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Figure of speech

The following statistics are based on the British National Corpus, so they are representative for the British English.

Distribution of usage frequency for the most common synonyms of the noun figure of speech:

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Definition of the noun figure of speech

What does figure of speech mean as a name of something?


  1. language used in a figurative or nonliteral sense
    • lexical domain: Communicative Processes - nouns denoting communicative processes and contents
    • synonyms of figure of speech: figure / image / trope
    • more generic term: rhetorical device = a use of language that creates a literary effect
    • more specific words:
      • conceit = an elaborate poetic image or a far-fetched comparison of very dissimilar things
      • irony = a trope that involves incongruity between what is expected and what occurs
      • exaggeration / hyperbole = extravagant exaggeration
      • kenning = conventional metaphoric name for something, used especially in Old English and Old Norse poetry
      • metaphor = a figure of speech in which an expression is used to refer to something that it does not literally denote in order to suggest a similarity
      • metonymy = substituting the name of an attribute or feature for the name of the thing itself
      • oxymoron = conjoining contradictory terms
      • personification / prosopopoeia = representing an abstract quality or idea as a person or creature
      • simile = a figure of speech that expresses a resemblance between things of different kinds
      • synecdoche = substituting a more inclusive term for a less inclusive one or vice versa
      • zeugma = use of a verb with two or more complements, playing on the verb's polysemy, for humorous effect

Alternative definition of the noun figure of speech


  1. [idiomatic] A word or phrase that departs from straightforward, literal language.


Figure of speech: A figure of speech is figurative language in the form of a single word or phrase. It can be a special repetition, arrangement or omission of words with literal meaning, or a phrase with a specialized meaning not based on the literal meaning of the words. There are mainly five figures of speech: simile, metaphor, hyperbole, personification and synecdoche. Figures of speech often provide emphasis, freshness of expression, or clarity. However, clarity may also suffer from their use, as any figure of speech introduces an ambiguity between literal and figurative interpretation. A figure of speech is sometimes called a rhetorical figure or a locution.

  • also known as Gaya bahasa, Recurs estilístic, Recurs retòric, Figura retòrica, Llicència literària

Printed dictionaries and other books with definitions for Figure of speech

Click on a title to look inside that book (if available):

Google previewThe College Writer: A Guide to Thinking, Writing, and Researching, Brief (2016)

by John Van Rys, Verne Meyer, Randall VanderMey, Patrick Sebranek

Figure of speech is a literary device used to create a special effect or to describe something in a fresh way. The most common types are antithesis, hyperbole, metaphor, metonymy, personification, simile, and understatement.

Google previewA Teachers' Manual of English Grammar and Analysis (1912)

by Hiram Roy Wilson

A Figure of speech is an intentional deviation from the usual mode of expression for the sake of greater efiect. A Finite form of the verb is a verb form limited by person and number. Ex., The wind blew. The First person indicates the person as ...

Google previewThe Nephilim and Pyramid of Apocalypse (2007)

by Patrick Heron

Thus the figure of speech refers to a rather ...

Google previewHigh Frequency Word Phrases Level 2--Figures of Speech (2014)

by Edward Fry, Timothy Rasinski

Reminder: A figure of speech is a word or phrase that doesn't mean exactly what it says. Figures of speech are used to make things sound more interesting. It is important to recognize the real meaning of the message—not just the actual words ...

Google previewMusical Rhetoric (2014)

Foundations and Annotation Schemes by Patrick Saint-Dizier

A figure of speech is a predefined form, quite precisely defined, syntactically and ...

Google previewIntroduction to Biblical Hermeneutics (2009)

The Search for Meaning by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Moisés Silva

A more difficult but much more frequent figure of speech is the metaphor. Here the comparison is unexpressed or merely implied. In this case, an idea is carried over from one element to another without directly saying that one is like the other.

Google previewAdvertising: Using Words as Tools for Selling (2010)

by Ms Ruta Kalmane

A figure of speech is a form of expression [...] used to convey meaning or heighten effect (Penguin English Dictionary, 2003:515). All figures of speech are used to highlight a particular concept or idea. Figures of speech in advertising allow ...

Google previewThe Hermeneutical Spiral (2010)

A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation by Grant R. Osborne

Every figure of speech is an illustration waiting to be unlocked. All we have to do is contextualize the metaphor for our day, and it will be an exciting illustration. For instance, “since we are surrounded by such a great a cloud of witnesses” ...

Google previewElements of criticism [by H. Home]. (1817)

by Henry Home (lord Kames.)

Lastly, By this figure language is enriched, and rendered more copious ; in which respect, were there no other, a figure of speech is a happy invention. This property is finely touched by Vida : Quinetiam agricolas ea fandi nota voluptas Exercet, ...

Google previewThe White House Speaks (1994)

Presidential Leadership as Persuasion by Craig Allen Smith, Kathy B. Smith

Because people think with symbols, a figure of speech is a figure of thought. Hart's (1984) work on presidential language, discussed in Chapter 1, found that contemporary presidents employ an unusually high frequency of self-references.

Google previewA Dictionary of Stylistics (2014)

by Katie Wales

A figure of speech (from Lat. figura...

Google previewEncyclopaedia Perthensis; Or Universal Dictionary of the Arts, Sciences, Literature, &c. Intended to Supersede the Use of Other Books of Reference (1816)

Figure of speech, as peculiarly distinguished from the above and from those first referred to. Under the article Metaphor, a figure of speech is defined, " The using a word m- a fense different from what is proper to it :" The new or uncommon ...

Google previewThe Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms (2008)

by Chris Baldick

A *figure of speech in which a pair of words is repeated in reverse order: 'Pleasure's a sin, and sometimes sin's a pleasure' ( Byron). This figure is a subtype of *chiasmus. anti-novel A form of experimental fiction ...

Google previewThe Oxford Dictionary of Pragmatics (2012)

by Yan Huang

figure of speech felicity conditions A set of conditions introduced by the British philosopher J. L. Austin and systemized by the American philosopher John Searle. Felicity conditions are the conditions that the world must meet ...

Google previewRoutledge Dictionary of Language and Linguistics (2006)

by Hadumod Bussmann

figure of speech hyperbaton [Grk hyperbatos 'transposed inverted') Any intended deviation from ordinary word order. Kant used hyperbaton in writing From such crooked wood as that which man is made of, nothing straight can be fashioned.

Google previewEncyclopedic Dictionary of Semiotics, Media, and Communications (2000)

by Marcel Danesi

figure of speech 93 Note: Although fetishism is found in primates and mammals, it is a term used generally to identify an extreme religious or sexual devotion to objects in humans. In some cultures, fetishism manifests itself as a form of belief ...

Google previewRoutledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies (1998)

by Mona Baker, Kirsten Malmkjær

within metaphor - transference, transport, transgression, alienation, impropriety , identity - suggests why metaphor can be at work in so many genres not just as figure of speech or rhetorical ornament but as structuring principle' (1987:52).

Google previewThe Columbia Dictionary of Modern Literary and Cultural Criticism (1995)

by Joseph Childers

A trope is a figure of speech, such as a METAPHOR or a METONYMY, or a usage that diverges from the norm. The study of tropes is an important part of traditional rhetoric, which has received new emphasis in contemporary criticism with the ...

Google previewA Thesaurus Dictionary of the English Language Designed to Suggest Immediately Any Desired Word Needed to Express Exactly a Given Idea (1906)

A Dictionary, Synonyms, Antonyms, Idioms, Foreign Phrases, Pronunciations, a Copious Correlation of Words by Francis Andrew March

A figure of speech in which something is described by means of something resembling it. Amplification. The act of...

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Quotes about Figure of speech

You're an old-timer if you can remember when setting the world on fire was a figure of speech. (Franklin P. Jones)
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