8 figures of speech you didn’t learn in school

2 min read

Think back to your grammar school days and try to remember those flashcards. You've likely learned about figures of speech such as simile, metaphor, and irony and can easily point out when someone is telling a story with a metaphor or making a point with irony. However, there are other figures of speech you can use to spice up your storytelling and impress your friends. Here are eight you should brush up on.


Here's an intimidating word for something you’ve definitely heard and have used before. You’ll find it in Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Anaphora is a repeated word or phrase in successive sentences. It usually leads up to a dramatic moment or an important message.


Have you ever heard the phrase, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going?” Whether or not you agree with it, it’s a classic example of a chiasmus or a grammatical inversion. You’re using most of the same words in the first part of the sentence as in the second half, but the words are reversed to create an entirely new meaning.


Chances are, if you know someone who uses pleonasm, you’re more annoyed than impressed by it. Pleonasm is using more words than necessary to say something. You might notice that although these people try to sound intelligent, they come off as pretentious. Just one-up them and accuse them of perpetuating pleonasm.


Synecdoche is arguably the opposite of pleonasm. This figure of speech means stripping down a concept down to one word or a brief phrase to represent a larger entity. To give a trendy example, just say, “Millennials" with an eye roll and everyone will know what you mean.


At first glance, metonymy and synecdoche look the same. However, while they’re both single words used to represent a concept or object, a synecdoche is more obviously related to its source.

Metonymy, on the other hand, uses a characteristic of the noun or concept to describe it. An example is saying “the crown” in place of royalty, or “my heart” instead of love.


Skotison has the same effect as pleonasm for some people, but in this case, the purpose is also to confuse the listener. If you ask someone, “How are you?” and they respond with, “I am slowly sinking into the great abyss of the corporate lifestyle,” you might wonder why they couldn’t just lie and say, “I’m fine,” like everyone else.


The next time you ask your partner what’s wrong, and they reply, “Nothing,” you’ll have a word for it — accismus. Accismus means playing coy or faking disinterest when you actually want something. An example is saying, “It’s fine,” or implying that you don’t care about going to that movie you’re dying to see.


Paronomasia is perhaps the most entertaining of all figures of speech. You might know it better as a pun. You can’t force paronomasia and a good pun just has to happen naturally. Try too hard and you’re sure to hear groans.

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