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Rhetorical Figures

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English

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

What is a Rhetorical Figure?

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.

Types of rhetorical figure

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

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.

Oxymoron

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.

Paradox

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.

Pun

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.

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.

Rhetorical Figures

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.

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.

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.

Final Rhetorical Figures Quiz

Question

What are oxymorons used for?

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Answer

They are used to show contrast and/or a deeper meaning.


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What is an example of an oxymoron from everyday life?

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Answer

Good grief

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What type of language device is an oxymoron?


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Answer

A figure of speech/figurative language

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What types of literature most commonly have oxymorons?

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Answer

Fiction and poetry.

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What types of literature can include oxymorons?

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Answer

All types of literature

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How can you identify an oxymoron?

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Answer

It uses two words that contrast with each other.

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What other language devices can be confused with oxymorons?


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Answer

Paradox and juxtaposition.

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Question

Which famous Shakespeare play contains the oxymoron sweet sorrow?


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Answer

Romeo and Juliet.

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Question

What could be paired with the word ‘deafening’ to make it an oxymoron?


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Answer

Silence.

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Question

​Define the words in this oxymoron: Melancholy merriment.

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Answer

melancholy = a depression, a gloomy state of mind

    Merriment = light fun, an enjoyable time

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How is an oxymoron different from juxtaposition?

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Answer

An oxymoron uses two words, whereas juxtaposition is not limited by the number of words.

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How is an oxymoron different from a paradox?

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Answer

An oxymoron uses two words, a paradox is a phrase that contradicts itself.

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What is the definition of an oxymoron?

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Two words next to each other that have very different meanings that end up making sense in a strange way.

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What can oxymorons help writers to do?

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Answer

Oxymorons are a useful tool for showing contrast and for exploring a deeper or secondary meaning.

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Is this an example of an oxymoron? Bad hair day.

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Answer

No.

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Question

What is the definition of a paradox?

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Answer

A statement that contradicts itself

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What are the two types of paradoxes?


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Answer

Logical and literary

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Question

Is the following a paradox or an oxymoron?


Cold fire.

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Answer

Oxymoron

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What is a paradox a type of?

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Answer

​ A figure of speech

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Is this a paradox: I close my eyes so I can see?

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Yes.

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Question

What is the difference between situational irony and paradox?

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Answer

Situational irony is an event or circumstance that defies our expectations but isn’t necessarily illogical or self-contradictory.

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What real-life example of a paradox has this article explored?

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Answer

No one goes to a bar, because it is too crowded.

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Question

What play by Shakespeare contains the paradox "I must be cruel only to be kind"?


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Answer

Hamlet

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Why is a dilemma sometimes confused with paradox?

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Answer

Because it is a difficult decision that can be tricky to decide on, and which can sometimes be confused with an illogical paradox.

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How can you spot a paradox in a text?

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When you first read over a paradox, it will seem confusing. Before identifying it as a paradox, make sure you check it isn’t a similar language device.

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Which of the following is not a type of language device?


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Dilemma

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What is the difference between logical and literary paradoxes?

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Logical paradox follows the strict rules of paradox, literary paradox has a looser definition.

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Why are paradoxes quite often confusing?

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Because they are illogical and can be very tricky to understand.

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Why are paradoxes considered absurd and self-contradictory?

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Because one part of the paradox often makes the other part false (and vice versa).

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True or false?


The literary paradox is a term referring to paradoxes found in literature.

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Answer

False

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Question

What is a pun?

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Answer

A wordplay using words with more than one meaning.

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What is the effect of a pun?

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Answer

It creates humour and/or shows double meaning.

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Which of the following is a type of pun?

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Answer

Homographic

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Which of the following is a type of pun?

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Answer

Homophonic

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What is the name for a sentence containing multiple puns?


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Answer

A compound pun.

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Question

Which playwright uses lots of puns?

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Answer

William Shakespeare

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Question

True or false?


Puns are more common in prose than in plays.

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Answer

False

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What is the meaning of a 'homophonic' pun?

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Answer

A pun that uses a word that sounds similar but has a different spelling and meaning.

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What is the meaning of a 'homographic' pun?

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Answer

A pun that uses a word that sounds similar and is spelt the same but has different meanings.

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 Which of the following is a common pun?

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Answer

The tallest building in town is the library - it has thousands of stories.

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Where will you most likely find puns in everyday life?

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Answer

In jokes

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Question

What word does Dickens use as a pun in Great Expectations?


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Answer

point

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Question

Which of the following is an example of a homographic pun?

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Answer

The tallest building in town is the library - it has thousands of stories.

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Question

Why are puns used to create humour?

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Answer

Because the double meanings can create confusion and a comedic effect.

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Question

What type of pun is better understood when read?

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Answer

Homographic pun

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Question

What is a rhetorical figure?

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Answer

A rhetorical figure is a language device that tries to obtain a certain emphasis or effect in a text. This usually also gives an alternative meaning.

Show question

Question

Which of the following is a rhetorical figure?

  1. Metaphor

  2. Juxtaposition

  3. Simile

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Answer

B. Juxtaposition.

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Question

Which of these is not a rhetorical figure?

  1. Repetition

  2. Oxymoron

  3. Paradox

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Answer

A. Repetition.

Show question

Question

True or false: rhetorical figures can be any language device as long as they make us think about different meanings for phrases.


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Answer

False.

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Question

What is a paradox?

Show answer

Answer

A paradox is a rhetorical figure that creates an illogical and self-contradictory phrase or sentence.

Show question

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