The Artistry of Language: Figures of Speech in English Literature

Figures of speech are linguistic devices or techniques that writers use to create a particular effect, add emphasis, or express ideas in a more impactful and imaginative way. They add depth, imagery, and style to the language, making it more vibrant and expressive. There are numerous types of figures of speech used in English literature. Here are some of the most common ones:

Literary Terms of English Literature


A simile is a figure of speech that makes a comparison between two things using the words "like" or "as." Similes help readers visualize or understand one thing in terms of another, which can create vivid and interesting descriptions.

Example: "Her eyes were like stars in the sky." - This simile compares the woman's eyes to stars, which helps readers to imagine how bright and sparkling they were.



A metaphor is a figure of speech that directly compares two things by saying that one thing is another thing. Metaphors can create deeper meaning and add layers of symbolism to a text.

Example: "All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players." - This metaphor from William Shakespeare's play As You Like It compares life to a stage and people to actors, which suggests that life is a performance with a pre-determined script and roles.



An image is a figure of speech that creates a mental picture or sensory experience for the reader. Images can be used to evoke emotion or create a specific mood.

Example: "The sun set over the horizon, casting an orange glow across the sky." - This image helps readers visualize the beauty of a sunset, and the warm colours create a sense of peacefulness and calm.



Irony is a figure of speech that uses words to convey the opposite of their literal meaning. Irony can create humor or a sense of surprise for the reader.

Example: "It's like rain on your wedding day, it’s a free ride when you've already paid." - The song "Ironic" by Alanis Morissette uses irony to describe situations that are not truly ironic but are instead just unfortunate.



An analogy is a figure of speech that explains something by comparing it to something else that is similar. Analogies can help readers to understand complex ideas or concepts.

Example: "Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're gonna get." - This analogy from the movie Forrest Gump compares life to a box of chocolates, suggesting that life is unpredictable and you never know what you will encounter.



A symbol is a figure of speech that represents something else, often an abstract idea or concept. Symbols can create a deeper level of meaning and add layers of complexity to a text.

Example: The "green light" in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby is a symbol of Jay Gatsby's hope and desire for the future, as well as his nostalgia.



A conceit is a figure of speech that compares two vastly different things in a way that is surprising or unexpected. Conceits can create new insights and perspectives on familiar ideas or themes.

Example: John Donne's poem "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning" uses a conceit that compares the love between two people to the legs of a compass, which are separate but always connected at the centre point.




Wit is a figure of speech that uses humour, irony, or cleverness to create a memorable statement. Witty statements can add humour or insight to a text.

Example: "I can resist anything except temptation." - This witty statement from Oscar Wilde's play Lady Windermere's Fan uses irony to suggest that even though the character claims to be able to resist temptation, she cannot do so.



Personification is a figure of speech that gives human qualities to non-human things, such as animals or objects. Personification can create empathy for inanimate objects or animals and can make descriptions more vivid and interesting.

Example: "The wind howled through the night, angry and restless." - This personification of the wind as an angry and restless being creates a vivid image of a powerful storm.



Hyperbole is a figure of speech that uses exaggeration to make a point or create emphasis. Hyperbole can be used for humour or to create a sense of drama.

Example: "I've told you a million times to clean your room!" - This hyperbole exaggerates the number of times the speaker has asked someone to clean their room to express their frustration.



A paradox is a figure of speech that presents a seemingly contradictory statement or situation that contains a deeper truth. Paradoxes can create new insights and perspectives on familiar ideas or themes.

Example: "The only way to win is to lose." - This paradox suggests that sometimes it is necessary to sacrifice to ultimately achieve success.



An epigram is a brief and witty statement that cleverly expresses a profound idea. Epigrams can be used to create a memorable or insightful phrase.

Example: "I can't go to a bad movie by myself. What, am I gonna make sarcastic remarks to strangers?" - This epigram from Jerry Seinfeld uses humour to express the idea that it is more enjoyable to experience a bad movie with someone else to share in the experience.



A climax is a figure of speech that builds to the point of highest tension or intensity in a text, often just before a resolution. Climaxes can create a sense of drama or excitement for the reader.

Example: The climax of William Golding's novel Lord of the Flies occurs when the character Simon is killed by the other boys on the island, creating a moment of intense violence and tragedy.



An anti-climax is a figure of speech that builds to a point of high tension or intensity, only to have the resolution be disappointing or insignificant. Anti-climaxes can create humour or a sense of frustration for the reader.

Example: In Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Purloined Letter," the anti-climax occurs when the letter that has been the focus of the entire story is revealed to have been hidden in plain sight all along. 

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