Comprehensive grammar lesson on Figures of Speech

Grammar Exercise – 3

English Skill Building – 27

Comprehensive lesson on Figures of Speech

Figures of Speech


If we write English using words to describe objects, feelings, situations etc. using precise and the most befitting word, our writing, both in prose and poetry form, will appear drab, monotonous and uninteresting.

Example –
1. Seeing the approaching bull, the small boy ran very fast to escape the danger.
Compare this with –
Seeing the approaching bull, the child ran for his life.
2. The girl was jilted by her lover. She went to her mother and described in detail how hurt and sad she was.
Compare this with –
The girl was jilted by her lover. She poured her heart out to her mother.

If you examine both cases, you will see that the second versions are shorter, more expressive and more pleasant to the reader. Such use of words, phrases, idioms etc. involving completely different words are known as ‘Figures of Speech’.


A Figure of Speech is a departure from the ordinary form of expression, or the ordinary course of ideas in order to produce a greater effect.

Classification of Figures of Speech

Figures of Speech is classified as under –
a. Those based on Resemblance —- Such as Simile, Metaphor, Personification and Apostrophe,
b. Those based on Contrast —- Such as Antithesis and Epigram
c. Those based on Association –Such as Metonym and Synecdoche
d. Those depending on Construction – Such as Climax and Anticlimax


Simile, Metaphor, Hyperbole, Oxymoron, Metonymy, Synecdoche, Hyperbole, Pun Exclamation, Interrogation, Climax, Anticlimax


In Simile, a comparison is made between two objects of different kinds which have at least one point in common.
The Simile is usually introduced by such words as little, as or so.

Examples –
a. Arvind Kejriwal has barged into the citadel of power in Delhi like a storm.
b. After rumours of large frauds spread, the bank collapsed like a pack of cards.
c. The news of the death of her husband struck her like a lightening.
d. Leaders of the Congress Party think uttering a word against Rahul Gandhi is like desecrating the Ganges.
e. For Arvind Kejriwal, being the chef minister of Delhi is not going to be like a bed of roses.
f. For centuries to come, Tendulkar will shine in the world of cricket as a star in the night sky.
g. The news of his losing the job struck him like a bolt from the blue.


A metaphor is an implied Simile. I does not, like the Simile, say that one thing is like another, or acts as another, but takes that for granted and proceeds as if the two things were one.

Examples –
a. In a traditional Hindu family, the father is the lord of the house.
b. The Controller and Auditor General of India (CAG) is the watchdog of the country’s finance.
c. For the ailing Sadhu, a sip of the Ganges water, was a nectar of life. He recovered soon after drinking it.
d. The Constitution of India is the skeleton of the country’s political system.
e. This highway is the lifeline of the valley surrounded by hills on all sides.
f. Corruption is the cancer that weakens India.


In Personification, inanimate objects and abstract notions are spoken of as having life and intelligence.

Examples –
a. The dark cloud of corruption and loot looms large over the Indian sky.
b. The brook danced down the mountain slopes making a continuous sound.
c. The fire of the enemy guns pounded our hearts throughout the night.
d. The moon smiled as the lover kissed the girl.
e. The river twisted and turned for hundreds of miles before discharging itself into the sea.
f. The inferno swallowed apartment after apartment, shops after shops till it reached the city mayor’s residence, for which it had reserved its maximum vengeance.
f. The majestic Konark temple lies in ruins, but it sings the glory of the master artisans and craftsmen who built it centuries ago.


An apostrophe is a direct address to the dead, to the absent, or to a personified object or an idea.

Examples –
a. ‘Mother India! give me strength, ideas and inspiration to serve you with my sweat and blood,’ prayed the RSS worker.
b. ‘Oh, death! give me a few more years to go on a voyage and accomplish something more,’ beseeched Ulysses.
c. ‘Bapu, you should be living at this hour,’ prayed a Gandhian AAP worker after the Delhi election results were out.
d. O Solitude! Where are the charms
that sages have seen in thy face?


In this style, one exaggeration is followed by another bigger exaggeration.

Examples –
a. Oh dear, your demise has left me alone in this whole world, like the lonely star in the dawn sky.
b. The lover’s taunt pierced her heart like an arrow and pounded her mind like a hundred hammers.
c. Oh, Guru, your sermons has soothed my broken heart and lighted my mind with the blaze of a thousand suns.


Here an unpleasant thing is described by softer, more agreeable word.

Examples –
a. He took me for a ride. (He cheated me.)
b. After the meeting, my boss showed me the door. (He threw me out.)
c. The chickens are coming home to roost. (Time has come when you will suffer for your misdeeds of the past.
d. The investment consultant led some investors up the garden path by his clever talk. (He deceived the investors through clever talk.)


In this style strikingly opposite words or sentiments are made in the same sentence to emphasize an idea.

Examples –
a. Arvind’s victory is a small step for the fledgling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), but a giant step for India’s democracy.
b. It is never too soon; It is never too late.
c. Love is a real thing, mirage is a real thing. (Goethe)
d. To err is human, to forgive, divine. (Alexander Pope)
e. Patience is bitter, but it has a sweet fruit.


In this style, two opposite words are used to emphasize the same sense.

Examples –
a. After the chairman’s speech, there was a deafening silence.
b. It is an open secret that politicians are involved with the mafia.
c. My friend has an awfully pretty dog that helps to keep his moron wife happy.
d. His comment was so clearly opaque.


An Epigram is a brief pointed saying frequently introducing antithetical ideas which give rise to surprise and arrest attention.

Examples –
a. Where angels fear to tread, fools rush in.
b. Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind.
c. The situation must get worse before it gets better.
d. It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.


It is a style where the sense is just the opposite of what is stated.

Examples –
a. His speech was as exciting as cow dung.
b. He roared like a cat and fought like mouse.
c. The robbers have enriched our understanding of crime.
d. The speaker floored me with his high praise.


A Pun consists in the use of a word in such a way that it is capable of more than one application, the object being to produce a ludicrous effect.

Examples –
a. An ambassador is an honest man who lies abroad for the good of his country.
b. A red rose is a token of love that pricks if not handled properly.
c. A wife is your companion who reduces your grief by half and increases your suffering by double.
d. The maths teacher was an exponent of his own powers.
e. Without geometry, life is pointless.


In Metonymy (literally, a change of name), an object is designated by the name of something which is generally associated with it.

Examples –

a. The M.P was pulled up for showing disrespect to the Chair (Speaker, who sits on an ornamental chair)
b. The literary genius was decorated by the Crown. (honoured by the King who wears the crown)
c. Each of the senior officers of the army dreamed to hold the baton one day. (to be promoted to the highest post of Field Marshall who customarily holds a baton)
d. The fugitive returned home to be able to see his ailing Love, but was trapped by the sleuths just when he was steps away from her. (‘Love’ means the woman he loved.


In Synecdoche, a part is used to designate the whole or the whole to designate a part.

Examples –
a. President Obama’s plans to put more boots in Afghanistan did not work. (It means more soldiers.)
b. All automobile mechanics are first taught about the nuts and bolts of a internal combustion engine in a theory class.
c. To be able to understand the voluminous report, you have to read the fine print.
d. The victory of AAP has forced the brains of BJP and Congress to re-think their election strategy.

Transferred epithet

In this style, an epithet is transferred from its proper word to another that is closely associated with it in the sentence.

Examples –
a. The boy magician showed a trick at which the audience looked with wide-eyed amazement.
b. He spent a sleep-less night in his first day in the school.
c. A cringing sycophant presented an obsequious cup of coffee to the politician and waited outside the room to remove the cup and plate after his lord finished drinking it.
d. The senior politician gave a deferential nod when Rahul Gandhi asked him to accompany him for the tour.


In Litotes, an affirmative is conveyed by negation of the opposite, the effort being to suggest a strong expression by means of a weaker. It is the opposite of Hyperbole.

Examples –
a. Arvind Kejriwal has done no less sacrifice than Anna Hazare.
b. I am no novice to not see through your sales talk.
c. I am not a little surprised to see Congress and the BJP attacking AAP with equal venom.


Interrogation is the asking of a question, not for getting an answer, but to put across a point more forcefully.

Examples –
a. The boy asked his mother, “Mummy, don’t you feel I deserve a cake for doing so well in the examination?”
b. The angry M.P asked, “Minister, isn’t it time for you to resign?”
c. Ulysses wondered, “Should I not go on another adventure? Wasting away is so degrading.”


In this style, an exclamation is used to accentuate the sense of the sentence.

Examples –
a. Oh, Taj, how marvelous you look under moonlight!
b. God, how magnanimous you are!
c. Oh, my countrymen, how much you suffer due to corruption.


Climax is the arrangement of a series of ideas in the order

Examples –
a. The wounded soldier lay there sick, shivering and shrieking.
b. The man emerged from the prison, triumphantly, with his head held high in pride.


It is the opposite of ‘climax’ as a sudden descent from higher to lower. It is used for site and ridicule.

Examples –
a. After the no confidence motion was passed, the leader emerged from the parliament house, despondent, ashamed and in tears.
b. After the Tsunami, he lost his young wife, his motorcycle and his T-shirt.
c. The commander set out to launch a new campaign, to avenge his defeat and to recover his lost pet.

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