The Periodic Table of the Figures of Speech: 40 Ways to Improve Your Writing

At the root of all good writing lies an understanding of how sentences are built. In kindergarten, we learn the fundamentals of grammar and the basic concepts of how sentences are constructed. For most of our elementary and secondary training in writing, we are taught simply to improve those grammatical and mechanical skills.

A good writer, however, understands the complexities and rhetorical effects of how modifying sentence structure (known as sentence “schemes”) improves the flow, interest, and even persuasive qualities of their writing. They also have a firm understanding of the many “tropes” (things like metaphors and similes and ironies) and how the inclusion of them can improve reader engagement, understanding, and overall appeal and effectiveness of their writing.

If you can master these forty basic figures of speech in the periodic table below (broken down by category within the schemes and tropes), you’ll be on your way to becoming a fantastic writer. Need some examples of each of the types of schemes and tropes? I recommend visiting this fantastic website published by Brigham Young University, which provides dozens of examples.

To purchase a 30×20 printed poster of the periodic table, please visit the online shop.

Related Graphics

The Periodic Table of Punctuation
The Logical Fallacy Collection: 30 Ways to Lose an Argument
The Seven Deadly Sins of Punctuation

Periodic Table of the Figures of Speech







15 thoughts on “The Periodic Table of the Figures of Speech: 40 Ways to Improve Your Writing

  • December 4, 2014 at 10:30 am

    Interesting article, although I find it very difficult to know or remember all these terms if your mother language is English.
    It’s all Greek to me!
    Fortunately, I come from Greece!

  • December 4, 2014 at 5:22 pm

    “Behind the facade of every good writ…” I believe it should be writer?

    • December 4, 2014 at 5:38 pm

      Thanks for the comment! “Writ” is another term for a piece of writing, used as a noun. So the sentence is actually saying, “Behind the facade of every good piece of writing, is…” It rhymes and flows better that way 🙂

  • December 5, 2014 at 4:21 pm

    I am in nerd heaven looking at this chart. I do have one questions though. Why did you include Antanaclasis twice (number 6 and 33)?

    PS: There’s a typo in “Why Should I Care?” section – …be all three of those things: enging, comprehensible …

    • December 5, 2014 at 6:10 pm

      Thanks, Bonni, for the feedback! I got that spelling error fixed 🙂

      As for the repetition of Antanaclasis, that is intentional. Just like Climax (which is also repeated), Antanaclasis functions as both a scheme and a trope. Antanaclasis deals with the repetition of a word being used in two different senses (similar to punning, but slightly different). It’s a trope because of the wordplay. It’s a scheme because of the structural repetition in the sentence.

  • December 8, 2014 at 2:40 pm

    I wanted to find out how much the poster was, but when I click the link, it just takes me back to the same page over and over. Can you direct me to the ‘online shop?’ Thanks!

  • December 9, 2014 at 1:04 am

    Is there any particular reason you used the structure of the periodic table to convey this information? I assume it’s to make the (unobjectionable) point that writing should be done with the same precision as science or to pique the interest of scientifically-minded people who may be

    However, the structure of the periodic table has very particular meaning (the columns designate information about electrons and other characteristics), and it’s not clear how the column arrangement functions here. If indeed there is no such relevance to the columns, I think using that structure fails at both goals proposed above, since it’s imprecise in using either of metaphor or parallelism, and such imprecision likely frustrates, rather than intrigues people who were drawn here by the scientific appearance of the post. If the goal is just to make something aesthetically intriguing that’ll sell well as a poster, where a plain rectangle might not suffice, then I suppose this works, and anything that proliferates information about stronger writing does the world a service.

    If there’s a different goal, or a function to the structure that I’m missing, I’m excited to be further enlightened! If not, I’d love to see this (already very helpful) information organized in a more practical manner.

    • January 6, 2015 at 6:26 pm

      I agree with Bill’s criticism on the lack of use of the columns, which is critical in the periodic table. That said, the writerly devices are in some quasi order. While most people use metaphors and similes on a regular basis, it is not so typical to tinker with grammatical repetition to achieve a rhetorical goal.

      Apart from electron configuration, there are other characteristics that might be appropriate here. I would suggest the “metallic quality” as a metaphor. The metallic quality decreases when going along the “period.” Perhaps one can order the devices accordingly, e.g., ease of use, frequency of use, opacity.

  • December 10, 2014 at 1:25 pm

    Do these rules apply to UK English or US English. I grew up speaking, reading and writing UK English, so that’s my main focus. I find US English very jarring to the ears and pen.

    • December 10, 2014 at 10:35 pm

      I love English humor from Britain, it’s so laced with superiority and sarcasm…kind of like their accents.

  • December 11, 2014 at 12:13 am

    Oh the irony of The “Visual Communication” Guy publishing an illustration with a large mass of small yellow text on a white background…..

  • December 13, 2014 at 1:45 am

    Should allusion be a reference trope?

  • April 23, 2016 at 12:42 pm

    This is so cool – taking what could have been a simple list and presenting it like this, that is. I love it! If I had the extra money I’d totally buy one to hang on my wall.

Comments are closed.