Important Figures of Speech in English with Easy Examples

You may well have heard of the term a figure of speech but what exactly does this refer to? We are going to look into what a figure of speech is and how they can be used. We will also look in-depth at some examples of figures of speech and explain what they mean.

Figure of Speech

Figure of Speech Definition

A figure of speech is something which is used to convey a more deep or intense meaning. It is a phrase made up of two or more words which can add effect to the meaning of something and is used in a non literal sense. When using literal speech, the words and sentences explain what is happening literally, or in other words what is happening in reality. When we use a figure of speech to explain a situation, the words and sentences become non literal and do not convey what is actually happening but rather give a feeling as to what is happening.

An example to show the comparison between literal speech and a figure of speech would be:

Whilst we know that it is not literally raining cats and dogs, the figure of speech adds an intensity to the meaning of the sentence and puts an emphasis on how much it is raining.

A figure of speech is a word or phrase which is used to describe something in a non-literal sense. These can be used as a literary device within a written text in order to explain something in a more artistic sense or they can be used in English speaking. In the latter, they are usually used to compare something, give advice or create a less literal description of something.

When used as a rhetorical device a figure of speech will give an opposite or different meaning to what is intended. It can also be used to convey a meaning or trigger emotion to the reader or listener.

Figures of Speech Examples

There are various different types of figures of speech, whilst there are a large amount of types, there are ten more common ones which we see in both written and spoken English. They are:

  • Simile: this makes a comparison between two things using the words like or as, for example ‘she shone as bright as the sun.’
  • Metaphor: makes a comparison between two things which have something in common, for example ‘the eyes are the window to the soul.’
  • Hyperbole: uses an exaggeration to convey a more profound meaning, for example ‘I have a thousand things to do this morning.’
  • Oxymoron: uses a two word phrase where the words contradict one another to give a positive meaning, for example ‘she is pretty ugly.’
  • Pun: a play on words, for example ‘a boiled egg for breakfast is hard to beat.’
  • Alliteration: uses repeated letter sounds throughout a sentence, for example ‘the high horse hopped along the highway.’
  • Onomatopoeia: these are words which resemble the sound they are describing, for example ‘the car alarm went beep.’
  • Irony: the use of language which is the opposite of what is meant, for example ‘I love it when I drop my phone, how wonderful.’
  • Anaphora: the repetition of a word or phrase for rhythmic effect, for example ‘you must not stop, you must not wane, you must not fail.’
  • Antithesis: this makes a comparison or connection between two ideas in a sentence, for example ‘that is one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind.’

Types of Figures of Speech

There are different types of figures of speech and we are now going to look at those types, what they are and how to use them by looking at some examples of them being used in sentences.


Alliteration is when there is a repetition of sound within a phrase or sentence. Here are some examples of alliteration in use.

  • She sells seashells on the seashore
  • Peter piper picked a peck of pickled pepper
  • The dog dug deeper into the depths.
  • Nicky’s necklace nipped at her neck.


Anaphora is when a word is repeated multiple times within a phrase. Here are some examples of anaphora in use.

  • Every morning, every afternoon and every evening I walk by the lake.
  • He had one apple, one banana and one pear.
  • My life is happy, my life is simple, my life is complete.


Antithesis is applying a juxtaposition of ideas which are contrasting in a statement that is balanced. Here are some examples of antithesis in use.

  • Man proposes and God deposes.
  • Love is an ideal thing and marriage is a real thing.
  • That is one small step for man and one huge leap for mankind.


Apostrophe is speaking to an object or item that is not alive as if it were in fact, alive. Here are some examples of apostrophe is use.

  • Oh come on you stupid door, just unlock.
  • Thank you oven, for helping me make this meal.
  • Come on trousers, you have to fit me.


Assonance is the similarity in sound between vowels in the middle of neighbouring words. Here are some examples of assonance in use.

  • How now, brown cow.
  • On the side of the hide.
  • Top of the pop


Chiasmus is when two sentences are balanced against one another but with the words reversed. Here are some examples of chiasmus in use.

  • Work to live and do not live to work.
  • She went to town, off to town went she.
  • You forget what you want to remember yet you remember what you want to forget


Euphemism is the replacement of a phrase which might be deemed offensive by one which implies the same meaning but does not carry offence with it. Here are some examples of euphemism in use.

  • Instead of ‘he died’ you would say ‘he passed away.’
  • Instead of ‘she had an abortion’ you would say ‘she terminated the pregnancy.’
  • Instead of ‘going for a poo’ you would say ‘going to use the bathroom.’


Hyperbole is a term which uses an exaggeration to add a more dramatic meaning to the sentence. Here are some examples of hyperbole in use.

  • My bag weighs a tonne.
  • His nose is the length of the river Nile.
  • I have a million things to do today.


Irony is a statement which conveys the exact opposite meaning of what is literally being said. It is also a statement which contradicts the situation. Here are some examples of irony in use.

  • The fire station burnt to the ground.
  • The pilot had a fear of flying.
  • ‘What lovely weather.’ she said when it was raining


Litotes is an understatement which applies a negative to express the meaning of the affirmative. Here are some examples of litotes in use.

  • She isn’t the friendliest woman in the world.
  • I wasn’t unhappy with the gift
  • That dress is not too bad


Metaphor is when there is a comparison made between two different things which share something in common. Here are some examples of metaphor in use.

  • The world is your oyster.
  • She was the shining star of the talent show.
  • His eyes were ice.


Metonymy is when a phrase is replaced with another which has a similar meaning, used to describe something in an indirect manner. Here are some examples of metonymy in use.

  • The pen is more mighty than the sword.
  • I remain loyal to the crown.
  • My husband is considered a silver fox.


Onomatopoeia is a word which resembles the sound it is describing. Here are some examples of onomatopoeia in use.

  • The bacon sizzled in the pan.
  • My watch ticks loudly.
  • The crow cawed overhead.


Oxymoron is when two words in a phrase contradict one another. Here are some examples of oxymoron in use.

  • The girl next door is pretty ugly.
  • That cat is mighty small.
  • Our farewell was bittersweet.


Paradox is a statement which contradicts itself. Here are some examples of paradox in use.

  • He is a wise fool.
  • Deep down Anna is really shallow.
  • It is the beginning of the end.


Personification is when an object which is not alive is given human qualities. Here are some examples of personification in use.

  • My car is a real beauty.
  • That rod will take out someones eye.
  • My alarm clock screams at me every morning.


pun is a play on words, it uses a word to give a different sense to the sentence and add a double meaning. Here are some examples of puns in use.

  • The two guitarists got on well as they were always in a chord.
  • I spend a lot of time doing DIY so I know the drill.
  • An egg for breakfast is not easy to beat.


Simile is a phrase which compares something to something else using the words like or as. Here are some examples of simile in use.

  • Her hair was as golden as the sun
  • The dog is as fit as a fiddle.
  • I felt as high as a kite.


Synecdoche is a statement in which only part of something is expressed to relate to the whole. Here are some examples of synecdoche in use.

  • At school the children learn ABCs and 123s
  • He has just got some new wheel.
  • There were many hired hands in the factory.


Understatement is a statement which is made to be less important than what is actually being conveyed. Here are some examples of understatement in use.

  • The grand canyon is a hole in the ground.
  • I only have two million dollars.
  • There was a flood in the town, it must have rained a bit in the night.