Figures of Speech: Definition, Lists, Types, Usages & Examples

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A figure of speech can be described as a colorful, creative way of expressing ideas or feelings. Instead of saying things plainly, you use phrases or words in a fun, imaginative way to make your speech more interesting or vivid.

Kinds of Figures of Speech

Figures of speech are literary devices or tropes that are used to polish or embellish a literary piece. There are many figures of speech; however, only a few are examined in this article.

1. Imagery

Imagery is the writer's use of words to paint a mental picture or generate some sensations in the reader. Through the creative use of words, writers make their readers see, perceive, feel, and hear what is not overtly there.

The following six types of imagery are common:

  • Visual imagery, which appeals to the sense of sight (eyes),.
  • Auditory imagery, which appeals to the sense of hearing (ears), involves sounds, noises, and music.
  • Gustatory imagery, which appeals to the sense of taste (tongue),.
  • Olfactory imagery, which appeals to the sense of smell (nose), pertains to odors, scents, and other scatological objects that can propel smell.
  • Tactile imagery, which appeals to the sense of touch (skin), can come in the form of beating or any other thing that tickles or excites emotion.
  • Kinaesthetic imagery, which deals with movement,.

2. Simile

Simile has to do with the comparison of two entities that are not the same but have something in common. The emphasis of simile is not on the quality of oppositeness. Rather, it is a quality of likeness. Usually, simile is easily identified with the use of such words as 'like' and 'as'.

Take a look at the examples below.

  • Rehoboth is as gentle as a dove.
  • The armed robbers scurried like frightened rabbits.
  • The man is as tall as an Iroko tree.
  • The man speaks like a dictator.

3. Metaphor

Metaphor resembles simile in that both compare one thing with another. However, while simile employs the use of such words as 'like' and 'as', metaphor does not. Metaphor is an explicit transfer of the quality of an object to another. Metaphor appears to be the most common figure of speech, as the language of literature is generally metaphorical.


  • Our leaders' words are showers of fire.
  • People are aware of Mr. Ogunsanya's chameleon eyes.
  • I am the salt and the light of the world.
  • The word is an egg.
  • Satan is a roaring lion.

4. Personification

This is a figure of speech in which human attributes or qualities are given to inanimate objects. There are specific attributes that are peculiar to humans; when they are attributed to non-human beings or abstract ideas, it is called personification.

See the following examples:

  • The sky is weeping.
  • Sin whispers to the wicked in their ears.
  • The heavens proclaim the glory of God, and the skies display His craftsmanship.
  • The earth answers farmers with a bountiful harvest every year.

5. Irony

This is an expression that contradicts what is meant. In other words, what is overtly expressed is quite different from what is actually (covertly) intended. In the use of irony, there remains the root sense of dissembling or hiding what is actually the case—not, however, in order to deceive, but to achieve special rhetorical or aesthetic effects.


  • Those students were so punctual that they came to the lecture room five minutes after the end of the class.
  • Segun prepared well for the examination; no wonder he failed.
  • The son of the professor is a dullard.
  • The rich also cry.
  • Though her mother sells clothes, Stephanie still wears rags.

6. Hyperbole

Hyperbole entails the use of extravagant amplification of fact or of possibility for serious, ironic, or comic effect. Hyperbolic expressions state more than the actual for the purpose of reiteration or emphasis.


  • Every Nigerian voted for President Muhammadu Buhari during the last general elections.
  • All University of Ibadan students attended my birthday.
  • The whole world sang the doctor's praise when he cured the COVID-19 virus.
  • That guy can consume a mortar of pounded yam.
  • I am loved by all and sundry.

7. Oxymoron

This is a literary device in which two contradictory words are placed side-by-side. In oxymoron, words that should not be ordinarily used together are combined to achieve an aesthetic purpose. Oxymoron foregrounds incongruity.

The following examples show the use of oxygen:

  • Nigeria is full of intellectual drop-outs.
  • Politicians are fond of telling truthful lies.
  • Learning is a pleasurable pain.
  • James remains one of my hostile friends.
  • The fact that the man has not completed his house is an open secret.

8. Paradox

This is an expression that seems illogical, absurd, or meaningless on the surface but which contains some truths or deeper meanings when properly examined.

The following are examples:

  • If you want peace, prepare for war.
  • Adetunji fathered his grandfather before his demise.
  • Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.
  • Death shall die.

9. Antithesis

Antithesis encompasses the congruous placement of expressions (phrases or clauses) with opposing meanings. Opposing (antithetical) ideas are placed to balance each other.


  • Man proposes. God disposes.
  • Many are called, but few are chosen.
  • Marriage has many pains, but celibacy has no pleasures.

10. Euphemism

This is the expression of an unpleasant situation in a pleasant way. Some expressions appear offensive or unpleasant; thus, uttering them tends to generate disagreement or offense. This is why such expressions are stated in a mild way.

For instance, death is something humans generally do not want to hear about. Therefore, there are various ways of announcing the death or demise of someone.


  • The king has joined his ancestors.
  • Adolf Hitler answered the call of his creator in 1945.
  • Our community was paid a visit by street auditors (armed robbers).
  • The television station relieved some of its staff of their jobs.

11. Metonymy

This is a figure of speech in which an object that is closely associated with an idea, concept, or phenomenon is employed to represent it. In metonymy, an object that is symbolically related to a particular concept or idea is used to stand for it.

The following are some examples of metonymy:

  • There is a relationship between the gown and the town.
  • The pen is mightier than the sword.
  • The White House will visit Aso Rock next month.
  • The crown and sceptre shall not depart from the tribe of Judah.
  • The wigs are discussing the release of the incarcerated politicians.

12. Synecdoche

Synecdoche is the use of a part of something to signify or represent the whole, and vice versa. What unites synecdoche and metonymy is the use of representation. However, they differ in that synecdoche uses a part to represent a whole or uses a whole to represent a part, while metonymy uses something (an object) that is closely associated with an idea to represent it.

Examples of instances of the use of synecdoche are:

  • All eyes are on you.
  • James won the heart of Rihanna.
  • Mr. David has no roof over his head.
  • To complete the work, we need more hands.
  • The palace could not contain all the feet that trooped in last night for the coronation.

13. Antonomasia

Antonomasia is a figure of speech in which an individual is given the name of a historical or notable figure as a result of his or her exhibition of the qualities of the figure or character whose name he or she is given. It can also be in the form of substituting a proper name with a suitable epithet or title.


  • The vice chancellor is our Jesus.
  • Many politicians are Judas Iscariot.
  • Nigerian electorates are Oliver Twist.
  • William Shakespeare remains the Bard of Avon.
  • Most female leaders are Margaret Thatcher.

14. Chiasmus

Chiasmus is an arrangement of two phrases or clauses that are parallel in sentence structure but reverse the order of the corresponding words.


  • Don't live to eat; eat to live.
  • If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
  • The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
  • Some people live to die, while others die to live.

15. Assonance

This is the sequential repetition of similar or identical vowels, usually in a line of nearby words. It often contributes to the musicality of poetry.


  • I wake up to bake my cake every day.
  • The boys toiled to get oil and coils for the car.
  • I bade Joe good-bye when I went to buy something.

16. Alliteration

Alliteration is the repetition of the same consonant sounds in the initial positions of nearby words in a line. Just like assonance, alliteration equally enhances the musicality of a poetic text.

The following are some examples:

  • The man could not live long because he had lung disease.
  • Miss Miracle sells seashells down by the seashore.
  • A pigmy despot parades giant padlocks.
  • They fan the egos of their founding fathers.

17. Anaphora

This is the deliberate use or repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of each one of a sequence of sentences, lines of verse, or stanzas.


(I) The Word, the Word, is the fearless symmetry of zebra heights.

The fiery hooffall of eloquent horses

The word, the word, is the armpit of stone.

The groin of nodding marble.

('Invocation of the Word' by Niyi Osundare)

(II) Words that go to war to find peace

Words that go to peace find war

Words that mew like a cat

Words that roar like lions.

('Words which' by Niyi Osundare)

18. Epistrophe (Epiphora)

This is the opposite of anaphora. It is the repetition of a word or group of words at the end of each successive line.

An example is cited below:

Are they Hebrews? So am I?

Are they Israelites? So am I?

Are they Abraham's descendants? So am I

(The Bible, II Corinthians 11:22).

18. Anadioplosis

This is a literary device employed when a word or phrase that ends a line begins the next line.

"... you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness.
and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control,
and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness,
and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love".
(The Bible, II Peter 1:5-)
19. Onomatopoeia

Onomatopoeia is the use of words whose sound appears to closely resemble the sound they denote. There is a close relationship between sound and sense, as the sound suggests the sense.


  • The little train rumbled over the tracks.
    The airplane zoomed off.
    The booming of guns disturbed our peace.

20. Rhetorical Question

This is also called erotema. It is a question that is asked to lay emphasis on, persuade, or make a point. When a rhetorical question is posed, an answer is not usually demanded.

The following are some examples:

  • Are we not all human beings?
  • Who does not know that a poor person can become rich tomorrow?
  • Is it not evident that death is inevitable?

21. Apostrophe

Apostrophe is a literary device used when someone who is absent or an abstract or non-human entity is directly and explicitly addressed as if such is present and has the ability to respond.


  • Death, why have you taken our boss away?
  • All you trees of the forest, bow down and worship the Lord.
  • Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are.
  • Is this a dagger that I see before me, the handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch them! I haven't, but I still see you! (Shakespeare's Macbeth)

22. Allusion

Allusion is a reference that is made to a literary or historical person, place, or event, or to another literary work or passage in a particular work. Common types of allusions are classical, historical, biblical, and literary allusions.

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