Brief Notes on Rhetoric


The word rhetoric comes from the Greek word rhetor meaning a public speaker. To Aristotle rhetoric are of  “discovering and applying all the possible means of persuasion on any subjects.”
In change of time it was extended from speech to writing as well. According to Locke- rhetoric was “the art of speaking with appropriateness, elegance, and force.”
Smith rightly regards rhetoric as the art of clear and effective use of language “written or spoken as a vehicle (medium) for the communication of ideas.”

Function of Rhetoric

It cannot be denied that the study of rhetoric is helpful to students and teachers, orators and authors, public and publicists, as it enables them to express their thoughts and ideas neatly, elegantly and effectively. Therefore is to employ such means whereby the effect of one’s words on another’s mind can be left striking and lasting.


Figures are set of words that help us to make our expression impressive and beautiful. They are a kind of device which decorates our expressions.

Figures of speech

The word figure came from Latin figuara meaning- “the shape of an object”, from which developed its secondary sense- “something remarkable.”

Classification of figures of speech

We group all the figures into seven following classes-

  1. Figures based on Similarity.  (Simile, Metaphor, Allegory, Parable, Fable etc.  belongs to this group)
  2. Figures based on Difference. (Antithesis, Epigram, Paradox, Oxymoron, Climax, Bathos or Anticlimax etc.  belongs to this group)
  3. Figures based on Association. (Metonymy, Synecdoche, Hypallage or Transferred Epithet, Allusion etc.  belongs to this group)
  4. Figures based on Imagination. (Personification, Personal Metaphor, Apostrophe, Pathetic Fallacy, Vision or Prosopoeia, Hyperbole or Exaggeration etc. belongs to this group)
  5. Figures based on Indirectness. (Innuendo, Irony, Sarcasm, Periphrasis or Circumlocution, Euphemism, Meiosis, Litotes etc. belongs to this group)
  6. Figures based on Sound. (Alliteration, Onomatopoeia, Pun or Paronomasia etc. belongs to this group)
  7. Figures based on Construction. (Interrogation, Exclamation, Hyperbaton, Prolepsis, Chiasmus, Hendiadys, Zeugma, Syllepsis, Tautology, Pleonasm, Ellipsis, Asyndeton, Polysyndeton, Anaphora, Epistrophe, Epanastrophe, Epanadiplosis, Epanodos, Epanalepsis, Epanorthosis, Palilogy, Catachresis, Anacoluthon, Aposiopesis, Synesis, Paraleipsis, Ornamental Epithet, Enallage etc belongs to this group)

Figures based on Similarity


Simile is “the formal and explicit statement of likeness or similar relationship observed in different objects and actions”

Features of simile are- i) One thing is likened to another. ii) The things are different in nature. iii) The likeness between them is clearly expressed with a word of comparison such as- like, so, such, as etc.
a) I wandered lonely as a cloud.
b) When the evening is spread out against the sky
     Like a patient etherized upon a table.
c) Her locks were yellow as gold.
d) Thy soul was like a star that dwelt apart.
e) The Holy time is quiet as a Nun.

Similes are of four kinds-
a) Regular simile: There is only one set of comparison in regular similes such as-
  • She bid me take Love easy, as the leaves grow on the tree
  • And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge, like sinking star.

b) Common Similes: Which are those we unconsciously use in our everyday speech, such as- as dry as a bone, as light as a feather, as clear as crystal etc.

c) Epic Similes: Which are those in which objects are described at length and they frequently go beyond the point of comparison and present as a complete poetic picture of some scene or incident suggested by the comparison. As such similes are common in Homer, they are also known as Homeric Similes. Such as-
For very young he seem’d, tenderly rear’d,
Like some young cypress, tall and dark, and straight,
Which in a queen’s secluded garden throws
Its light dark shadow on the moonlight turf,
By midnight to bubbling fountain’s sound-
So slender Sohrab seem’d softly rear’d.
d) Sustained Similes: Which are those in which two or more similar follow in order to illustrate the same idea.
Such as-
My heart is like a singing bird
Whose nest is in a watered shoot,
My heart is like an apple tree
Whose boughs are bent with thickest fruit,
My heart is like a rainbow shell
That paddles in a halcyon sea.

Simile and Comparison are not same

In comparison the objects compared may be of the same type or different (as in- Afghanistan is as hilly as Switzerland), but in simile they must be different and the expression should contain some imaginative element. To say- “The Hudson in like the Rhine.” is not a simile, but to say- “The Hudson flows like the march of time.......” is a simile.


A figure in which a comparison between two different things is implied but not clearly stated. A metaphor may take the form of a noun, a verb, or an adjective.

Main features of metaphor- i) One thing is compared to a different thing. ii) The other thing may be clearly present, masked or totally absent. iii) The comparison is implied, not clearly pointed out.

  1. He has a stony heart.
  2. The ship ploughs the sea.
  3. His rash policy let loose the hounds of war.
  4. The revenge is a kind of wild justice.
  5. I drank delight of battle with my peers.
  6. A dead silence prevailed there.
  7. He missed a golden opportunity.
  8. His lame excuse will move none.

An allegory is a detailed description of one thing under the image of another. It always has a instructive aim. The characters in an allegory often represent abstract concepts.
Spenser’s “Faerie Queene” is a good example of Allegorical story.


A parable is a short narrative which consists of implicit and detailed analogy (analogy means- comparing one thing with another thing that has similar features in order to explain it) or we can say that parable is a kind of short story that teaches moral or spiritual lessons, especially one of those told by Jesus as recorded in the Bible.

Moral stories dealing with animal world to present human natures, characteristics, behavior called fable.

Figures Based on Difference


Antithesis is a figure in which thoughts or words are balanced in contrast or we can say antithesis is a contrast or opposition in the meaning of closest words or sentences that is emphasized by a similar feature.

The chief characteristics of an antithesis are given below:
i)                    One word or idea is set against and contrasted with another.
ii)                   Such arrangement helps one to balance the other.
iii)                 The inclusion of the opposite word or idea in the later part facilitates the emphasis of the former.

Function of Antithesis:

a)      It makes an idea more effective and forceful and its meaning clearer by the inclusion of its opposite.
b)      It enables us to see an idea and its opposite together.
c)      The presence of contrasted words or ideas helps to emphasize the intended idea.
d)      The mode of expression of an idea of the former part corresponding with that of a counter-idea of the later part helps them to balance each other.


  1. Art is long, life is short.
  2. Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.
  3. Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice.
  4. United we stand, divided we fall.
  5. The scheme was great, but its execution was poor.


Prof Bain defines- the epigram is an apparent contradiction in language which, by causing a temporary shock, rouses our attention to some important meaning underneath. Epigram is mainly applied to short poems. Often an epigram ends with a surprising or witty turn of thought. Its a species of light verse which was much cultivated in England in the late 16th and 17th centuries.

The chief characteristics of an epigram are given below:

i)                    There is a contradiction.
ii)                   The contradiction may be raised by words formally opposing each other or by such giving out an opposing sense.
iii)                 The contradiction is not real but apparent.
iv)                 It often gives us a shock and appears at first to be absurd.
v)                  It draws our attention to an inner meaning or some striking truth.
vi)                 Its expression is invariable brief, witty and pointed


  1. Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.
  2. I am content, and I don’t like my situation.
  3. He makes no friend who never made a foe.
  4. Cowards die many times before their death.
  5. The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

Epigram and Antithesis:

Though are frequently antithetical in form, there is a distinction between an epigram and an antithesis-
  • The contradiction in antithesis is real, where in epigram it is perceptible.
  • An epigram has always an element of apparent absurdity which is wholly lacking in antithesis.
  • For its effect an epigram depends on wit, brevity and polish, and an antithesis on contrast between ideas.
  • An epigram generally consists of one part and one complex idea only, whereas in antithesis the sentence is usually divided into two parts and two separate ideas.
  • An epigram lays stress an a brief and pointed saying but an antithesis on a balanced structure.
  • In antithesis both ideas are made clearer by being contrasted, whereas in epigram opposite ideas suggest a new truth under the guise of self-contradiction.

According to Martin, “A paradox is an apparent contradiction. At first reading it may seem absurd or impossible, but on examination it is found to express in a memorable way a truth.”
There is hardly any difference between an epigram and a paradox. Some believes that it is an extreme form of epigram.

The chief characteristics of an epigram are given below:

i)                    It contains a contradiction.
ii)                   It seems absurd at the first reading.
iii)                 It conflicts with received opinion
iv)                 It provokes the reader to consider the statement afresh and makes him realize that it contains a basis of truth or some valid meaning.


    1. The world will be saved by failure.
    2. There is no one so poor as a wealthy miser.
    3. The quarrels of lovers are the renewal of love.
    4. The golden rule is that there are no golden rules.
    5. Silence is sometimes more eloquent than words.

Epigram and Paradox:

  • In epigram we find underneath the contradiction a new truth or some important meaning which may not run counter to the generally accepted opinion, but in paradox there may be or may not be any truth.
  • In epigram the expression is compact and witty whereas in paradox it is more spread.
  • In epigram there are usually terms which formally oppose each other; this may not be in paradox.


It is a figure in which contradictory words are placed side by side for raising a striking effect. It is an extreme form of epigram.

The chief characteristics of an oxymoron are given below:

i)                    T raise a sense of contradiction two sharply opposing terms are used in the same sentence.
ii)                   The contradictory words are set side by side.
iii)                 Such placing suggests a striking meaning and emphasizes the sense.


    1. She was regularly irregular in her presence in the college.
    2. They have a plentiful lack of wit.
    3. And all its aching joys are now no more.
    4. Do those good mischiefs which may make this island thine for ever.
    5. It was a pleasing fear.


It is a figure in which a series of words, phrases or ideas is arranged in an rising order of importance or emphasis.

The chief characteristics of an oxymoron are given below:

i)                    It consists of a series of ideas, words or phrases.
ii)                   The least significant of them comes first and the most significant one comes last.
iii)                 There is an order or gradation in the arrangement of ideas which proceeds from the lower to the higher.

1.      I came, I saw, I conquered.
2.      A heart t resolve, a head t contrive, and a hand to execute.
3.      Vice is a monster that we first endure, then pity, and then embrace.
4.      To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
5.      Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, some few to be chewed and digested.
Anticlimax or Bathos

It is a figure which consists in a sudden fall from the lofty to the mean, from the elevated to the commonplace, which produces a comical effect. It is the opposite of climax signify a fall from high to the ground.

The chief characteristics of an oxymoron are given below:

i)                    There is a series of words, phrases or ideas.
ii)                   They are arranged in a downward order of importance, the most impressive comes first and the least impressive comes last.
iii)                 After the maintenance of seriousness for sometime there is a sudden fall at the end.
iv)                 The term provokes laughter.


1.      So passed the strong heroic soul away.
And when they buried him the little port
Had seldom seen a costlier funeral.
2.      Oh! She was perfect past all parallel
In virtues nothing earthly could surpass her,
Save thine ‘incomparable oil, Macassar.
3.      If parts allure thee, think how Bacon shined
The wisest, brightest, meanest of mankind.
4.      True Jedwood justice was dealt out to him. First came the execution, then
      The investigation and last of all accusation.
5.      Poets and pigs are not appreciated until they are dead!

Figures Based on Association


It means the act of referring to something by the name of something else that is closely connected with it. To say elaborately it is a figure in which the name of one thing is substituted for that of another with which it is loosely associated. In it the name of one thing is used for another. Such as- White House stands for the USA President.

The chief characteristics of a metonymy are given below:

i)                    One object is named but another object is meant.
ii)                   There exists a certain relation between them.
iii)                 This relation is not intimate but loose.
iv)                 It is possible to separate both objects physically.


1.      All Arabia breathes from yonder box.
2.      Shakespeare was England’s glory.
3.      All the world praises him.
4.      The youth was the sigh of her secret soul.
5.      The principles of liberty were the scoff of every grinning courtier.


The main purpose of synecdoche is to present a part of something to signify the whole, or the whole is used to signify a part. It is mainly a figure in which the name of one thing is substituted for that of another with which it is intimately associated.

The chief characteristics of a synecdoche are given below:

i)                    One thing is named but another thing, associated with it, is meant.
ii)                   The association or relation between the two things- the one named and the other meant- is quite close, so close indeed that in most cases the one thing cannot be separated from the other without causing some injury to it.


1.      He engaged the best brains to find out a solution.
2.      A fleet of fifty sail went forward to meet the challenge.
3.      It is difficult for a poor man to feed many mouths.
4.      He is an inhabitant of the New World.
5.      All the beauty and the chivalry assembled there

Hypallage or transferred Epithet

It is a figure in which a description (Epithet) is transferred from the object to which it properly belongs to another with which it is mentally associated.

The chief characteristics of a Hypallage/Epithet are given below:

i)                    An epithet or a descriptive term is shifted.
ii)                   The epithet properly belongs to an object, but is shifted to another object to which , therefore, it cannot really belong.
iii)                 Such shifting takes place because one is closely associated with the other in the mind of the speaker or the writer.
iv)                The epithet in most cases is transferred from a person to a thing.


1.      He lay all night on a sleepless pillow.
2.      I spent an anxious morning.
3.      He spent a happy day.
4.      Where lay the mighty bones of ancient men.
5.      In holy anger and pious grief
He solemnly cursed that rascally thief.


In a literary text it is a reference, without explicit identification to a person, place, or event or to another literary work or passage.

For example we can quote:

Now we clap
Our Hands, and cry Eureka.”

The word Eureka reminds us of the exclamation of Archimedes when he was able to find a way to test the purity of gold.

Figures based on Imagination


It is a figure in which abstract ideas are provided with personality, and both inanimate objects and ideas are gifted with the characteristics of living beings.

The chief characteristics of a Personification are given below:

i)                    Only inanimate objects (of nature) and abstract ideas are taken into consideration.
ii)                   The abstract idea is gifted with the personality of a living being.
iii)                 Both inanimate object and the abstract idea provided with the characteristics of living being.


1.      And Melancholy marked him for her own.
2.      Death lays his icy hand on kings.
3.      Where darkness spreads his jealous wings
4.      Athens was the eye of Greece.
5.      Venice the eldest child of Liberty.

Personal Metaphor

It is a figure in which inanimate objects are invested with the personality of a living being. It is closely connected with the personification and can be considered as a kind of Personification. But the difference is that in it abstract idea is not taken into consideration.


1.      The fearful roar of the angry sea.
2.      I bring fresh showers for the thirsting flowers.
3.      Fortune with a smiling face.

Pathetic Fallacy

It is a figure in which Nature or inanimate objects are credited with human feelings. Like Personal Metaphor it is another form of personification. It is concerned with Nature or inanimate objects, and not with abstract idea. Pathetic Fallacy are often shown to participate in some human concern either by offering sympathy or antipathy to man.


1.      The river wept for the sorrow of the lady.
2.      Nature sighed for the woes of earth.
3.      And instantly the whole sky burned with fury against them.


It is a figure in which a short impassioned address is made to a person, dead or absent, or to an inanimate object, or to an abstract idea thinking as if each is present and capable of understanding.

The chief characteristics of a Apostrophe are given below:

i)                    It involves a person, dead or absent, an inanimate object, or an abstract idea.
ii)                   An address is made to any one of them, and it is short and impassioned.
iii)                 Under the pressure of emotion the speaker takes them as living beings present before them, and capable of understanding him.
iv)                 The address reveals not only intense emotion but also elevated thought and language.

1.      Frailty, thy name is woman!
2.      Milton! thou shouldest be living at this hour.
3.      England! With all thy faults, I love thee still.


It is a figure which consists in “seeing what is not actually seen.” In this figure a vivid picture is presented and this is done with the help of imagination.


1.      Pride in their port, defiance in their eye,
I see the lords of human kind pass by.
2.      I see before me the gladiator lie.
3.      Is this a dagger which I see before me, the handle towards my hand?


It is a figure in which a deliberate overstatement is made for emphasis. It is generally used either for serious or comic effect. In Hyperbole a thing or a person is not presented in the normal state and things are magnified beyond their natural bounds.


1.      Here is the smell of blood still; all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.
2.      I thought ten thousand swords must have leapt from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult.
3.      My vegetable love grow
Vaster than empires............

Figures Based on Indirectness


It is a figure in which something unpleasant, harsh or damaging is artfully hinted instead of being plainly stated.

The chief characteristics of a Innuendo are given below:

i)                    A damaging remark is intended against a person or thing.
ii)                   It is not plainly stated but only suggested in an oblique way.
iii)                 A hostile feeling prompts the speaker or writer to make such hurting remarks.
iv)                 The way of the expression shows that the damage is indirectly done.

1.      I do not consult physicians for I hope to die without them.
2.      The picture is splendid as the artist is an octogenarian (an aged person).
3.      The frame of the picture is excellent indeed.
4.      The author’s book will live at least a year.


It is a figure in which the very opposite of what is stated is intended.

The chief characteristics of a Innuendo are given below:

i)                    Something is said but its contrary is meant.
ii)                   Apparently it implies praise but really it wants to hurt.
iii)                 This hurting is done in an indirect way and can be known from the very sneering mode of utterance of the words.


1.      And Brutus is an honorable man.
2.      No doubt you are the people, and wisdom will die with you.
3.      With his usual punctuality the entered into the class after roll-call.
4.      The operation was successful though the patient died.
5.      The reporter overwhelmed me by his beautiful ignorance.


It is a figure in which a direct statement is made in such a way as to excite contempt, ridicule or scorn. The characteristics of Sarcasm are-
  • In it a direct attack is made against a person; its purpose is to inflict pain.
  • It is always bitter, and excites contempt, ridicule, or scorn.
  • There is no cleavage between what is stated and what is intended.


1.      His bark is worse than his bite.
2.      Certainly God did not make man and leave it to Aristotle to make him rational.
3.      The doctor’s profession is the least noble of any. A stock-broker is more saintly than a doctor.

Figures based on Sound


It is a figure in which the same sound, letter or syllable is repeated in a sequence of nearby words. Alliteration brings a sensuous pleasure to the ear. Through repetitions of the same sound or letter it also makes a line emphatic.

1.      An Austrian army awfully arrayed.
2.      Alone, alone, all, all alone,
Alone on a wide, wide sea!
3.      A fair field full of folk.

Pun of Paronomasia

This is a figure which ‘rests on a duplicity of sense under unity of sound.’ Pun are very often intended humorously but not always. This figure consists in the use of that same sound to convey different meanings. The characteristics of Pun are-
  • One word is used in two different senses.
  • Two words having the same sound but identical or dissimilar spellings are used in two different senses.
  • The figure is used generally to excite laughter.


1.      An ambassador is an honest man who lies (reside/falsehood) abroad for the good of his country.
2.      For a foolish sportsman it is easier to follow (to chase) a hound than to follow (understand) an argument.
3.      Is life worth living?- It depends on the liver (human organ/living person).
4.      Though he is a scientist his knowledge on sound (a branch of study) is not sound (deep).

Edited By-

Akther Mahmud
B.A. Honors (English)
Cell: 01813727616

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