Rhetorical Figures

Rhetorical figures can be found in all sorts of writing: from persuasive non-fiction writing to poetry and prose.

Rhetorical Figures Rhetorical Figures

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Table of contents

    Rhetorical figures meaning

    A rhetorical figure is a term that can refer to different language techniques, each of which is used to achieve a certain effect or emphasis .

    There are many ways that rhetorical figures can deviate from the literal meaning, or can use wordplay to create different meanings. We will explore four common rhetorical figures, and learn about how each is used.

    Rhetorical figure types and examples

    The four rhetorical figures are juxtaposition, oxymoron, paradox, and pun . Each of these is a different type of rhetorical figure, using wordplay and different meanings to create a certain effect.


    Juxtaposition is a commonly used rhetorical figure and is frequently found in fiction writing - whether that is prose or poetry. It takes two or more subjects (these can be ideas, themes, places, characters, beliefs, etc.) and places them together in a text. This is done to create a comparison between the subjects, and commonly shows a contrast between them.

    The comparison and / or contrast that juxtaposition creates is usually used by writers to emphasize the subjects.

    In The Wizard of Oz movie (1939), Kansas is in black and white, which juxtaposes Oz in bright colors!

    The juxtaposition of the two characters' emotions emphasizes them. You will notice the first character's happiness a lot more because the second character is always sad, and vice versa.


    An oxymoron uses two words. These two words have very different meanings, sometimes completely opposite meaning, but are placed next to each other.

    By placing these two contrasting words together, an oxymoron usually ends up making sense in a strange and unusual way. The first word is used to describe the second word in a way that contrasts with it.

    “Deafening silence”.

    Here, the first word refers to an extremely loud noise, whereas the second refers to a complete lack of noise. The words are polar opposites, and yet they make some sense - we can imagine a silence so quiet that it feels loud.


    A paradox is a statement or phrase that contradicts itself and feels illogical but, when read a couple more times, can make at least some sort of sense. Paradoxes are often seemingly absurd but can have some basis in truth.

    This statement is a lie.

    This is a self-contradictory statement: if the sentence is a lie, then it is telling the truth. It cannot be both true and a lie at the same time, so this sentence is paradoxical; it is self-contradictory and illogical.


    A pun uses homophones (words that sound the same but are spelt differently) and homographs (words that have multiple meanings but are spelt the same) to create multiple meanings in a sentence or phrase.

    Puns are often humorous; but multiple meanings can lead to misunderstandings. Puns are also used commonly in jokes.

    "Reading while sunbathing makes you well red".

    There is more than one meaning to “well red”. It could mean that you have been sunburnt, or that you have read a lot of books.

    Rhetorical Figures Image of a pun StudySmarterFig. 1 - Here's another example of a pun. 'Bear' is used instead of 'bare'

    Why use rhetorical figures?

    Juxtaposition, oxymoron, paradox, and pun all achieve slightly different things. For example, puns often create humor, whereas juxtapositions highlights and emphasize differences.

    Rhetorical figures can show many different things, but why do we choose to use them?

    Well, just like other writing techniques (such as figurative language) rhetorical figures add something to the writing, they add different meanings.

    • Juxtaposition lets the writer highlight the differences between ideas, characters, places, etc. helping the reader to develop a better understanding of the writing.
    • An oxymoron places two opposite words together and in doing so creates a new and different meaning which wouldn't have been possible without placing these two opposite ideas together.
    • A paradox uses illogical and self-contradictory statements to make the reader think about the different possibilities in a text, and can therefore highlight alternative meanings.
    • Finally, puns use the multiple meanings of homophones and homographs to create humor in a text but also to develop the plot.

    Rhetorical Figures - Key takeaways

    • Rhetorical figures are used to show a different meaning or an alternative point of view. They can be used to achieve a specific emphasis or to create an effect.

    • There are four common rhetorical figures: juxtaposition, oxymoron, paradox, and pun.

    • Juxtaposition can be spread throughout a text but uses different characters, places, ideas, beliefs etc. to compare and contrast two opposing ideas.

    • Oxymorons place two words together that have very different meanings, and in doing so create new meanings.

    • Paradoxes create an illogical and self-contradictory statement.

    • Puns use homophones and / or homographs to create alternative, and usually humorous, meanings.

    Frequently Asked Questions about Rhetorical Figures

    What is a rhetorical figure?

    The term “rhetorical figure” refers to a group of language devices that create an alternative meaning for something. Some common rhetorical figures are juxtaposition, oxymoron, paradox, and pun.

    What are rhetorical figures in Literature?

    Rhetorical figures in literature are any devices that achieve a certain effect or place emphasis. This can be in poetry or prose and is not limited to the four types of rhetorical figures that we have explored in this article.

    What is a rhetorical figure in poetry?

    A rhetorical figure in poetry is any technique that tries to provide a certain contrast, effect, emphasis, or meaning. Strictly speaking, a rhetorical figure can be used in poetry but some are more common than others. For example, you are much more likely to find oxymorons in poetry than you are to find a pun.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    What is an example of an oxymoron from everyday life?

    What types of literature can include oxymorons?

    What is the definition of a paradox?

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