Figures of speech are words or phrases that are used in a way that is not intended to be literal, but rather to create clarity, interest, or rhetorical effect. Figures of speech are used all the time, even in our every day language. In fact, chances are you’ve already said several figures of speech today. You’ve probably heard of terms like “metaphor” or “simile” or “pun.” These are all types of figures of speech, and many of the different types are listed below.

When you say things like “I’ve seen that movie a million times,” or “I raced out the door,” or “she inhaled her lunch,” these phrases aren’t meant to be taken literally–you most likely haven’t seen any movie a million times, you didn’t actually race someone out the door, and, well, she couldn’t have actually inhaled her lunch. We use figures of speech to, well, paint pictures in people’s minds (see that use of a figure of speech?) about what we’re trying to communicate.

Knowing, understanding, and using figures of speech can make you a better writer, speaker, designer, and overall communicator. In fact, knowing your figures of speech can actually make you much more creative! Check out the figures of speech below to learn how to improve your writing, enhance your creativity, and be an all-around stronger communicator.


Before you review the list below, you should be aware that there are two different categories of figures of speech: tropes and schemes. A quick definition:

TROPES: Words, phrases, or images that are used in a way that is not intended by its original, or official, definition.

SCHEMES: The way a collection of words or phrases is organized in order to create rhetorical effect (meaning, to enhance understanding or affect emotion or to give emphasis).


1. Metaphor: Reference of one thing to imply another
2. Simile: Explicit comparison of two unlike things
3. Synecdoche: A part is used for a whole or a whole is used for a part
4. Metonymy: Naming an object or concept to refer to another, related object or concept
5. Personification: Referencing inanimate objects with human-like qualities or abilities

Wordplay & Puns
6. Antanaclasis: Repetition of a word with two different definitions
7. Paronomasia: Use of words similar in sound but different in meaning (punning)
8. Syllepsis: Use of the same word differently to modify two or more objects
9. Onomatopoeia: Forming a word to imitate a sound

10. Anthimeria: Substitution of one part of speech for another
11. Periphrasis: Circumlocution; use of a descriptive phrase or proper noun to stand for qualities of the phrase or noun

12. Hyperbole: Exaggeration for effect
13. Auxesis: Use of a term to describe something disproportionately less significant than the term implies
14. Litotes: Deliberate understatement
15. Meiosis: Use of a term to describe something disproportionately greater than the term implies

16. Rhetorical Question: Asking a question for a purpose other than to get an answer
I7. Irony: Use of terms to convey a meaning opposite of the terms’ literal meaning
18. Oxymoron: Placing two opposing terms side by side
19. Paradox: Contradictory phrase that contains some measure of truth


20. Parallelism: Similarity in structure between words and phrases
21. Antithesis: Juxtaposing two contradictory ideas
22. Climax: Ordering words and phrases in order of increasing importance

Word Order
23. Anastrophe: Inversion of natural speaking word order
24. Parenthesis: Insertion of terms or phrases that interrupt the natural syntactical flow
25. Apposition: Addition of words to clarify or elaborate what came before

26. Ellipsis: Omission of words implied by context
27. Asyndeton: Omission of conjunctions between lauses
28. Brachylogia: Omission of conjunctions between a series of words
29. Polysyndeton: An overabundance of conjunctions

30. Alliteration: Repetition of consonants in two or more words
31. Assonance: Repetition of similar vowel sounds
32. Polyptoton: Repetition of words derived from the same root
33. Antanaclasis: Repetition of a word used with more than one meaning
34. Anaphora: Repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses
35. Epistrophe: Repetition of the same word or phrase at the end of successive clauses
36. Epanalepsis: Repetition of a word at the end of a clause that was used at the beginning of th clause
37. Anadiplosis: Repetition of the last word of one clause at the beginning of the following clause
38. Climax: Repetition of anadiplosis at least three times, arranged so as to increase in importance each time
39. Antimetabole: Repetition of words in successive clauses, but in reverse grammatical order
40. Chiasmus: Repetition of grammatical structures in reverse order in successive phrases or clauses