Synecdoche Figure of Speech

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Synecdoche (pronounced si-NEK-di-key) is a trope or figure of speech in which a part of something is used to represent the whole (for example, ABCs for alphabet) or (less commonly) the whole is used to represent a part ("England won the World Cup in 1966"). Adjective: synecdochic, synecdochical, or synecdochal.

In rhetoric, synecdoche is often treated as a type of metonymy.

In semantics, synecdoches have been defined as "turns of meaning within one and the same semantic field: a term is represented by another term, the extension of which is either semantically wider or semantically narrower" (Concise Encyclopedia of Pragmatics, 2009).


From the Greek, "shared understanding"

Examples and Observations

  • Thomas Macaulay's Use of Synecdoche
    "In many of the stories [British historian Thomas] Macaulay told he insinuated a more vivid sense of shared Englishness, as when he presented a few Devonian rustics as 'the English people,' forming 'the most favourable opinion' of William's piety after he landed with his invading army. Apart from anaphora and hyperbole, synecdoche may be Macaulay's favorite trope. To 'brand' his version of English nationality into his readers' minds, he artfully selected the parts he conflated with 'the whole nation.'"
  • Synecdochic Characters and Concepts
    - "Synecdoches are ways in which we construct our understanding of the whole, although we only have access to the part. Synecdoches are part of our general cultural heritage and exist in literature as well as science. Archetypes, mythic characters, gods and goddesses have all been viewed as synecdochical, as have some literary characters, such as Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, Desdemona, Romeo, Juliet, Jane Eyre, and Willy Loman.
  • Metonymy and Synecdoche
    - "[I]t is often difficult to distinguish between metonymy and synecdoche. Plastic = credit card is a case of synecdoche because credit cards are made from plastic, but it is also metonymic because we use plastic to refer to the whole system of paying by means of a prearranged credit facility, not just the cards themselves. In fact, many scholars do not use synecdoche as a category or term at all."
  • Synecdoche in the News
    "The daily press, the immediate media, is superb at synecdoche, at giving us a small thing that stands for a much larger thing. Reporters on the ground, embedded or otherwise, can tell us about or send us pictures of what happened in that place at that time among those people. The overarching theory rationalizing the great expense and effort that goes into those little stories is they somehow give us access to the big story, the big picture, what is really going on..."
  • Synecdoche in Song Lyrics
    "Some common forms of synecdoche are exemplified by these [song] titles: 'Take Back Your Mink' (raw material for finished product); 'Rum and Coca Cola' (trade name for generic product); 'Love Me, Love My Pekinese' (species for genus); 'Willie, Mickey, and the Duke' (nickname/first name/last name for person/thing); 'Woodstock' (place for event)."

Synecdoche in Films

  • "In photographic and filmic media a close-up is a simple synecdoche--a part representing the whole. . . . Synecdoche invites or expects the viewer to 'fill in the gaps' and advertisements frequently employ this trope."

Also Known As

Intellectio, quick conceit


  • (Robert E Sullivan, Macaulay: The Tragedy of Power. Harvard University Press, 2009)
  • (Laurel Richardson, Writing Strategies: Reaching Diverse Audiences. Sage, 1990)
  • (Murray Knowles and Rosamund Moon, Introducing Metaphor. Routledge, 2006)
  • (Bruce Jackson, "Bringing It All Back Home." CounterPunch, Nov. 26, 2003)
  • (Sheila Davis, Successful Lyric Writing. Writer's Digest Books, 1988
  • (Daniel Chandler, Semiotics: The Basics. Routledge, 2002)
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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Synecdoche Figure of Speech." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). Synecdoche Figure of Speech. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Synecdoche Figure of Speech." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 31, 2023).