Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Books and computer mouse
When you paraphrase or summarize someone else's words and ideas, you still have to document your source. Hh5800/Getty Images

A paraphrase is a restatement of a text in another form or other words, often to simplify or clarify meaning.

"When you paraphrase," says Brenda Spatt, "you retain everything about the original writing but the words."


"When I put down words that I say somebody said they needn't be the exact words, just what you might call the meaning."
(Mark Harris, The Southpaw. Bobbs-Merrill, 1953

Paraphrasing Steve Jobs

"I've often heard Steve [Jobs] explain why Apple's products look so good or work so well by telling the 'show car' anecdote.

'You see a show car,' he would say (I'm paraphrasing here, but this is pretty close to his words), 'and you think, "That's a great design, it's got great lines." Four or five years later, the car is in the showroom and in television ads, and it sucks. And you wonder what happened. They had it. They had it, and then they lost it.'"
(Jay Elliot with William Simon, The Steve Jobs Way: iLeadership for a New Generation. Vanguard, 2011

Summary, Paraphrase, and Quotation

"A summary, written in your own words, briefly restates the writer's main points. Paraphrase, although written in your own words, is used to relate the details or the progression of an idea in your source. Quotation, used sparingly, can lend credibility to your work or capture a memorable passage." (L. Behrens, A Sequence for Academic Writing. Longman, 2009

How to Paraphrase a Text

"Paraphrase passages that present important points, explanations, or arguments but that don't contain memorable or straightforward wording.

Follow these steps:

(R. VanderMey, The College Writer. Houghton, 2007

  1. Quickly review the passage to get a sense of the whole, and then go through the passage carefully, sentence by sentence.
  2. State the ideas in your own words, defining words as needed.
  3. If necessary, edit for clarity, but don't change the meaning.
  1. If you borrow phrases directly, put them in quotation marks.
  2. Check your paraphrase against the original for accurate tone and meaning."

Reasons for Using Paraphrase

"Paraphrasing helps your readers to gain a detailed understanding of your sources, and, indirectly, to accept your thesis as valid. There are two major reasons for using paraphrase in your essays.

1. Use paraphrase to present information or evidence whenever there is no special reason for using a direct quotation. . . .
2. Use paraphrase to give your readers an accurate and comprehensive account of ideas taken from a source--ideas that you intend to explain, interpret, or disagree with in your essay. . . .

"When you take notes for an essay based on one or more sources, you should mostly paraphrase. Quote only when recording phrases or sentences that clearly merit quotation. All quotable phrases and sentences should be transcribed accurately in your notes, with quotation marks separating the paraphrase from the quotation."
(Brenda Spatt, Writing From Sources, 8th ed. Bedford/St. Martin's, 2011

Paraphrase as a Rhetorical Exercise

"A paraphrase differs from a translation in not being a transfer from one language to another. . . . We generally associate with paraphrase the notion of an expansion of the original thought by definitions, periphrasis, examples, etc., with a view to making it more intelligible; but this is not essential.

Here is meant the simpler form, in which the pupil reproduces in his own words the complete thought of an author, without attempting to explain it or to imitate the style.

"It has been frequently urged against this exercise, that, in thus substituting other words for those of an accurate writer, we must necessarily choose such as are less expressive of the sense. It has, however, been defended by one of the greatest rhetoricians--Quintilian."
(Andrew D. Hepburn, Manual of English Rhetoric, 1875

Monty Python and Computer Paraphrasing

"In the famous sketch from the TV show 'Monty Python's Flying Circus,' the actor John Cleese had many ways of saying a parrot was dead, among them, 'This parrot is no more,' 'He's expired and gone to meet his maker,' and 'His metabolic processes are now history.'

"Computers can't do nearly that well at paraphrasing.

English sentences with the same meaning take so many different forms that it has been difficult to get computers to recognize paraphrases, much less produce them.

"Now, using several methods, including statistical techniques borrowed from gene analysis, two researchers have created a program that can automatically generate paraphrases of English sentences."
(A. Eisenberg, "Get Me Rewrite!" The New York Times, Dec. 25, 2003

The Lighter Side of Paraphrasing

"Some guy hit my fender the other day, and I said unto him, 'Be fruitful, and multiply.' But not in those words.” (Woody Allen)

   "The other important joke for me is one that's usually attributed to Groucho Marx, but I think it appears originally in Freud's Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious. And it goes like this--I'm paraphrasing--'I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member.' That's the key joke of my adult life in terms of my relationships with women."
(Woody Allen as Alvy Singer in Annie Hall, 1977)

Pronunciation: PAR-a-fraz