Figures of Speech – Poetic Devices

  1. Simile – A is like B “She fought the war like a lioness.”
  2. Metaphor – A is B “She was a lioness in the battle.”
  3. Personification – “The river murmured.” (River cannot murmur)
  4. Repetition – Repetition of words. “She went down, down, down.” “They went on, on, on…”
  5. Refrain – Repetition of lines. “For men may come and men may go, I go on forever.”
  6. Alliteration – “Oh, wild west wind,” “Hardy highland wight.”
  7. Pun – Double meaning. “Still” means stationary or dead or presently.
  8. Hyperbole – Extreme Exaggeration
    • “Three thousand, killed he, with a bite.”
    • I have told you a million times.
  9. Oxymoron – Oxymoron is a figure of speech in which two opposite ideas are joined to create an effect. The common oxymoron phrase is a combination of an adjective proceeded by a noun with contrasting meanings e.g. “cruel kindness” or “living death”
    • “Cruel kindness”
    • Living dead.
  10. Rhyme Scheme – ABAB, AABB
  11. Onomatopoeia (änəˌmadəˈpēə,ˌänəˌmädəˈpēə) – Sound effect. The formation of a word from a sound associated with what is named.
    • I slip, I slide, I gloom, I glance.” Sound effect of the flowing water.
  12. Imagery – Vision effect. “I make the netted sunbeam dance against my sandy shallows.”
  13. Antithesis – Antithesis, literal meaning opposite, is a rhetorical device in which two opposite ideas are put together in a sentence to achieve a contrasting effect.
    • Man proposes, God disposes.
    • Love is an ideal thing, marriage a real thing.
    • Speech is silver, but silence is gold.
    • Patience is bitter, but it has a sweet fruit.
    • Money is the root of all evils: poverty is the fruit of all goodness.
    • You are easy on the eyes, but hard on the heart.
    • Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice.
  14. Climax
  15. Anticlimax – Anti-climax is a rhetorical device which can be defined as a disappointing situation or a sudden transition in discourse from an important idea to a ludicrous or trivial one.
  16. Synecdoche (siˈnekdəkē) – Synecdoche is a literary device in which a part of something represents the whole or it may use a whole to represent a part.
    • The word “sails” refers to a whole ship. Sail is just a part of the ship but it also refers to the ship.
    • The word “boots” usually refers to soldiers.
    • The term “coke” is a common synecdoche for all carbonated drinks.
    • The word “glasses” refers to spectacles.
  17. Transferred Epithet – A figure of speech in which an epithet (or adjective) grammatically qualifies a noun other than the person or thing it is actually describing. Also known as hypallage. A transferred epithet often involves shifting a modifier from the animate to the inanimate.
    • “Cheerful money,” “sleepless night,” and “suicidal sky.”
  18. Apostrophe – In literature, apostrophe is a figure of speech sometimes represented by exclamation “O”. A writer or a speaker, using an apostrophe, detaches himself from the reality and addresses an imaginary character in his speech.
    • “Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
      How I wonder what you are.
      Up above the world so high,
      Like a diamond in the sky.”
    • In the above nursery rhyme, a child addresses a star (an imaginary idea). Hence, this is a classic example of apostrophe.
    • “Oh! Stars and clouds and winds, ye are all about to mock me;
      If ye really pity me, crush sensation and memory;
      Let me become as nought; but if not, depart, depart,
      And leave me in darkness.”
    • Talking to stars, clouds and winds is an apostrophe.
All in One
  • Alliteration – is the repetition of initial consonant sounds.
  • Allusion – is a direct or indirect reference to a familiar figure, place or event from history, literature, mythology or the bible.
  • Apostrophe – a figure of speech in which a person not present is addressed.
  • Assonance – is a close repetition of similar vowel sounds, usually in stressed syllables.
  • Atmosphere / mood – is the prevailing feeling that is created in a story or poem.
  • Cacophony – harsh sounds introduced for poetic effect – sometimes words that are difficult to pronounce.
  • Cliche – an overused expression that has lost its intended force or novelty.
  • Connotation – the emotional suggestions attached to words beyond their strict definitions.
  • Consonance – the close repetition of identical consonant sounds before and after different vowels.
  • Contrast – the comparison or juxtaposition of things that are different.
  • Denotation – the dictionary meaning of words.
  • Dissonance – the juxtaposition of harsh jarring sounds in one or more lines.
  • Euphony – agreeable sounds that are easy to articulate.
  • Extended metaphor – an implied comparison between two things which are essentially not alike. These points of comparison are continued throughout the selection.
  • Figurative language – language used in such a way as to force words out of their literal meanings by emphasizing their connotations to bring new insight and feeling to the subject.
  • Hyperbole – an exaggeration in the service of truth – an overstatement.
  • Idiom – is a term or phrase that cannot be understood by a literal translation, but refers instead to a figurative meaning that is understood through common use.
  • Imagery – is the representation through language of sense experience. The image most often suggests a mental picture, but an image may also represent a sound, smell, taste or tactile experience.
  • Irony – is a literary device which reveals concealed or contradictory meanings.
  • Jargon – language peculiar to a particular trade, profession or group.
  • Juxtaposition – is the overlapping or mixing of opposite or different situations, characters, settings, moods, or points of view in order to clarify meaning, purpose, or character, or to heighten certain moods, especially humour, horror, and suspense. Also contrast
  • Literal language – what is said is based in reality without the comparisons used in figurative language.
  • Litotes – a form of understatement in which something is said by denying the opposite.
  • Metaphor – a comparison between two things which are essentially dissimilar. The comparison is implied rather than directly stated.
  • Meter – any regular pattern of rhythm based on stressed and unstressed syllables.
  • Metonymy – use of a closely related idea for the idea itself.
  • Mood – see atmosphere
  • Onomatopoeia – the use of words which sound like what they mean.
  • Oxymoron – two words placed close together which are contradictory, yet have truth in them.
  • Paradox – a statement in which there is an apparent contradiction which is actually true.
  • Personification – giving human attributes to an animal, object or idea.
  • Rhyme – words that sound alike
  • Rhyme scheme – any pattern of rhymes in poetry. Each new sound is assigned the next letter in the alphabet.
  • Rhythm – a series of stressed or accented syllables in a group of words, arranged so that the reader expects a similar series to follow.
  • Simile – a comparison between two things which are essentially dissimilar. The comparison is directly stated through words such as like, as, than or resembles.
  • Speaker – the “voice” which seems to be telling the poem. Not the same as the poet; this is like a narrator.
  • Symbol – a symbol has two levels of meaning, a literal level and a figurative level. Characters, objects, events and settings can all be symbolic in that they represent something else beyond themselves.
  • Synedoche – the use of a part for the whole idea.
  • Theme – is the central idea of the story, usually implied rather than directly stated. It is the writer’s idea abut life and can be implied or directly stated through the voice of the speaker. It should not be confused with moral or plot.
  • Tone – is the poet’s attitude toward his/her subject or readers. It is similar to tone of voice but should not be confused with mood or atmosphere. An author’s tone might be sarcastic, sincere, humourous . . .
  • Trope – a figure of speech in which a word is used outside its literal meaning. Simile and metaphor are the two most common tropes.
  • Understatement – this is saying less than what you mean in the service of truth.
  • Voice – the creating and artistic intelligence that we recognize behind any speaker.
  • Theme – the main idea or meaning of a text. Often, this is an insight about human life revealed in a literary work.
  • Imagery – words and phrases that appeal to the five senses.
  • Sound – the poet uses rhyme, rhythm, and/or repetition to help the listener to hear the poem.
  • Rhythm – the beat of a poem.
  • Lines – phrases or words in a stanza
  • Form – what a poem looks like
  • Figurative language – language employing one or more figures of speech (simile, metaphor, imagery, etc.)
Practice Tests

Check how many poetic devices you can pick out from the following poem. Write the corresponding line against each poetic device.

I come from haunts of coot and hern,  –
I make a sudden sally
And sparkle out among the fern,
To bicker down a valley.

By thirty hills I hurry down,
Or slip between the ridges,
By twenty thorpes, a little town,
And half a hundred bridges.

Till last by Philip’s farm I flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.

I chatter over stony ways,
In little sharps and trebles,
I bubble into eddying bays,
I babble on the pebbles.

With many a curve my banks I fret
By many a field and fallow,
And many a fairy foreland set
With willow-weed and mallow.

I chatter, chatter, as I flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.

I wind about, and in and out,
With here a blossom sailing,
And here and there a lusty trout,
And here and there a grayling,

And here and there a foamy flake
Upon me, as I travel
With many a silvery waterbreak
Above the golden gravel,

And draw them all along, and flow
To join the brimming river
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.

I steal by lawns and grassy plots,
I slide by hazel covers;
I move the sweet forget-me-nots
That grow for happy lovers.

I slip, I slide, I gloom, I glance,
Among my skimming swallows;
I make the netted sunbeam dance
Against my sandy shallows.

I murmur under moon and stars
In brambly wildernesses;
I linger by my shingly bars;
I loiter round my cresses;

And out again I curve and flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.

Biju John

Biju John is an educational writer, educator and the author of OM - The Otherwise Men.

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