Chiasmus Figure of Speech

crosswalks in city view from above
Wangwukong/Getty Images

In rhetoric, chiasmus is a verbal pattern (a type of antithesis) in which the second half of an expression is balanced against the first with the parts reversed. Essentially the same as antimetabole. Adjective: chiastic. Plural: chiasmus or chiasmi.

Note that a chiasmus includes anadiplosis, but not every anadiplosis reverses itself in the manner of a chiasmus.

Examples and Observations

  • "You forget what you want to remember, and you remember what you want to forget."
  • "Your manuscript is both good and original, but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good."
  • "If Black men have no rights in the eyes of the White men, of course, the Whites can have none in the eyes of the Blacks."
  • "The art of progress is to preserve order amid change and to preserve change amid order."
  • Chiasmus as verbal judo
    "The root pattern is called 'chiasmus' because diagrammed, it forms an 'X,' and the Greek name for X is chi. When John Kennedy constructed his famous bromide, 'Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country,' he went to the Well of Antithesis for his active ingredient. Where does the 'X' power come from?... Obviously, a verbal judo is at work here. By keeping the phrase but inverting its meaning we use our opponent's own power to overcome him, just as a judo expert does. So a scholar remarked of another's theory, 'Cannon entertains that theory because that theory entertains Cannon.' The pun on 'entertain' complicates the chiasmus here, but the judo still prevails--Cannon is playing with the power of his own mind rather than figuring out the secrets of the universe."
  • The lighter side of chiasmus
    "Starkist doesn't want tuna with good taste, Starkist wants tuna that tastes good!"



Also Known As

Antimetabole, epanodos, inverted parallelism, reverse parallelism, crisscross quotes, syntactical inversion, turnaround


  • Cormac McCarthy, The Road, 2006
  • Samuel Johnson
  • Frederick Douglass, "An Appeal to Congress for Impartial Suffrage"
  • Alfred North Whitehead
  • Richard A. Lanham, Analyzing Prose, 2nd ed. Continuum, 2003
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Chiasmus Figure of Speech." ThoughtCo, Feb. 9, 2021, Nordquist, Richard. (2021, February 9). Chiasmus Figure of Speech. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Chiasmus Figure of Speech." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 27, 2023).