Literary Figures – Complete list, types, uses and examples

We explain what literary figures are and for what purpose they are used. Also, the types of figures of speech that exist and various examples.

literary figures
Literary figures are often used for aesthetic or persuasive purposes.

What are literary figures?

Literary figures, tropes or figures of speech, are a series of twists of language used to embellish speech, especially in the context of oratory and literature, significantly altering the common and everyday way of using the language.

They are often used for aesthetic or persuasive purposes, as part of an elaborate speech, and emphasize the poetic function of language: the one that focuses on how to convey the message above all else. They can also be found in colloquial language, as creative or playful twists.

A complete catalog of literary figures would be extremely extensive, since dozens of them are registered. The best known and frequently used are:

  • Metaphor and simile. They go together because it is about comparisons: two terms are directly or indirectly compared to highlight some quality between them, either by similarity, difference, figurative sense, etc. The metaphor does it directly, substituting terms; the simile indirectly, with a comparative link: “like”, “similar to”, and so on.
  • Hyperbole. It is an exaggeration for expressive purposes: to emphasize or minimize some particular feature of something.
  • Metonymy. A form of metaphor, in which the name of one thing is taken for that of another, with which it is related or has a nexus of closeness or belonging.
  • Synecdoche. Another form of metaphor, but this time it takes the name of something from the higher category to which it belongs (such as species, group, etc.) that is, it takes the name of a part for the whole.
  • Personification. It consists of attributing human properties to an inanimate object or an animal.
  • Anaphora. It consists of the rhythmic repetition of sounds or syllables within a verse or phrase.
  • Allegory. It occurs when we refer to something without naming it, but through a set of metaphorical associations or indirect allusions.
  • Hyperbaton. In this case, the traditional order of the sentence is altered to allow a more unique expression, either adjusting to the meter (as in rhymed poetry) or not.
  • Onomatopoeia. It consists of the verbal representation of a sound through its spoken equivalent.
  • Synesthesia A sensation (tactile, olfactory, auditory, etc.) is attributed to an object or a situation to which it does not normally correspond.
  • Oxymoron. It consists of the joint use of two terms or descriptions whose meanings contradict each other.
  • Ellipse. It occurs when a term is omitted from the phrase or sentence, either for the purpose of generating suspense or because it has become clear from previous sentences and it would be redundant to repeat it.
  • Asyndeton. It consists of the suppression of a copulative link (“and”) within an enumeration or a context in which it would commonly go.
  • Polysyndeton. Contrary to the previous case, it incorporates an excess of copulative ties, generating a repetition in the phrase.

Examples of literary figure

  • Metaphor:

“The snows of time in his head” (to refer to gray hair)
“His arms withered and brittle” (to refer to old age or weakness)
“The flames of her hair” (to say that they are red)

  • Simile:

“His hair was white as snow”
“His arms were so old that they seemed withered and brittle”
“His hair was red like the flames of a torch”

  • Hyperbole:

“I told you a million times” (there were many)
“In the supermarket on the corner they are giving away the detergent” (they sell it very cheap)
“The most beautiful woman in the world” (she seemed very beautiful)

  • Metonymy:

“Do you want to eat Japanese today?” (Japanese food)
“Shall we go to the Peruvian on the corner?” (to the Peruvian restaurant)
“He had a scotch on the rocks” (a scotch whiskey)

  • Synecdoche:

“He extracted the steel from its sheath” (the metal of the sword)
“Without work and with four mouths to feed” (four children)
“Cat parasites infect man” (individual by species)

  • Personification:

“The river runs fast down the slope”
“The sun smiled at the adventurers”
“The city opened its arms to me that night”

  • Anaphora:

“Miguel and Celeste meet, Miguel hugs her, Celeste kisses him”
“You and your fears. You and your failures. You and your desire to lose. “
“They took them alive and we want them alive”

  • Allegory:

“When you left, I lost everything” (suffered a lot)
“I found a treasure in you” (a very valuable relationship)
“I do have calluses on my hands” (I am a worker)

  • Hyperbaton:

“I hung a sweet kiss in your mouth”
“You can’t love teaching”
“Return to our bed wrapped in sheets, love”

  • Onomatopoeia:

“Tic, toc” (the clock)
“Pum, pum, pum” (the antiaircraft artillery)
“Suishhh” (the lightsaber)

  • Synesthesia:

“His name tasted like jasmine”
“His skin was a furious, intermittent color”
“It was a book that smelled like corpses”

  • Oxymoron:

“The luminous darkness pm”
“A beautiful eyesore
“The sweet bitterness of my being “

  • Ellipse:

“I want to cry, don’t you?” (Don’t you feel like it too?)
“We went back to Ramón’s room and he wasn’t there” (Ramón wasn’t there)
“Rodrigo is a fanatic of the cinema, Mireya not so much” (Mireya is not as fanatic as he)

  • Asyndeton:

“He bought potatoes, lettuce, tomato”
“Lightning, snow, risks of all kinds fell from the sky”
“Marinate, stir, let cool, stir again”

  • Polysyndeton:

“The night came and so did the breeze, and the wailing and despair”
“And you, and me, and us”
“The house is big and bright and cozy”