Art of the Essay
EL 238, Summer 2010
Jonah Willihnganz
Stanford University     

Rhetorical Patterns and Figures

A useful way to assess an author’s style or how that author achieves a particular effect is examine the patterns of their prose and the figurative language they use.  Prose patterns refer to the arrangement of words and sentences (e.g., repetition of a phrase); figurative language refers to manipulation of denotation (e.g., metaphor or irony).  Rhetoricians often think of prose patterns as schemes (schema = shape) and figurative language as tropes (trope = to turn).  Below is a list of typical, common schemes and tropes.  Use these to help you identify how an author creates particular effects and what characterizes their style.  For more, and for examples of the ones listed here, go to The Forest of Rhetoric.

I. Prose Patterns (Schemes)


alliteration: repetition of consonant sounds

assonance: repetition of vowel sounds

anaphora: repetition of word or clause at the start of a sentence or clause

epistrophe: repetition of word or clause at the end of a sentence or clause

epanalepsis:  repetition of a phrase from elsewhere in a sentence or paragraph

synonymia: repetition of synonyms

anadiplosis: repetition of last word of one clause at the start of the next


isocolon: similarity of structure and length

zeugma: a single word (often a verb) governs two clauses

syllepsis: a single word governs two clauses but with different denotation in each case

syncrisis: comparison and contrast in clauses with parallel structure


anastrophe: inversion of usual/natural word order

chiasmus: reversal of grammatical structure in successive sentences or clauses

asyndeton: omission of conjunctions  between clauses

apostrophe: addressing an absent person


II. Figurative Language (Tropes)

metaphor and simile: comparison to infer qualities of one thing to another

objective correlative: exterior description that infers an interior state

metonymy:  association of two things to confer similarity

synecdoche: part of something stands in for the whole

perilepsis: professing to avoid a topic while discoursing on it

personification: investing the inanimate with human qualities

litotes: deliberate use of understatement

hyperbole: exaggeration for heightened effect, humor, or undercutting

anthimeria: substitution of one part of speech for another (often a noun for a verb)

adynaton: declaration of inability to express something

ecphrasis: very dense, vivid description

periphrasis: substitution of proper name with a description

irony: reversal of usual meaning

oxymoron: unlike qualities yoked together

paradox: seeming contradiction that contains truth

epitrope: turning things over to the reader

congeries: piling up of descriptive words clauses for a single effect