Figures of Speech & Advanced English
When lecturing on Advanced English (A New English Course Levels 5 and 6), I often come
across a phenomenon, a discouraging fact that students are always insensitive to the humor hidden
between the lines, and blind to the beauty conveyed by the words. This problem, to my knowledge,
is chiefly due to their limited knowledge of the rich store of English rhetorical devices, ignorance
of which, however, also contributes to composing sentences that are not effective stylistically
though correct grammatically. The following is written to solve this issue, based upon the book
English Rhetorical Options by Feng Cuihua and English Rhetorical &Writing by Huang Ren.
1. A simile is a figure of speech which makes a comparison between two unlike elements
having at least one quality in common. Often the resemblance only exits in our minds, and
words like as, as… and like are employed.
e.g. He was like a cock who thought the sun had risen to hear his crow.
2. A metaphor is different from simile only in that the comparison is implied rather than
stated. e.g. The world is a stage.
When a metaphor has lost its freshness and originality, it becomes a dead metaphor, a
phrase no longer to be viewed as a metaphor. e.g. table-leg bottleneck
3. Unlike simile or metaphor that always concentrates on one point of resemblance, analogy
always draws a parallel between two unlike things that have several common qualities.
Learners may refer to Hit the Nail on he Head.
To intensify the implications, sometimes the author makes characters and events stand
for abstract ideas, principles, or forces, so that the literal sense has or suggests a parallel,
deeper symbolic sense. We call this rich comparison allegory. Names, Mr. Bright for
example, could be allegorical and famous allegorical works include Divine Comedy,
Pilgrim’s Progress and Animal Farm.
4. Personification is a figure of speech that gives human form or feelings to animals,
inanimate objects or ideas and abstractions.
5. Metonymy involves substitution of the name of one thing for that of another closely
associated with it, whereas synecdoche is the substitution of the part for the whole, or the
whole for the part.
That grey hair may refer to old age is metonymy, but when a head means a person, we call
6. Irony is a figure of speech that achieves emphasis by saying the opposite of what is meant.
For instance, one calls a fat guy “skinny.’’ If the irony is kind of mild, it is called
innuendo, but when it becomes rather, it is named sarcasm.
7. Pun is to play with the form and meaning of words, usually for a witty or humorous
8. A paradox is a statement or proposition which seems self—contradictory, even absurd but
which may prove to be true, and well-- founded.
e.g. The Child is father of the Man.
When a paradox is compressed, it becomes an oxymoron. E.g. Straight-A illiteracy
9. When a descriptive word or phrase is transferred from the noun it should modify to
another to which it does not really belong, we have a transferred epithet. For instance,
we spent sleepless nights on the project.
10. Zeugma is a figure of speech by which a single word is made to modify or to govern two
or more words in the same sentence, either properly applying in sense to only one of them,
or applying to them in different senses.
e.g. Coattails: Clothes that fit the man and the times.
11. Parody is a figure of speech that presents an adaptation of an idiom or a celebrated
remark in such a way that readers familiar with the original version always feel amused.
For example, quality breeds success. Obviously it comes from the idiom: familiarity
12. If words of the same root appear in one sentence or paragraph, they form paregmenon.
e.g. The American Manufacturer Trust, which my father distrusted so heartily, was a
great cubical cage of glass.
13. Euphemism is the substitution of mild or vague or roundabout expression for harsh or
direct one. It is recognition by man of man’s own imperfection, and at the same time
recognition by man that he belongs to better things. e.g. a slower learner refers to a
14. Hyperbole is the deliberate use of overstatement or exaggeration to achieve emphasis.
The opposite is understatement, impressing the reader more by what is merely implied or
left unsaid than by bare statement. When used with negatives, understatement is named
litotes, and when without, meiosis.
e.g. He was a man of no mean wealth.
They are beginning to feel a little bitter towards the invaders.
15. Climax, derived from the Greek word for ‘‘ladder’’, implies the progression of thought at
a uniform or almost uniform rate of significance or intensity, like the steps of a ladder
ascending. e.g. I came, I saw, I conquered.
The opposite of climax is anti-climax, stating one’s thoughts in a descending order of
significance or intensity, often used to ridicule or satire.
e.g. You can manage a business, stocks, bonds, people. And now you can manage your
Learners of Advanced English may find in the textbooks better examples of the figures of speech
mentioned above; they are encouraged to explore this less traveled terrain of the language they are
now studying, as is the purpose of writing this paper.