  • Dramatic irony
  • Equivocation
  • Extended Metaphor
  • Flash-forward
  • Foreshadowing
  • Intertextuality
  • Juxtaposition
  • Literary Device
  • Malapropism
  • Onomatopoeia
  • Parallelism
  • Pathetic Fallacy
  • Personification
  • Point of View
  • Polysyndeton
  • Protagonist
  • Red Herring
  • Rhetorical Device
  • Rhetorical Question
  • Science Fiction
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
  • Synesthesia
  • Turning Point
  • Understatement
  • Urban Legend
  • Verisimilitude
  • Essay Guide
  • Cite This Website

A Good Library


Literary Terms, Literary Devices, Figures of Speech, Poetic Devices: Difference & 60+ EXAMPLES!

Nishita singh, contributing author.

  • June 23, 2022

Literary Terms, Literary Devices, Figures of Speech, Poetic Devices – So many concepts, such little time! Well, I won’t blame students for getting confused. I remember, that whenever I would teach figures of speech, my students would slump down and look puzzled at the sight of such fancy words. With so much information to process, I knew they wouldn’t remember a thing by the next class! So what are these four names anyway? Why does everyone use them interchangeably? 

Here! I’ve tried making it easier for you!

Still confused? Being a literature student myself, I understand your position. They do sound all too similar. So, in this article, I have broken it down for you. In fact, I have also given a lot of examples to make it easy to understand and remember. Brace yourself, by the way, it’s going to be a long article!

What are Literary Terms?

Ever wondered why your friends (and perhaps you too) find reading literary theories so frustrating? But, reading a novel is always exciting. Yet again, criticism becomes a yawn. ‘Literary terms’ is the reason why! 

Literary terms are kind of like the technical dictionary of the literary world. The terms that you don’t understand while studying literature – chances are those are Literary Terms.

So, what are Literary Terms? 

Literary Terms is the name given to the Technical Terms from Literature Field. A term is any concept that falls under the specialization of a particular field, is called a technical term. People often refer to it as ‘jargon’ (technical words unique to a specific subject). Similarly, literary terms are the concepts that we come across when we study literature. It is an umbrella term for all the movements, theories, eras, devices, techniques, works, etc. across any literature.

Examples of Literary Terms :

Example #1: – Absurd literature

I find absurdist literature quite relevant to our modern times! Have you too wondered sometimes about the purposelessness of your life? Well, absurd literature is a  term applied to all works of literature which essentially expresses the meaningless condition of human life and all its endeavors. 

Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is one of the widely-read texts in this category. 

Example #2: – Enjambment

It is a  technique used in poetry wherein you break the sentence just to carry it forward to the next line. It is usually an abrupt breaking of a line for dramatic effect.

“I think I know enough of hate

To say that for destruction ice

Is also great

And would suffice.” 

– Robert Frost, ‘Fire and Ice’

Here, an entire sentence is broken down into parts and carried forward to the next line without any punctuation or conjunction. This creates the effect of an interrupted thought, a thought which does not flow smoothly.

Example #3: – Interior Monologue

A narrative technique to show the thoughts passing through the protagonist’s mind. It is usually more organized than the stream-of-consciousness technique.

Umm… in simple words, it is more like revealing your inner thoughts in the form of a speech without realizing its intensity and aftermath. 

Remember Kartik Aryan’s “rant” from Pyar ka Punchnama 1 ? Something like that, just less angry perhaps!

Robert Browning’s The Last Duchess is a famous literary example.

(For more details, check this out.)-

If you want to study such literary terms in detail, go for –

  • A Glossary of Literary Terms by MH Abrams (the acknowledged Bible of literary terms)
  • The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms by Chris Baldick

What are Literary Devices?

We all want to know what the writer was thinking when they wrote this novel. How can someone who is not even alive today (in most cases) know the secrets of my heart so well? Did he/she mean it?

Trying to interpret what the writer meant is not always an easy task. I once saw a meme that said – a literature professor derives more meaning out of a line than the writer ever intended to create.  But how does the writer hide so many layers of meaning in his work? The answer is – literary devices.

Literary Devices are the techniques and tools used by a writer to create a dramatic effect on the reader/audience. These devices could be used to either provoke emotion or intensify a mood. At the same time, they also help in mystifying the text or constructing a deeper layer of meaning . 

“Rhetoric is the greatest barrier between us and our ancestors.” C.S. Lewis, Literature in the Sixteenth Century

The intention behind using literary devices is to make the reader “think” and not just “read” through the text. The real task is to identify when and where such devices are employed. Such identification will not only help us to interpret the author’s intention but will also enrich our reading experience. 

Examples of Literary Devices :

Example #1: – Irony

The irony is a technique to hide the actual outcome from the reader by leading him/her to expect something else. It is not to deceive the audience but to create a rhetorical or artistic effect. In simpler terms, the reader finds the outcome to be the complete opposite of what was expected; a twist in the plot if I must say.

A common example I come across is when students prioritize Maths and Science to increase their scores and end up losing marks in language!

For a literary reference, Anton Chekov exhibits a comical effect by employing irony in his play – ‘A Marriage Proposal’. You can read the play here .

Example #2: – Epiphany

Literally means a “manifestation” or “showing forth”. Epiphany has now become the standard term for the description of a sudden revelation of an ordinary object, scene, or thought.

In ordinary terms, it is a sudden realization, a sudden awareness of something which was right in front of you the whole time – the “Aha!” moment.

Like in most rom-coms, the hero finally realizes that he has been in love with his frenemy all along! His entire perspective toward love and the person changes in an instant. In literature, check James Joyce’s A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man.

Example #3: – Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing is a technique wherein the writer indirectly hints at a future occurrence through dialogues, gestures, or descriptions of the characters.

A very famous example is the much-spoken phrase – “Winter is coming” in the series Game of Thrones , which foreshadowed the coming of the Night King to the North of the Wall. Shakespeare’s Hamlet includes a lot of foreshadowing throughout the play.

What are Figures of Speech?

Teachers have amazing abilities to twist their words to terrorize the child.

My teacher would always accuse the laziest student in our class – “ if you never forgot to eat your food, how could you forget to do your homework?” In what plane does food become equivalent to homework, god knows!

But being a teacher myself now, I play with language in my way. Hyperbole runs through my veins like blood . 

(Did you notice what I did there? Winks!) 

“I have told you a thousand times not to use an article before a proper noun!”

“You students never listen to me!”

(How about some metaphors?)

“This class is a circus and feels like I am the clown!”

“If it isn’t a fish market already!”

(I better stop because the list is endless.)

What I am trying to tell here is, that figures of speech are common and have sneaked into our daily conversations without our notice.

So, what are figures of speech?

Figures of speech are literary devices that convey a different meaning than what the literal words suggest. They generally fall under the branch of rhetoric, which is the art of using language for persuasion. For their ornamental exhibition of language, figures of speech are widely used not just in poetry but also in prose as well as in our day-to-day conversations.

You will be surprised to realize how often we end up adopting various figures of speech to convey a simple message.

Without figures of speech, our language would be quite dull and mundane. They provide layers of meanings within a word, a source of ancestry and mystery to the text.

And yet the debate against figurative language is still upheld among literary circles. 

But the perfect defense states –

“… a figure of speech can often get into a crack too small for a definition.” Gilbert K. Chesterton

(Source – Gilbert K. Chesterton (2013). “ The Essential Gilbert K. Chesterton ”, p.20, Simon and Schuster, taken from https://www.azquotes.com/quotes/topics/figures-of-speech.html )

Examples of Figures of Speech in Poetry :

Example #1: – Simile

A simile is a direct comparison between two or more things with the help of words “like” and “as”. The quality that is similar in both entities is visible in the text.

The famous line from Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’ – “I wandered lonely as a cloud” employs a simile.

Example #2: – Asyndeton, Symbolism, Alliteration

In this extract from ‘The Ball Poem’ by John Berryman, 

“A dime, another ball, is worthless. Now

He senses first responsibility

In a world of possessions. People will take balls,

Balls will be lost always, little boy,

And no one buys a ball back.”

The first line employs asyndeton , which is the deliberate omission of conjunction.

At the same time, the ball here acts as a symbol for worldly things, indicating symbolism .

The last line uses alliteration , repeating the sound ‘b’ for a rhythmic effect.

Example #3: – Personification

The act of giving an inanimate object a human quality.

Emily Dickinson’s resonating lines –

 “Because I could not stop for Death –

He kindly stopped for me –” personify death giving it a human quality of stopping. For some great and fun examples of figures of speech in literature, check out https://www.thoughtco.com/figure-of-speech-term-1690793#:~:text=Some%20common%20figures%20of%20speech,simile%2C%20synecdoche%2C%20and%20understatement .)

What are Poetic Devices?

There was once a time, all poetry swooshed right past me. Today, I see my students feel ‘bored’ reading poetry because they find no exciting climax in it. I spend the first half of my lecture convincing them of poetry’s true essence and beauty.

A poem has to be opened, not read. Unfolded like a bud, pondered over its fragrance and vivid colors. It is like a little kid hiding behind masks of innocence to cover its mischief. How to hide its true essence? Use poetic devices.

But what are poetic devices?

Poetic devices are specialized tools used by poets to make their poems more lyrical and rhythmic, as well as to integrate layers of meaning in a crisply worded text. They can also be used to enrich one’s reading experience by evoking various sensations or creating an ambiance for the reader. They also aid the poet to express his/her feelings in a dramatized manner. 

Poetic devices have long been in existence. If you go back to the legendary epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana or Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey , it was no easy feat for wanderers to learn such hefty poems and recite them. A metrical rhythm, repetitive use of alliteration, poetic diction, and all such devices helped them memorize those grand epics.

Without the engagement of poetic devices, even a poem will start to resemble prose. Poems aim to prolong the reader’s attention span spent on the poem – make him/her think and wonder, pause and reflect.

I found the perfect picture that depicts what poetic devices do to poetry!

Good morning, Poets. pic.twitter.com/kzV5sWil25 — Prof. Tía Sad Eyez (@dandelionglitch) June 18, 2022

Examples of Poetic Devices :

Example #1: – Imagery

When the poet creates images for the reader solely through his/her words, it is known as imagery. While visual imagery is most commonly employed as a poetic device, other kinds of imagery enhance the reader’s experience by provoking their imagination to simulate a real-life scenario. From auditory (sound) to tactile (feel), and gustatory (taste) to olfactory (smell), imagery appeals to the reader’s senses.

“The winter evening settles down

With smells of steaks in passageways

Six o’clock.

The burnt-out ends of smoky days…

The morning comes to consciousness

Of faint stale smells of beer”

T. S. Eliot, ‘Prelude’

Olfactory imagery is activated in the above lines.

Example #2: – Rhyme

The first identification of a poem in the eyes of a child begins when it sees rhyming words in the poem. Rhyme is the repetition of similar sounds in poems to create a symmetrical rhythm. They usually lie at the end of each line, known as an end rhyme. Maintaining a fixed pattern gives us a rhyme scheme.

“Hickory Dickory Dock; the mouse ran up the clock”

Dock and clock are rhyming words giving a musicality to the line.

Example #3: – Sonnet

It is a form of poetry consisting of fourteen lines written in a strict rhyme scheme, usually following iambic pentameter.

Sonnets were originally invented in Italy and later brought to England, where Shakespeare gave them his twist making what we call today a Shakespearean Sonnet. 

One of his most famous sonnets, ‘Sonnet 18’, goes something like this –

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;

But thy eternal summer shall not fade

Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;

Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,

When in eternal lines to time thou growest:

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

So long lives this and this gives life to thee.”

For some good examples of poetic devices, check out – https://www.bkacontent.com/gs-poetic-devices-defined/

I realize that understanding the terms may not be enough to clear away the confusion among these concepts, so let us view them from an eagle’s point of view to learn about their interrelationship.

How are Literary Terms, Literary Devices, Figures of Speech, and Poetic Devices Connected?

literary devices vs figures of speech


Literary Terms are the words and phrases which people often come across while studying literature. They can range from literary movements to stylistic devices, or from historical eras in literature to narrative techniques. The concept of ‘Literary Terms’ covers all that comes under the field of literature, including the other three terms we did in this article.


On the other hand, Literary Devices are specialized tools used by the author to create a dramatized effect on the audience. Such tools are integrated into novels, plays, poetry, theories and essays, and so on. Because they belong to the field of literature, they are categorized under literary terms.


The difference between literary devices and poetic devices is that Poetic Devices are specific to poetry . They belong to literary devices but are seldom used in anything other than poetry. Tools such as rhyme, meter,  poetic diction, poetic license, etc. fall under the category of Poetic Devices.


Students get acquainted with Figures of Speech during their elementary schooling through the poems of Frost or Wordsworth. However, figures of speech are widely used in prose and criticism. Thus, a figure of speech is both – a poetic as well as a literary device. 

This overlapping of terms creates the irksome confusion readers often come across. Not that it makes much of a difference when your aim doesn’t involve mastering linguistics. Nonetheless, accurate information of such kind comes in handy when one deals with thorough inspections of literary texts.

Why are they used interchangeably?

The primary concern is – people don’t realize that they are different. Do you remember your teacher ever teaching their differences? 

So let’s ask ourselves, why are they used interchangeably if they have different definitions? 

Because literary devices, poetic devices, and figures of speech have the same function of making literary texts rhetoric . They all fall under the blanket of literary terms, so it is easier to confuse one for another. They are more or less used together in a work of literature for the same purpose, thus blurring the boundaries of their meanings.

Examples – Solidify Your Understanding!

Note : 

  • The following table lists 60 types of literary terms falling under either or all of the sub-categories. Note that poetic devices are by default literary devices because poetry falls under literature. But to avoid confusion, I have not listed some poetic devices as literary devices for their exclusive use in poetry. Also, forms of poetry are considered poetic devices. 
  • Some literary devices are used in poetry as well, but their use in prose is so extensive that they are seldom seen in poems. There will always be some overlap here and there. Nonetheless, I have tried to keep the table as accurate as possible, though I may have been flawed in some places.
  • All common figures of speech have been categorized as “all” because they are used across all works of literature.

Final Overview

In all, literary terms are concepts or terminologies found in any literature. Literary as well as poetic devices are tools used to make the text more approachable or enriching for the reader. And figures of speech are one of these devices which hold multiple or diverted meanings from what has been written. Altogether, they bring us closer to understanding literature.

Nishita Singh, Contributing Author

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Wisdom of both worlds  – Literature & Philosophy… 

literary devices vs figures of speech

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Brief Introductions to Common Figures of Speech

  • An Introduction to Punctuation
  • Ph.D., Rhetoric and English, University of Georgia
  • M.A., Modern English and American Literature, University of Leicester
  • B.A., English, State University of New York

Of the hundreds of figures of speech , many have similar or overlapping meanings. Here we offer simple definitions and examples of 30 common figures, drawing some basic distinctions between related terms.

How to Recognize Common Figures of Speech

For additional examples and more detailed discussions of each figurative device , click on the term to visit the entry in our glossary.

A Metaphor vs. a Simile

Both metaphors and similes express comparisons between two things that aren't obviously alike. In a simile , the comparison is stated explicitly with the help of a word such as like or as : "My love is like a red, red rose / That's newly sprung in June." In a metaphor, the two things are linked or equated without using like or as : "Love is a rose, but you better not pick it."

Metaphor vs. Metonymy

Put simply, metaphors make comparisons while metonyms make associations or substitutions. The place name "Hollywood," for example, has become a metonym for the American film industry (and all the glitz and greed that go with it).

Metaphor vs. Personification

Personification is a particular type of metaphor that assigns the characteristics of a person to something non-human, as in this observation from Douglas Adams: "He turned on the wipers again, but they still refused to feel that the exercise was worthwhile, and scraped and squeaked in protest."

Personification vs. Apostrophe

A rhetorical apostrophe not only animates something absent or non-living (as in personification) but also addresses it directly. For instance, in Johnny Mercer's song "Moon River," the river is apostrophized: "Wherever you're going, I'm going your way."

Hyperbole vs. Understatement

Both are attention-getting devices: hyperbole exaggerates the truth for emphasis while understatement says less and means more. To say that Uncle Wheezer is "older than dirt" is an example of hyperbole . To say that he's "a bit long in the tooth" is probably an understatement.

Understatement vs. Litotes

Litotes is a type of understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by negating its opposite. We might say litotically that Uncle Wheezer is "no spring chicken" and "not as young as he used to be."

Alliteration vs. Assonance

Both create sound effects: alliteration through the repetition of an initial consonant sound (as in "a p eck of p ickled p eppers"), and assonance through the repetition of similar vowel sounds in neighboring words ("It b ea ts . . . as it sw ee ps . . . as it cl ea ns!").

Onomatopoeia vs. Homoioteleuton

Don't be put off by the fancy terms. They refer to some very familiar sound effects. Onomatopoeia (pronounced ON-a-MAT-a-PEE-a) refers to words (such as bow-wow and hiss ) that imitate the sounds associated with the objects or actions they refer to. Homoioteleuton (pronounced ho-moi-o-te-LOO-ton) refers to similar sounds at the endings of words, phrases, or sentences ("The quicker picker upper").

Anaphora vs. Epistrophe

Both involve the repetition of words or phrases. With anaphora, the repetition is at the beginning of successive clauses (as in the famous refrain in the final part of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech). With epistrophe (also known as epiphora ), the repetition is at the end of successive clauses ("When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child").

Antithesis vs. Chiasmus

Both are rhetorical balancing acts. In an antithesis, contrasting ideas are juxtaposed in balanced phrases or clauses ("Love is an ideal thing, marriage a real thing"). A chiasmus (also known as antimetabole ) is a type of antithesis in which the second half of an expression is balanced against the first with the parts reversed ("The first shall be last, and the last shall be first").

Asyndeton vs. Polysyndeton

These terms refer to contrasting ways of linking items in a series. An asyndetic style omits all conjunctions and separates the items with commas ("They dove, splashed, floated, splashed, swam, snorted"). A polysyndetic style places a conjunction after every item in the list.

A Paradox vs. an Oxymoron

Both involve apparent contradictions. A paradoxical statement appears to contradict itself ("If you wish to preserve your secret, wrap it up in frankness"). An oxymoron is a compressed paradox in which incongruous or contradictory terms appear side by side ("a real phony").

A Euphemism vs. a Dysphemism

A euphemism involves the substitution of an inoffensive expression (such as "passed away") for one that might be considered offensively explicit ("died"). In contrast, a dysphemism substitutes a harsher phrase ("took a dirt nap") for a comparatively inoffensive one. Though often meant to shock or offend, dysphemisms may also serve as in-group markers to show camaraderie.

Diacope vs. Epizeuxis

Both involve the repetition of a word or phrase for emphasis. With diacope, the repetition is usually broken up by one or more intervening words: "You're not fully clean until you're Zest fully clean ." In the case of epizeuxis, there are no interruptions: "I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!"

Verbal Irony vs. Sarcasm

In both, words are used to convey the opposite of their literal meanings . Linguist John Haiman has drawn this key distinction between the two devices: "[P]eople may be unintentionally ironic, but sarcasm requires intention. What is essential to sarcasm is that it is overt irony intentionally used by the speaker as a form of verbal aggression " ( Talk Is Cheap , 1998).

A Tricolon vs. a Tetracolon Climax

Both refer to a series of words, phrases, or clauses in parallel form. A tricolon is a series of three members: "Eye it, try it, buy it!" A tetracolon climax is a series of four: "He and we were a party of men walking together, seeing, hearing, feeling, understanding the same world."

Rhetorical question vs. Epiplexis

A rhetorical question is asked merely for effect with no answer expected: "Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who would want to live in an institution?" Epiplexis is a type of rhetorical question whose purpose is to rebuke or reproach: "Have you no shame?"

  • The Top 20 Figures of Speech
  • AP English Exam: 101 Key Terms
  • 100 Awfully Good Examples of Oxymorons
  • Figure of Speech: Definition and Examples
  • 20 Figures of Speech That We Never Heard About in School
  • Figure of Thought in Rhetoric
  • Homer Simpson's Figures of Speech
  • Figures of Speech: The Apostrophe as a Literary Device
  • What Is the Figure of Speech Antiphrasis?
  • Rhetorical Analysis of E B. White's 'The Ring of Time'
  • Figure of Sound in Prose and Poetry
  • What Is a Tricolon?
  • Definition and Examples of Litotes in English Grammar
  • 10 Titillating Types of Sound Effects in Language
  • What Is a Rhetorical Device? Definition, List, Examples
  • Tetracolon Climax (Rhetoric and Sentence Styles)

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Literary Devices and figure of Speech with examples

figure of speech

Hello, Dear readers,

Today, I will be discussing all the important literary devices and figure of speech which are usually asked in board examination and another competitive exam .

After reading this page, I ensure you will get a complete idea to identify the figure of speeches and literary devices used in the poem or prose of your textbook easily. You will be able to write the specification and theme of the lessons or poems too. this page will help you to find the secret to attain outstanding marks in the board examination.

The difference between ‘Figure of Speech and Literary Device’

Figures of speech.

A figure of speech is a word or phrase or expression having differen t meanings than its literal meanings . It conveys meaning by identifying or comparing one thing to another, which has connotation or meaning familiar to the audience or the readers. So it is helpful in creating a vivid rhetorical effect.

Hyperbole : I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you Till China and Africa meet “As I Walked Out One Evening”  by W.H. Auden)

Literary Devices

In general, the term  Literary Devices  refers to the common structures used by writers in their works to convey his or her message(s) in a simple manner to the audience or readers.  When it is employed properly, the different literary devices help readers to appreciate, interpret and analyze a literary work critically.

“Doctors all over the world recommend this type of treatment” Ethos (literary Device)

Types of Literary Device

Literary elements.

It has an inherent existence in a literary piece and are extensively employed by writers to develop a literary piece such as plot, setting, narrative structure, characters, mood, theme, moral etc. Writers simply cannot create his desired work without including  Literary Elements  in a thoroughly professional manner.

Literary Techniques

Literary Techniques , on the contrary, are structures usually a word s or phrases in literary texts that writers employ to achieve not merely artistic ends but also readers’ a greater understanding and appreciation of their literary works. Such as metaphor, simile, alliteration, hyperbole, allegory etc. In contrast to  Literary Elements, Literary Techniques  are not unavoidable aspect of literary works.

Note : In another word, we can say that literary techniques are similar to the literary elements.

Some Important Figure of Speech

A Metaphor is that figure of speech which creates an implicit, implied, or hidden comparison between two things that are unrelated, but which share some common characteristics.

In other words, a resemblance of two contradictory or different objects is formed supported by one or some common characteristics.

In simple English, once you describe an individual, place, thing, or an action as being something else, e.g” my brothers is black sheep”, you’re speaking metaphorically.

The subsequent phrase is an example of metaphor, “My brother is that the black sheep of the family,” because he’s neither a sheep neither is he black. However, we will use this comparison to explain an association of a black sheep thereupon person.

A black sheep is an unusual animal, which usually stays far away from the herd, and therefore the person being described shares similar characteristics.

Example of Metaphor in Common Speech

  • My brother was  boiling mad . (This implies he was too angry.)
  • The assignment was a  breeze . (This implies that the assignment was not difficult.)
  • It is going to be  clear skies  from now on. (This implies that clear skies are not a threat and life is going to be without hardships)
  • The skies of his future began to  darken . (Darkness is a threat; therefore, this implies that the coming times are going to be hard for him.)
  • Her voice is  music to his ears . (This implies that her voice makes him feel happy)
  • He saw the  soul of dust  when passing through the dust storm.
  • Chaos is  the breeding ground of order .
  • War is the  mother of all battles .
  • Her dance is  a great poem .
  • A new  road to freedom  passes through this  valley of death .
  • My conscience is my barometer.
  • His white face shows his concern.
  • His kisses are like roses.
  • He married her to have a trophy wife.
  • Laughter is the best medicine.
  • Words are daggers when spoken in anger.
  • His words are pearls of wisdom.

Some Example from Literature

  • I see a lily on you brow.

A simile is a kind of figure of speech that shows a comparison, creates similarities between two various things. Unlike a metaphor, a simile draws resemblance with the assistance of the words “like” or “as.” Therefore, it’s a direct t comparison.

Example of Simile in Common Speech

  • Our soldiers are as brave as lions.
  • Her cheeks are red like a rose.
  • He is as funny as a monkey.
  • The water well was as dry as a bone.
  • He is as cunning as a fox.
  • The glow of the tube-light was as bright as the sunshine.
  • In winter, when it rained, he climbed into bed and felt as snug as a bug in a rug.
  • At exam time, the high school student was as busy as a bee.
  • The beggar on the road looked as blind as a bat.
  • When the examination finished, the candidate felt as light as a feather.
  • When the teacher entered the class, the 6th-grade students were fighting like cats and dogs.
  • The diplomat said the friendship of the two countries was as deep as an ocean.
  • The desert traveller’s hopes were dashed, as when at last he reached a well, it was as dry as a bone.

Example from Literature

  • It dropeth as gentle the rain from heaven
  • Or from star-like eyes doth seek


Personification is defined as a figure of speech in which a t hing – an idea or an animal – is given human attributes. The non-living things are expressed in such a way that we feel they have the ability to act like human beings.

For example, when we say, “ The flower smiles in the garden,” we are giving the flower the ability to smile , which is a human quality. Thus, we can say that the flower has been personified in the given sentence. 

Example of Personification in Common Speech

  • His car suffered a severe stroke in the middle of the road, and refused to move forward.
  • The ship danced over the undulating waves of the ocean.
  • When he sat the test, the words and the ideas fled from his mind.
  • When he came out of the house of his deceased friend, everything looked to him to be weeping.
  • The flowers were blooming, and the bees kissed them every now and then.
  • The flood raged over the entire village.
  • The tread of time is so ruthless that it tramples even the kings under its feet.
  • It was early morning – I met a cat yawning and stretching in the street.
  • The skyscraper was so tall that it seemed to kiss the sky.
  • Truth sits upon the lips of dying man

In literature, an apostrophe is considered as a figure of speech sometimes represented by an exclamation, like “ Oh!, O ! etc. !”

A writer or speaker, using an apostrophe, speaks on to someone who isn’t present or is dead or speaks to an inanimate object.

The apostrophe in literature is an appointment of words addressing a non-existent person or an abstract idea in such a way as if it were present and capable of understanding feelings.

  • Talking to stars, clouds, and winds are an apostrophe
  • Talking to the portrait of a dead person
  • Taking to the dead man lying in the graveyard
  • Talking to the pets in such a way as you talk to the people
  • O world! O life ! O time! , on whose last steps, I climb

Hyperbole, derived from a Greek word sense “over-casting,” may be a figure of speech that involves an exaggeration of ideas for the sake of emphasis.

It is a tool that we employ in our day-to-day speech. for example, once you meet a lover after an extended time, you say, “It’s been ages since I last saw you.”

you’ll not have met him for 3 or four hours, or a day, but the utilization of the word “ages” exaggerates this statement to feature emphasis to your wait. Therefore, hyperbole is an unreal exaggeration to stress an important situation.

Some Examples from Common Speech

  • A ton of worry was lifted from the beggar’s back when he received the alms.
  • He saw a man as tall as a power pole.
  • He saw his childhood friend after ages.
  • The weather was so hot that literally everything was on fire.
  • The boy was dying to get a new school bag.
  • He was in such a hurry that he drove his car at a bazillion miles per hour.
  • The minister told the guests that the couple’s friendship was deeper than the sea and sweeter than honey.
  • My grandmother is as old as the hills.
  • Your suitcase weighs a ton!
  • She is as heavy as an elephant!
  • I am dying of shame.
  • I am trying to solve a million issues these days.
  • River of blood flood in the battle

Oxymoron may be a figure of speech during which two opposite ideas are joined to make an impact. The common oxymoron phrase might be a combination of an adjective proceeded by a noun with contrasting meanings, like “ cruel kindness ,” or “ living death ”.

However, the contrasting words/phrases aren’t always glued together. The contrasting ideas could also be spaced call at a sentence, such as, “In order to steer, you want to walk behind.”

  • Open secret
  • Regularly irregular
  • Tragic comedy
  • Seriously funny
  • Blowing Ice
  • Imperfectly perfect
  • Awfully pretty
  • Foolish wisdom
  • Original copies
  • He has nothing but hath all


Onomatopoeia is defined as ‘A word which imitates the natural sounds of a thing. It creates an effect that mimics the thing described, making the outline more expressive and interesting.

For instance, saying, “The gushing stream flows within the forest” may be a more meaningful description than simply saying, “The stream flows within the forest.” The reader is drawn to listen to the sound of a “gushing stream,” which makes the expression simpler.

  • knock knock 
  • The buzzing  bee flew away.
  • The sack fell into the river with a  splash .
  • The books fell on the table with a loud  thump .
  • He looked at the  roaring
  • The  rustling  leaves kept me awake

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Definition of Imagery

Imagery is a literary device that refers to the use of figurative language to evoke a sensory experience or create a picture with words for a reader. By utilizing effective descriptive language and figures of speech , writers appeal to a reader’s senses of sight, taste, smell, touch, and sound, as well as internal emotion and feelings. Therefore, imagery is not limited to visual representations or mental images, but also includes physical sensations and internal emotions.

For example, in his novel   The Scarlet Letter , Nathaniel Hawthorne utilizes imagery as a literary device to create a sensation for the reader as a means of understanding the love felt by the protagonist , Hester Prynne.

Love, whether newly born or aroused from a deathlike slumber, must always create sunshine, filling the heart so full of radiance, that it overflows upon the outward world.

By using descriptive language in an effective and unique way, Hawthorne evokes feelings and allows the reader an internal emotional response in reaction to his description of love. This image is especially poignant and effective for readers of this novel since Hester’s love, in the story , results in darkness , shame, and isolation–the opposite of sunshine and radiance. However, Hawthorne’s imagery appeals to the reader’s understanding of love and subsequent empathy for Hester’s emotions and actions, despite her transgression of societal norms, morals , and laws.

Common Examples of Imagery in Everyday Speech

People frequently use imagery as a means of communicating feelings, thoughts, and ideas through descriptive language. Here are some common examples of imagery in everyday speech:

  • The autumn leaves are a blanket on the ground.
  • Her lips tasted as sweet as sugar.
  • His words felt like a dagger in my heart.
  • My head is pounding like a drum.
  • The kitten’s fur is milky.
  • The siren turned into a whisper as it ended.
  • His coat felt like a velvet curtain.
  • The houses look like frosted cakes in winter .
  • The light under the door looked buttery.
  • I came inside because the house smells like a chocolate brownie.

Types of Poetic Imagery

For poetic imagery, there are seven primary types. These types of imagery often feature figures of speech such as similes and metaphors to make comparisons . Overall, poetic imagery provides sensory details to create clear and vibrant descriptions. This appeals to a reader’s imagination and emotions as well as their senses.

Here are the main types of poetic imagery:

  • Visual : appeals to the sense of sight through the description of color, light, size, pattern, etc.
  • Auditory : appeals to the sense of hearing or sound by including melodic sounds, silence , harsh noises, and even onomatopoeia .
  • Gustatory : appeals to the sense of taste by describing whether something is sweet, salty, savory, spicy, or sour.
  • Tactile : appeals to the sense of touch by describing how something physically feels, such as its temperature, texture, or other sensation.
  • Olfactory : appeals to the sense of smell by describing something’s fragrance or odor.
  • Kinesthetic : appeals to a reader’s sense of motion or movement through describing the sensations of moving or the movements of an object .
  • Organic : appeals to and communicates internal sensations, feelings, and emotions, such as fatigue, thirst, fear, love, loneliness, despair, etc.

Famous Examples of Imagery in Shakespearean Works

Writers use imagery to create pictures in the minds of readers, often with words and phrases that are uniquely descriptive and emotionally charged to emphasize an idea. William Shakespeare ’s works feature imagery as a literary device for readers and audiences as a means to enhance their experience of his plays. Shakespeare’s artistic use of language and imagery is considered to be some of the greatest in literature.

Here are some famous examples of imagery in Shakespearean works:

  • “My bounty is as boundless as the sea, My love as deep.”  Romeo and Juliet
  • “There’s daggers in men’s smiles.”  Macbeth
  • “Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more, Men were deceivers ever,- One foot in sea and one on shore, To one thing constant never.”  Much Ado About Nothing
  • “If I be waspish, best beware my sting.”  The Taming of the Shrew
  • “Good- night , sweet prince; And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”  Hamlet
  • “Lovers and madmen have such seething brains, Such shaping fantasies , that apprehend More than cool reason ever comprehends.”  A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”  The Tempest
  • “And thus I clothe my naked villainy With odd old ends stol’n out of holy writ; And seem a saint, when most I play the devil.”  Richard III
  • “By heaven, me thinks it were an easy leap, To pluck bright honour from the pale-faced moon”  Henry IV
  • “If music be the food of love, play on, Give me excess of it; that surfeiting, The appetite may sicken, and so die.”  Twelfth Night

Writing Imagery

Writers use imagery to evoke emotion in readers. In this way, the reader’s understanding of the poetic subject , setting , plot , characters , etc., is deepened and they have a sense of how to feel about it. Ideally, as a literary device, imagery should enhance a literary work. Unfortunately, some writers try to use this literary device too often, which can lessen the impact of the description and figurative language.

For imagery to be effective and significant, whether, in poetry or a story, it should add depth and meaning to the literary work. Overuse of imagery can feel tedious for readers and limit their access to and understanding of the writer’s purpose. Therefore, it’s essential for writers to balance presenting information in a straightforward manner and using imagery as a literary device.

Difference between Literal Imagery and Figurative Imagery

There is a slight difference in literal and figurative imagery. Literal imagery, as the name applies, is near in meanings and almost the same thing or exactly what the description says. For example, color like the red rose implies the same thing. However, in figurative imagery, a thing is often not what it implies. There is often the use of hyperbole , simile , or metaphors that construct an image that could be different from the actual thing or person. For example, his cries moved the sky is not an example of literal imagery but of figurative imagery as the skies do not move with cries.

Tips to Analyze Imagery

Analysis of imagery is often done in poetry and short stories. However, imagery is present in every literary work where description becomes of some significance. Whenever there is a description in a literary work, a reader first analyses different figures of speech such as metaphors, similes, personifications , images, and hyperbole, etc. There are four major steps in analyzing imagery in a specific description.

  • Identify the type of figures of speech, types of images, and their roles in the description.
  • Compare and contrast the types of images and their accuracy in the description.
  • Compare and contrast the role of the specific figures of speech, their meanings, their roles, and their end product.
  • Critique the description and see how it demonstrates its actual meanings in the context and setting.

Use of Imagery in Sentences

  • Iwan’s sweaty gym clothes left a stale odor in the locker room; so they had to keep the windows open.
  • The tasty, salty broth soothed her sore throat as Simran ate the warm soup.
  • Glittering white, the blanket of snow -covered everything in sight and also blocked the street.
  • The tree bark was rough against the deer’s skin but it did satisfy its itch.
  • Kids could hear the popping and crackling as their mom dropped the bacon into the frying pan, and soon the salty, greasy smell wafted toward me.

Examples of Imagery in Literature

Though imagery is often associated with poetry, it is an effective literary device in all forms of writing. Writers utilize imagery as a means of communicating their thoughts and perceptions on a deeper and more memorable level with readers. Imagery helps a reader formulate a visual picture and sensory impression of what the writer is describing as well as the emotions attached to the description. In addition, imagery is a means of showcasing a writer’s mastery of artistic and figurative language, which also enhances the meaning and enjoyment of a literary work for a reader.

Here are some examples of imagery in literature:

Example 1:  Goblin Market (Christina Rossetti)

Early in the morning When the first cock crow’d his warning, Neat like bees, as sweet and busy, Laura rose with Lizzie: Fetch’d in honey, milk’d the cows, Air’d and set to rights the house, Kneaded cakes of whitest wheat, Cakes for dainty mouths to eat, Next churn’d butter, whipp’d up cream, Fed their poultry, sat and sew’d; Talk’d as modest maidens should: Lizzie with an open heart, Laura in an absent dream, One content, one sick in part; One warbling for the mere bright day’s delight, One longing for the night.

In this passage of her poem , Rossetti uses all forms of poetic imagery to appeal to the reader’s physical senses as well as their experience of motion and internal emotions. The reader can visualize the actions taking place in the poem along with a sense of orderly movement paired with disordered emotion. As the sisters Lizzie and Laura go about their maidenly and pastoral tasks, the poet’s description of their divergent mindsets and feelings creates an imagery of the tension between darkness and light, innocence and temptation. These contrasting images evoke unsettled and contradictory feelings for the reader, undermining the appearance of the sisters’ idyllic lives with a sense of foreboding.

Example 2:  The Yellow Wallpaper  (Charlotte Perkins Gilman)

The color is repellant, almost revolting; a smouldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight. It is a dull yet lurid orange in some places, a sickly sulphur tint in others. No wonder the children hated it! I should hate it myself if I had to live in this room long.

In this passage of Gilman’s short story , the narrator uses poetic imagery to describe the yellow wallpaper which eventually ensnares her mind and body. The narrator’s imagery effectively appeals to the reader’s sense of sight, smell, and touch so that the reader is as repulsed by the wallpaper as the story’s protagonist. By utilizing imagery as a literary device, Gilman is able to evoke the same feelings of sickness, despair, fear, claustrophobia, etc., for the reader as she does for the narrator. In addition to this emotional effect, the artistic language used to describe the yellow wallpaper also enhances its symbolic presence in the story.

Example 3:  The Red Wheelbarrow  (William Carlos Williams)

so much depends upon a red wheel barrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens

This poem by William Carlos Williams features imagery and, in fact, is an example of Imagist poetry. Imagism was a poetic movement of the early twentieth century that veered away from the heavy description that was characteristic of Romantic and Victorian poems. Instead, the purpose of Imagism was to create an accurate image or presentation of a subject that would be visually concrete for the reader. Imagist poets achieved this through succinct, direct, and specific language, favoring precise phrasing over set poetic meter .

In Williams’s poem, the poet uses simple language and clear expression to create imagery for the reader of a red wheelbarrow, lending beauty , and symbolism to an ordinary object. By describing the wheelbarrow with sparse but precise language, the reader can picture an exact visual image of what the poet is trying to convey which, in turn, evokes an emotional response to the image. This imagery enhances the meaning of the poem’s phrasing such that each word becomes essential, and the poem and its imagery are nearly indistinguishable.

Synonyms of Imagery

Imagery has several synonyms with slightly different meanings. They are imagination, picturing, mental imagery, vision, imaging, and dreaming are almost near in meanings but evocation, chimera, pretense, and mind’s eyes.

Related posts:

  • Auditory Imagery
  • Visual Imagery
  • Gustatory Imagery
  • Tactile Imagery
  • Olfactory Imagery
  • Kinesthetic Imagery
  • Examples of Imagery in Poetry

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literary devices vs figures of speech

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  16. Figure of speech and literary devices

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  17. What is the difference between a figure of speech and a poetic device

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  18. Imagery

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