Figures, Tropes, and Other Rhetorical Terms

These lists are intended to help you identify figures, tropes, and other rhetorical strategies and devices. The terms in our Tool Kit for Rhetorical Analysis have been organized into eight broad, overlapping categories:

  • Amplification Strategies (below)
  • Argumentation Techniques (page two)
  • Balance, Antithesis, and Paradox (page three)
  • Emotional Appeals (Pathos) (page three)
  • Metaphorical Substitutions and Puns (page three)
  • Omission of Words, Phrases, and Clauses (page three)
  • Repetition of Letters, Syllables, and Sounds (page four)
  • Repetition of Words, Phrases, Clauses, and Ideas (page four)
This organizational scheme has been adapted from the one used by Richard A. Lanham in A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms, 2nd edition (University of California Press, 1991).

Clicking on a term will take you to a glossary page. There you will find the definition and several examples of the term as well as its etymology (which shows where the word came from) and a sound file (so that you'll know how to pronounce the term).


Amplification Strategies

  • accumulation
    Figure of speech in which a speaker or a writer gathers scattered points and lists them together.
  • amplification
    General term for all of the ways that an argument, an explanation, or a description can be expanded and enriched.
  • apophasis
    The mention of something in disclaiming intention of mentioning it--or pretending to deny what is really affirmed.
  • apposition
    Placing side-by-side two coordinate elements, the second of which serves as an explanation or modification of the first.
  • Asiatic
    A prolix or highly ornamented style.
  • auxesis
    A gradual increase in intensity of meaning with words arranged in ascending order of force or importance.
  • commoratio
    Repetition of a point several times in different words.
  • copia
    Expansive richness as a stylistic goal.
  • distinctio
    Explicit references to various meanings of a word--usually for the purpose of removing ambiguities.
  • effectio
    Personal description; a head-to-toe inventory of a person's physical attributes or charms.
  • enargia
    A visually powerful description that vividly recreates something or someone in words.
  • epexegesis
    Adding words or phrases to further clarify or specify a statement already made.
  • epicrisis
    Circumstance in which a speaker quotes a passage and comments on it.
  • epimone
    Frequent repetition of a phrase or question; dwelling on a point.
  • euphuism
    Elaborately patterned prose style.
  • paralepsis
    Emphasizing a point by seeming to pass over it.
  • paraphrase
    A restatement of a text or passage in another form or other words, often to clarify meaning.
  • parenthesis
    The insertion of some verbal unit in a position that interrupts the normal syntactic flow of the sentence.
  • pleonasm
    Redundancy; use of words to emphasize what is clear without them.
  • synathroesmus
    The piling up of adjectives, often in the spirit of invective.
  • Amplification Strategies (page one)
  • Argumentation Techniques (below)
  • Balance, Antithesis, and Paradox (page three)
  • Emotional Appeals (Pathos) (page three)
  • Metaphorical Substitutions and Puns (page three)
  • Omission of Words, Phrases, and Clauses (page three)
  • Repetition of Letters, Syllables, and Sounds (page four)
  • Repetition of Words, Phrases, Clauses, and Ideas (page four)

Argumentation Techniques

  • accismus
    Coyness: a form of irony in which a person feigns a lack of interest in something that he or she actually desires.
  • allegory
    Extending a metaphor so that objects, persons, and actions in a text are equated with meanings that lie outside the text.
  • analogy
    Reasoning or arguing from parallel cases.
  • anecdote
    A short account of an interesting or amusing incident, often intended to illustrate or support some point.
  • anticipation
    General name for argumentative strategies whereby a speaker or writer foresees and replies to objections.
  • antirrhesis
    Rejecting an argument because of its insignificance, error, or wickedness.
  • apophasis
    The mention of something in disclaiming intention of mentioning it--or pretending to deny what is really affirmed.
  • aporia
    The expression of real or simulated doubt or perplexity.
  • aposiopesis
    An unfinished thought or broken sentence.
  • argument
    A course of reasoning aimed at demonstrating truth or falsehood.
  • categoria
    Direct exposure of an adversary's faults.
  • chleuasmos
    A sarcastic reply that mocks an opponent, leaving him or her without an answer.
  • confirmation
    The main part of a speech or text in which logical arguments in support of a position are elaborated.
  • concession
    Argumentative strategy by which a speaker or writer concedes a disputed point or leaves a disputed point to the audience or reader to decide.
  • dehortatio
    Dissuasive advice given with authority.
  • deliberative
    Speech or writing that attempts to persuade an audience to take (or not to take) some action.
  • demonstrative rhetoric
    Persuasion that deals with values that bring a group together; the rhetoric of ceremony, commemoration, declamation, demonstration, play, and display.
  • diatyposis
    Recommending useful precepts or advice to someone else.
  • distinctio
    Explicit references to various meanings of a word--usually for the purpose of removing ambiguities.
  • enthymeme
    An informally stated syllogism with an implied premise.
  • epicrisis
    Circumstance in which a speaker quotes a passage and comments on it.
  • epimone
    Frequent repetition of a phrase or question; dwelling on a point.
  • epiplexis
    Asking questions to reproach rather than to elicit answers.
  • erotesis
    A rhetorical question implying strong affirmation or denial.
  • ethopoeia
    Putting oneself in place of another so as to both understand and express his or her feelings more vividly.
  • ethos
    Persuasive appeal based on the character or the projected character of the speaker or writer.
  • evidence
    Facts, documentation, or testimony used to strengthen a claim or reach a conclusion.
  • exordium
    The introductory part of an argument in which a speaker or writer establishes credibility (ethos) and announces the subject and purpose of the discourse.
  • fable
    A short narrative meant to teach a moral lesson.
  • hyperbole
    An extravagant statement; the use of exaggerated terms for the purpose of emphasis or heightened effect.
  • hypocrisis
    Exaggerating the gestures or speech habits of another in order to mock him.
  • hypophora
    Raising questions and answering them.
  • identification
    Any of the wide variety of means by which an author may establish a shared sense of values, attitudes, and interests with his or her readers.
  • innuendo
    An indirect or subtle, usually derogatory implication in expression; an insinuation.
  • invective
    Denunciatory or abusive language; discourse that casts blame on somebody or something.
  • kairos
    The opportune time and/or place, the right time to say or do the right thing.
  • judicial
    Speech or writing that considers the justice or injustice of a certain charge or accusation.
  • logos
    In classical rhetoric, the means of persuasion by demonstration of the truth, real or apparent.
  • meiosis
    To belittle, use a degrading epithet, often through a trope of one word; rhetorical understatement.
  • metaphor
    An implied comparison between two unlike things that actually have something important in common.
  • metonymy
    A figure of speech in which one word or phrase is substituted for another with which it is closely associated (such as "crown" for "royalty").
  • narratio
    The part of an argument in which a speaker or writer provides a narrative account of what has happened and explains the nature of the case.
  • parable
    A short and simple story that illustrates a lesson.
  • paradox
    A statement that appears to contradict itself.
  • paralepsis
    Emphasizing a point by seeming to pass over it.
  • parody
    A literary or artistic work that imitates the characteristic style of an author or a work for comic effect or ridicule.
  • pathos
    The means of persuasion in classical rhetoric that appeals to the audience's emotions.
  • prolepsis
    (1) Foreseeing and forestalling objections in various ways. (2) Figurative device by which a future event is presumed to have already occurred.
  • proverb
    Short, pithy statement of a general truth, one that condenses common experience into memorable form.
  • refutation
    The part of an argument wherein a speaker or writer anticipates and counters opposing points of view.
  • rhetorical situation
    The context of a rhetorical act.
  • sarcasm
    A mocking, often ironic or satirical remark.
  • simile
    A stated comparison (usually formed with "like" or "as") between two dissimilar things that have certain qualities in common.
  • skotison
    Intentionally obscure speech or writing.
  • sprezzatura
    The rehearsed spontaneity, the studied carelessness, the well-practiced naturalness that lies at the center of convincing discourse of any sort.
  • syllogism
    A form of deductive reasoning consisting of a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion.
  • synecdoche
    A figure of speech is which a part is used to represent the whole, the whole for a part, the specific for the general, the general for the specific, or the material for the thing made from it.
  • testimony
    A person's account of an event or state of affairs.
  • Amplification Strategies (page one)
  • Argumentation Techniques (page two)
  • Balance, Antithesis, and Paradox (below)
  • Emotional Appeals (Pathos) (below)
  • Metaphorical Substitutions and Puns (below)
  • Omission of Words, Phrases, and Clauses (below)
  • Repetition of Letters, Syllables, and Sounds (page four)
  • Repetition of Words, Phrases, Clauses, and Ideas (page four)

Balance, Antithesis, and Paradox

  • antimetabole
    A verbal pattern in which the second half of an expression is balanced against the first but with the words in reverse grammatical order (A-B-C, C-B-A).
  • antithesis
    Juxtaposition of contrasting ideas in balanced phrases.
  • auxesis
    A gradual increase in intensity of meaning with words arranged in ascending order of force or importance.
  • chiasmus
    A verbal pattern in which the second half of an expression is balanced against the first but with the parts reversed.
  • climax
    Mounting by degrees through words or sentences of increasing weight and in parallel construction, with an emphasis on the high point or culmination of a series of events or of an experience.
  • hypophora
    Raising questions and answering them.
  • isocolon
    A succession of phrases of approximately equal length and corresponding structure.
  • litotes
    A figure of speech consisting of an understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by negating its opposite.
  • oxymoron
    A figure of speech in which incongruous or contradictory terms appear side by side.
  • paradox
    A statement that appears to contradict itself.
  • polysyndeton
    A style that employs a great many conjunctions.

Emotional Appeals (Pathos)

  • antirrhesis
    Rejecting an argument because of its insignificance, error, or wickedness.
  • aposiopesis
    An unfinished thought or broken sentence.
  • apostrophe
    Rhetorical term for breaking off discourse to address some absent person or thing, some abstract quality, an inanimate object, or a nonexistent character.
  • bdelygmia
    A litany of abuse--a series of critical epithets, descriptions, or attributes. A type of invective.
  • categoria
    Direct exposure of an adversary's faults.
  • ecphonesis
    An exclamation expressing emotion.
  • encomium
    Tribute or eulogy in prose or verse glorifying people, objects, ideas, or events.
  • epiplexis
    Asking questions to reproach rather than to elicit answers.
  • euphemism
    Substitution of an inoffensive term for one considered offensively explicit.
  • meiosis
    To belittle, use a degrading epithet or nickname, often through a trope of one word.
  • pathos
    The means of persuasion in classical rhetoric that appeals to the audience's emotions.
  • sarcasm
    A mocking, often ironic or satirical remark intended to wound.
  • tapinosis
    Undignified language that debases a person or thing. Generally considered a vice, not a self-conscious technique.

Metaphorical Substitutions and Puns

  • allegory
    Extending a metaphor through an entire speech or passage so that objects, persons, and actions in the text are equated with meanings that lie outside the text.
  • antanaclasis
    (1) One word used in two contrasting (and often comic) senses. (2) Homonymic pun.
  • antistasis
    Repetition of a word in a different or a contrary sense.
  • antonomasia
    Substitution of a title, epithet, or descriptive phrase for a proper name (or of a personal name for a common name) to designate a member of a group or class.
  • catachresis
    An extreme, far-fetched, or mixed metaphor; strained or deliberately paradoxical figure of speech; substitution of an inexact word in place of the correct one.
  • euphemism
    Substitution of an inoffensive term for one considered offensively explicit.
  • fable
    Fictional story meant to teach a moral lesson.
  • hyperbole
    An extravagant statement; the use of exaggerated terms for the purpose of emphasis or heightened effect.
  • irony
    Use of words to convey the opposite of their literal meaning. A statement or situation where the meaning is contradicted by the appearance or presentation of the idea.
  • meiosis
    To belittle, use a degrading epithet or nickname, often through a trope of one word.
  • metaphor
    An implied comparison between two unlike things that actually have something important in common.
  • metonymy
    A figure of speech in which one word or phrase is substituted for another with which it is closely associated.
  • parable
    A story, usually short and simple, that illustrates a lesson.
  • paronomasia
    Punning, playing with words.
  • pun
    A play on words, sometimes on different senses of the same word and sometimes on the similar sense or sound of different words.
  • simile
    A stated comparison (usually formed with "like" or "as") between two fundamentally dissimilar things that have certain qualities in common.
  • synecdoche
    A figure of speech in which a part is used to represent the whole, the whole for a part, the specific for the general, the general for the specific, or the material for the thing made from it.
  • tapinosis
    Undignified language that debases a person or thing. Generally considered a vice, not a self-conscious technique.

Omission of Words, Phrases, and Clauses

  • asyndeton
    Omission of conjunctions between words, phrases, or clauses.
  • brachylogy
    A concise or condensed form of expression in speech or writing.
  • ellipsis
    Omission of one or more words, which must be supplied by the listener or reader.
  • syllepsis
    A kind of ellipsis in which one word (usually a verb) is understood differently in relation to two or more other words, which it modifies or governs.
  • zeugma
    Use of a word to modify or govern two or more words although its use may be grammatically or logically correct with only one.
  • Amplification Strategies (page one)
  • Argumentation Techniques (page two)
  • Balance, Antithesis, and Paradox (page three)
  • Emotional Appeals (Pathos) (page three)
  • Metaphorical Substitutions and Puns (page three)
  • Omission of Words, Phrases, and Clauses (page three)
  • Repetition of Letters, Syllables, and Sounds (below)
  • Repetition of Words, Phrases, Clauses, and Ideas (below)

Repetition of Letters, Syllables, and Sounds

  • assonance
    Identity or similarity in sound between internal vowels in neighboring words.
  • embolalia
    Hesitation forms (meaningless filler words, phrases, or stammerings) in speech.
  • homoioteleuton
    Similar sound endings to words, phrases, or sentences.
  • homonyms
    Words that sound alike but have different meanings and/or spellings.
  • homophones
    Two or more words that are pronounced the same but differ in meaning, origin, and sometimes spelling.
  • malapropism
    Absurd or humorous misuse of a word, especially by confusion with one of similar sound.
  • parechesis
    The repetition of the same sound in words that are close together.

Repetition of Words, Phrases, Clauses, and Ideas

  • anadiplosis
    Repetition of the last word of one line or clause to begin the next.
  • anaphora
    Repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses or verses.
  • antistasis
    Repetition of a word in a different or a contrary sense.
  • commoratio
    Repetition of a point several times in different words.
  • diacope
    Repetition broken up by one or more intervening words.
  • epanalepsis
    Repetition at the end of a clause or sentence of the word or phrase with which it began.
  • epimone
    Frequent repetition of a phrase or question; a refrain; dwelling on a point.
  • epiphora
    Repetition of a word or phrase at the end of several clauses.
  • epistrophe
    Repetition of a word or phrase at the end of successive clauses.
  • epizeuxis
    Repetition of a word for emphasis (usually with no words in between).
  • isocolon
    A succession of phrases of approximately equal length and corresponding structure.
  • parison
    Corresponding structure in a series of clauses.
  • pleonasm
    Needless repetition.
  • ploce
    Repetition of a word with a new or specified sense, or with pregnant reference to its special significance.
  • polyptoton
    Repetition of words derived from the same root but with different endings.
  • polysyndeton
    A style that employs a great many conjunctions.
  • synonyms
    Words having the same or nearly the same meaning.