A figure of speech or rhetorical figure is a word or phrase that intentionally deviates from ordinary language use in order to produce a rhetorical effect. Figures of speech are traditionally classified into schemes, which vary the ordinary sequence of words, and tropes, where words carry a meaning other than what they ordinarily signify.
An example of a scheme is a polysyndeton: the repetition of a conjunction before every element in a list, whereas the conjunction typically would appear only before the last element, as in "Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!"—emphasizing the danger and number of animals more than the prosaic wording with only the second "and". An example of a trope is the metaphor, describing one thing as something that it clearly is not in order to lead the mind to compare them, in "All the world's a stage."
addition (adiectio), also called repetition/expansion/superabundance
omission (detractio), also called subtraction/abridgement/lack
transposition (transmutatio), also called transferring
permutation (immutatio), also called switching/interchange/substitution/transmutation
These categories are often still used. The earliest known text listing them, though not explicitly as a system, is the Rhetorica ad Herennium, of unknown authorship, where they are called πλεονασμός (pleonasmos—addition), ἔνδεια (endeia—omission), μετάθεσις (metathesis—transposition) andἐναλλαγή (enallage—permutation). Quintillian then mentioned them in Institutio Oratoria.Philo of Alexandria also listed them as addition (πρόσθεσις—prosthesis), subtraction (ἀφαίρεσις—afairesis), transposition (μετάθεσις—metathesis), and transmutation (ἀλλοίωσις—alloiosis).
Figures of speech come in many varieties. The aim is to use the language inventively to accentuate the effect of what is being said. A few examples follow:
"Round and round the rugged rocks the ragged rascal ran" is an example of alliteration, where the consonant r is used repeatedly. "Sister Suzy‘s sewing socks for soldiers" is a particular form of alliteration called sibilance, repeating an s sound. Both are commonly used in poetry.
"She would run up the stairs and then a new set of curtains" is a variety of zeugma called a syllepsis. Run up can refer either to a quick ascent or to manufacture. The effect is enhanced by the momentary suggestion, through a pun, that she might be climbing the curtains. The ellipsis or omission of the second use of the verb makes the reader think harder about what is being said.
"Painful pride" is an oxymoron, where two contradictory ideas are placed in the same sentence.
"An Einstein" is an example of synecdoche, as it uses a particular name to represent a class of people: geniuses.
"I had butterflies in my stomach" is a metaphor, referring to a nervous feeling as if there were flying insects in one's stomach.
To say "it was like having some butterflies in my stomach" would be a simile, because it uses the word like which is missing in the metaphor.
To say "It was like having a butterfly farm in my stomach", "It felt like a butterfly farm in my stomach", or "I was so nervous that I had a butterfly farm in my stomach" could be a hyperbole, because it is exaggerated.
"That filthy place was really dirty" is an example of tautology, as there are the two words ('filthy' and 'dirty') having almost the same meaning and are repeated so as to make the text more emphatic.
Scholars of classical Western rhetoric have divided figures of speech into two main categories: schemes and tropes. Schemes (from the Greek schēma, 'form or shape') are figures of speech that change the ordinary or expected pattern of words. For example, the phrase, "John, my best friend" uses the scheme known as apposition. Tropes (from Greek trepein, 'to turn') change the general meaning of words. An example of a trope is irony, which is the use of words to convey the opposite of their usual meaning ("For Brutus is an honorable man; / So are they all, all honorable men").
During the Renaissance, scholars meticulously enumerated and classified figures of speech. Henry Peacham, for example, in his The Garden of Eloquence (1577), enumerated 184 different figures of speech. Professor Robert DiYanni, in his book Literature: Reading Fiction, Poetry, Drama and the Essay wrote: "Rhetoricians have catalogued more than 250 different figures of speech, expressions or ways of using words in a nonliteral sense."
For simplicity, this article divides the figures between schemes and tropes, but does not further sub-classify them (e.g., "Figures of Disorder"). Within each category, words are listed alphabetically. Most entries link to a page that provides greater detail and relevant examples, but a short definition is placed here for convenience. Some of those listed may be considered rhetorical devices, which are similar in many ways.
Schemes are words or phrases whose syntax, sequence, or pattern occurs in a manner that varies from an ordinary usage.
accumulation: Accumulating arguments in a concise forceful manner.
redundancy: refers to information that is expressed more than once
rhetorical question: Asking a question as a way of asserting something. Asking a question which already has the answer hidden in it. Or asking a question not for the sake of getting an answer but for asserting something (or as in a poem for creating a poetic effect)
superlative: Saying that something is the best of something or has the most of some quality, e.g. the ugliest, the most precious etc.
syllepsis: The use of a word in its figurative and literal sense at the same time or a single word used in relation to two other parts of a sentence although the word grammatically or logically applies to only one
syncatabasis (condescension, accommodation): adaptation of style to the level of the audience
synchoresis: A concession made for the purpose of retorting with greater force.
Using these formulas, a pupil could render the same subject or theme in a myriad of ways. For the mature author, this principle offered a set of tools to rework source texts into a new creation. In short, the quadripartita ratio offered the student or author a ready-made framework, whether for changing words or the transformation of entire texts. Since it concerned relatively mechanical procedures of adaptation that for the most part could be learned, the techniques concerned could be taught at school at a relatively early age, for example in the improvement of pupils’ own writing.