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Figures of Speech/ Literary Devices

Updated: Nov 22, 2020

1. Simile: Used to compare two different things having a common quality.

  • e.g. She shall be sportive as the fawn

  • The soul was like a star, and dwelt apart.

  • He ran the race like a horse.

2. Metaphor: It refers to implied simile in which two things are treated as one.

  • The camel is the ship of the desert.

  • I see a lily on thy brow. ( John Keats)

  • When I consider how my light is spent (John Milton)

3. Personification : Used to represent inanimate, lifeless objects & abstract ideas as living beings.

  • The sun shed his beams on rich & poor alike.

  • Peace has her victories no less renowned than war.

  • The moon kisses flowers at night.

4. Oxymoron: Used to express two contradictory qualities of the same thing.

  • Everybody witnessed the living death of the hero.

  • She accepted it as the kind cruelty of the surgeon's knife.

5. Antithesis: Two contrasting or opposite ideas are set side by side to achieve emphasis.

  • Man proposes, God disposes.

  • Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice.

  • To err is human , to forgive is divine. ( Alexander Pope)

6. Pun: Words having similar sound but different meanings used for some comic effect.

  • If a woman loses her husband, she pines for a second.

  • An ambassador is an honest man who lies abroad for the good of his country.

  • Is life worth living?

7. Epigram: Use to express two antithetical or contradictory ideas.

  • cowards die many times before their death.

  • Child is the father of man.

  • They also serve who stand & wait. ( John Milton)

  • Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.

8. Transferred Epithet: an epithet which properly belongs to one object is transferred to another with which it has some sort of association.


The plough man plods his weary way.

I lay all night on my sleepless pillow.


Note: Weary and sleepless are supposed to be used with humans , but used here with inanimate objects like way and pillow. So epithets have been transferred from one place to another. Hence, transferred epithets.


9. Hyperbole: Used to make a fact exaggeration in order to make a more effective impressions in the mind of the reader.

  • All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. ( William Shakespeare from Macbeth)

  • Love is not time's fool. ( William Shakespeare)

  • Ten thousand saw I at a glance. ( William Wordsworth from Daffodils)

10. Apostrophe: When an inanimate thing or abstract quality or an absent person is addressed like a living human being, the figure is called apostrophe.


  • O Grave, where is thy victory?

  • O Solitude ! Where are thy charms

That sages have seen in thy face?

  • O ! death ! where is thy sting?

  • Frailty ! Thy name is woman.

11. Allusion: Reference to a historical event or to a mythical or literary figure.

  • Since my school days Maths has been my Achilles Heel. ( Reference to the week spot of Achilles, the greatest warrior to fight in the Trojan War)

  • I have met my Waterloo ( Reference to the Belgium town where Napoleon lost a make-or- break battle)

12. Metonymy: Change of name stands for the substitution of the name of one thing for that of another having a certain relation in them .

  • He is reading Shakespeare.

  • The delay is due to red-tapism.

  • the bottle has made him a drunkard.

  • Grey hairs should be respected.

13. Climax : ideas or words arranged in ascending order of importance.

I cam, I saw, I conquered.

To strive , to seek , to find and not to yield. ( also antithesis)


14. Anit-climax or Bathos: Opposite to climax.

  • She lost her husband, her child, her goods and her umbrella.

  • Poets are pigs are not appreciated until they are dead.

15. Pathetic Fallacy: inanimate objects are represented as sharing in human feelings by way of sympathy or otherwise ( i.e when we attribute human feelings to external & inanimate nature)


Note: the name was given by Ruskin because he thought that it was a fallacy or a mistake of the poet to attribute pathos or feelings to an inanimate object.


  • Earth cries for her murdered children.

  • The wind heaved a deep sign over the grave.






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