Literary figures

What are literary figures

Literary figures, also known as rhetorical figures, are unconventional ways of using words to give them expressiveness, vivacity or beauty, in order to surprise, excite, suggest or persuade.

Literary figures are typical of literary discourse and its different genres (poetry, narrative, essay, drama), in which language is an end in itself, and is transformed to enhance its expressive possibilities.

However, literary figures are not exclusive to literature, but are also used in our colloquial language, some are even already assimilated to it, in certain expressions or turns.

Next, we will refer some of the most used literary figures and their examples.

1. Metaphor

The metaphor is the subtle relationship of analogy or similarity that is established between two ideas or images.


  • "Your eyes are jungle green." To indicate that the color of the eyes resemble the color of the jungle.
  • "It was her dark hair / made of night and pain", in the poem "Song of autumn and spring", by Rubén Darío. Hair color is related to the darkness of the night.

2. Simile or comparison

The simile or comparison consists of establishing a relationship of similarity between two elements that is introduced by an explicit relational element.


  • "You are cold as ice."
  • "He fell on her like an eagle on his prey."

You may also be interested in: 60 simile examples.

3. Hyperbole

Hyperbole occurs when an aspect or characteristic of a thing is exaggeratedly increased or decreased.


  • "I apologized a thousand times." It is a way of explaining that an apology was repeatedly requested.
  • "I love you to infinity and beyond". Express a love without end.
  • "He wept rivers of tears when he left." It refers to the person crying a lot.

It may interest you: 50 examples of hyperbole.

4. Metonymy

Metonymy consists of designating one thing with the name of another, with which it has a relationship of presence or closeness.


  • "He always drinks a sherry after lunch", referring to the wine produced in that region.
  • "Young people pledged allegiance to the flag," to indicate that allegiance was sworn to the country.

5. Synecdoche

The synecdoche is a literary figure in which a thing is named in relation to the whole by the part (or vice versa), the species by the genus (or vice versa) or the material by the name of the thing.


  • "He used a steel for combat", referring to the sword.
  • "I'm looking for a roof to live in", referring to a home.

6. Anaphora

Anaphora consists of the rhythmic repetition of certain sounds or words at the beginning of a verse or phrase.


  • "Here everything is known, here there are no secrets."
  • "Neither failed hope, nor unfair work, nor undeserved grief", from the poem "In peace", by Amado Nervo.

7. Prosopopeia or personification

The prosopopoeia or personification is the rhetorical procedure that consists of attributing qualities of a rational or animate being to another inanimate.


  • "The Moon was smiling at me from the top of the sky."
  • "The clock tells us the time."

8. Epithet

The epithet is the adjective that is used to attribute qualities to the noun it accompanies.


  • "Rough path" refers to a difficult path.
  • "Sweet wait", to indicate that the wait to know something is not over yet.
  • "Tender joy", to refer to that a feeling of tenderness.

9. Allegory

Allegory is a complex rhetorical procedure in which, through a set of metaphorical associations, a broader concept or idea is constructed.


  • The myth of Hercules is an allegory about strength or heroic effort.
  • The poem "I cultivate a white rose", by José Martí, which is an allegory of friendship.

10. Alliteration

Alliteration consists of the repetition of the same sound or similar sounds, especially consonants, in the same phrase or sentence in order to produce a certain sound effect in reading.


  • "Infamous mob of nocturnal birds." Fable of Polyphemus and Galatea, Luis de Góngora and Argote
  • "The sighs escape from his strawberry mouth", from the poem "Sonatina" by Rubén Darío, the sighs are emulated with the repetition of the fricative sound of the s.

11. Hyperbaton

The hyperbaton is a literary figure in which the conventional order of words is altered for expressive reasons or, in the case of poetry, to adjust it to the metric, rhythm or rhyme of the phrase.


  • "If I remember correctly", to refer to "if I remember correctly."
  • "From the living room in the dark corner, / of its owner perhaps forgotten, / silent and covered with dust, / the harp could be seen." "Rima VII", by Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer.

12. Irony

In irony, a thing is implied by expressing the opposite of what is actually meant or thought.


  • "What a good dancer you are!" Refers to someone who cannot dance.
  • "I am so intelligent that sometimes I do not understand a word of what I say", Oscar Wilde.

13. Paradox

The paradox implies the use of expressions, ideas, concepts or phrases in which there is a supposed contradiction that, in reality, is intended to emphasize or give a new meaning to what it talks about.


  • "I only know that I know nothing".
  • "If you yearn for peace, prepare for war."

14. Oxymoron

The oxymoron is a literary figure that consists of generating contradiction, irony or incoherence in a sentence by placing contrary words or ideas.


  • "There was a deafening silence."
  • "Sometimes less is more."

15. Onomatopoeia

Onomatopoeia is the written representation of a sound such as: click, crack, splat, puff, pss, etc. It is a way of vocalizing the sounds that certain objects or animals can generate.


  • "When I squeezed the plastic, a crack sounded, indicating that I had broken it."
  • "Miiiaaauuu! This is how the cat greeted me ”.

16. Synesthesia

Synesthesia consists of attributing a sensation (auditory, olfactory, visual, gustatory, tactile) to an object to which it does not correspond conventionally.


  • "The bitter past that I do not forget." It refers to a difficult experience.
  • "It softened the night with silver sweetness", in a poem "Nocturno" by Rubén Darío. It refers to a moment of tenderness.

17. Pleonasm

In the pleonasm there is a redundancy when using words that could be unnecessary to understand the complete meaning of a phrase, generally in order to intensify its meaning.


  • "I am counting on each and every one of those present." The idea that everyone participates in the lake is reinforced.
  • "I saw you with my own eyes." It is emphasized that he saw with his eyes.

18. Periphrasis

As periphrasis, it is called a certain way of expressing oneself by circling or using more words than would normally have been necessary to communicate an idea or concept.


  • "He took his last breath this morning," to indicate that someone passed away.
  • "The Supreme Being, creator of heaven and earth", to say God.

19. Etopeia

The ethopeia is used to describe the character, actions and customs of an individual's personality.


"Paula was a dreamy girl, like everyone else at her age, with an immense desire to help others."

20. Prosopography

The prosopography is used to describe the external characteristics of a person or animal.


"He was an elderly man with an aquiline profile and a lean face."

21. Polysyndeton

The polysyndeton consists of the repeated use of conjunctions with the aim of increasing the expressive force of the speech.


"Oh great and fertile and magnetic slave", Pablo Neruda. In this case, it is about enhancing the female figure described.

22. Ellipsis

Ellipsis consists of avoiding unnecessary repetition of words to give greater emphasis to a segment of the sentence, generating greater fluency and rhythm, without affecting its grammatical construction.


  • "He wants a hug." It is omitted (he).
  • "Pedro knows how to drive, but I don't." In this case it is omitted (I know how to handle it).

23. Antithesis

Antithesis is a literary figure that consists of the opposition that may exist between two ideas or expressions, phrases or verses in order to achieve a more effective expression and the development of new knowledge.


“I make an effort to forget you and inadvertently remember you.” In this example, the ideas of forgetting and remembering take precedence.

24. Asyndeton

The asyndeton is the literary figure that omits the conjunctions and links of sentences, phrases or statements, in order to generate greater dynamism and mobility of expression.


"I think of you, your smile, your gaze, the chocolate-flavored kisses, you ran, you left, we got lost." As can be seen in the example, conjunctions are not used.

25. Description

The literary description consists of the detailed explanation of the characters, objects, locations or situations to evoke in the reader a credible mental image about the element of the story.


"The 'rookie', who had stood in the corner behind the door so that he was hardly visible, was a country boy, about fifteen years old, and taller than any of us. hair cut into bangs like a village sexton, and he looked formal and very embarrassed. " Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary.

26. Calambur

The calambur is the rhetorical figure consists of the regrouping of syllables or words in order to modify the meaning of a sentence, hide a double meaning or generate ambiguity.

Examples: in these examples you can see how altering the order of the words completely changes the meaning of the sentence.

  • “Aitor Tilla / There is a tortilla”.
  • "If I saw / If it rained."

27. Apostrophe

The apostrophe is a literary figure characterized by addressing an interlocutor, real or imaginary, during a speech, dialogue or narrative. It is common in prayers and soliloquies.


"Little feet of a child, / Blue with cold, / How they see you and do not cover you, / My God!". Fragment of the poem "Little Pieces of a Child", by Gabriela Mistral.

28. Gradation

The gradation is a literary figure that consists of organizing the elements of the speech according to their importance, either in an ascending or descending way, the latter also known as anticlimax.


  • "We both counted the hours, the days and the weeks to see each other again."
  • "On land, in smoke, in dust, in shadow, in nothing." Fragment of the poem "While to compete for your hair", by Luis de Góngora.

29. Pun or commute

The pun or commutation is a literary figure that is characterized by the repetition of a sentence or phrase in the opposite direction and by the reorganization of the elements, in order to reinforce an idea or promote reflection.


  • "There is no way to peace, peace is the way." Quote by Mahatma Gandhi.
  • "Has not had a courageous spirit? / Do you always have to feel what you say? / Do you never have to say what you feel? ”. Francisco de Quevedo.

30. Chiasmus

Chiasm is a literary device that consists of the repetition of ideas, but exchanging their order without the sentence or phrase losing its meaning.


  • "When I want to cry, I can't, but many times I cry without wanting to."
  • "Don't ask yourself what your country can do for you, ask yourself what you can do for your country."

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