Top 15 Most Common Figures of Speech and Their Uses

Top 15 Most Common Figures of Speech and Their Uses

By Saige Brown


Figures of speech are an essential part of the written and spoken word – they are the building blocks of rhetorical writing itself! They allow authors to more effectively communicate with their intended audiences through different techniques, some easier to spot than others. This list will cover the top fifteen most common figures of speech you may encounter as well as how to use them!

1. Simile
    A simile is a figure of speech that compares two things, oftentimes using “like” or “as” to introduce the ideas.
    His smile shone like the sun.
    His smile is as bright as the sun.

    2. Metaphor

      A metaphor is a figure of speech that replaces another to imply a similarity.
      His smile is the sun on a rainy day.
      Metaphors can be confused with similes because of their shared comparative nature, but the key difference between them is that similes say that one subject is akin to another whereas metaphors say that one subject is another.
      3. Alliteration
        Alliteration is a figure of speech that contains a series of words all beginning with the same consonant sound.
        Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
        4. Assonance
          Assonance is a figure of speech that, contrary to alliteration, focuses on the repetition of the same vowel sound in a series of words.
          The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plains.

          5. Imagery

          Imagery is a figure of speech that uses descriptive sensory language to better display the author’s idea(s). It does not just have to be visual imagery but can also convey all other senses as well (touch, taste, smell, and hearing).

          • Her eyes were a warm forest green, flecked with tiny brown speckles like the soft Earth around her.
          • The shouts of the vendors lining the street combined with the man playing his guitar on the corner gave them a headache.
          • A decadent pancake was placed in front of me, the sweet maple-scented steam wafting up into my nose.
          • As soon as she bit into the lemon, she winced, the sour stinging flavor of the fruit attacking her taste buds and causing her eyes to water.
          • The silky soft blanket was wrapped around his shoulders; the fluffiness of the minky fabric warmed him right up.
          6. Foreshadowing

            Foreshadowing is a figure of speech that authors use to warn readers of imminent events in their writing. Some uses of foreshadowing are more obvious than others. For example, if a character mentions early on in the story that they always end up having bad dreams when they sleep alone, then the reader may be more alert for this issue later on when the character is described as falling asleep by themselves.

            7. Allegory

              An allegory is a figure of speech in which a character, place, or idea is used to represent a moral or political meaning. Think of the story of the tortoise and the hare. It can stand as a simple story on its own, but it also represents the concept that “slow and steady wins the race” or that steady effort gives way to success.

              8. Allusion

                Allusion is a figure of speech that is used to reference another text outside of the current piece being consumed. This is applicable when someone wants to mention the context of another text without having to explain it fully themselves. For example, if a text says “I am the Romeo to her Juliet” then it is indirectly saying that the characters are star-crossed lovers without having to write it verbatim because of the allusion to Shakespeare.

                9. Hyperbole
                  Hyperbole is a figure of speech where the author uses exaggeration to emphasize their point.
                  I’ve heard this song a billion times.
                  I’m going to explode; I’m so angry!
                  10. Understatement

                    Understatement is a figure of speech that, unlike hyperbole’s over-exaggeration, under-exaggerates the situation or concept at hand. As an example, if a person is in a sword fight and receives a huge slash to the arm, they could decide to say, “It’s only a scratch, nothing more,” using understatement to describe their situation.

                    11. Oxymoron
                      An oxymoron is a figure of speech that uses contradicting terms to seem similar.
                      Singular words like bittersweet are oxymorons, but they can also be separate words like awfully kind or living dead.
                      12. Personification
                        Personification is a figure of speech that takes non-human elements and gives them human traits or behaviors.
                        The leaves danced gracefully in the breeze.
                        The sun smiled down on me, kissing my cheeks with its warmth.
                        13. Symbolism

                          Symbolism is a figure of speech that uses symbols, physical or ephemeral, that represent ideas or concepts. If, for example, a novel has an ongoing theme where roses continuously mean love, then anytime the reader reads about a rose in the book they will remember that symbol and equate it with love.

                          14. Onomatopoeia

                            An onomatopoeia is a figure of speech where the words being used sound like the noises being described in their respective texts. When Spiderman shoots his webs from his hands, the onomatopoeia “thwip” is produced. When a loud sound is described in a book, you may see the words boom, bang, or clang, all of which are also onomatopoeias.

                            15. Irony
                              Irony is a figure of speech that is deliberately contrary to the expectations that have been set up, often resulting in amusing scenarios or events.
                              The son of the nurse was afraid of the hospital.
                              “Great! Thank you so much for spilling your water all over my paperwork.”

                              There are, of course, many more figures of speech in the English language, but now you know more about some of the types you see daily in your classes and life in general. For more information on word types and their uses, check out the rest of Pivot’s blog!

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