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Definition of Simile
Simile is an explicit comparison between two unlike things through the use of
connecting words, usually “like” or “as.” The technique of simile is known as a
rhetorical analogy, as it is a device used for comparison. The other most popular
rhetorical analogy is metaphor, which shares some traits and is often confused with
simile. We explain the difference in greater detail below.

Difference Between Simile and Metaphor

As stated above, simile and metaphor are often confused. Though the difference is
simple between the definition of simile and that of metaphor, it can be profound.
While simile compares two things with the connecting words “like” or “as,”
metaphor simply states that one thing is the other. For example, a simile would be,
“He was as aggressive as a tiger in that argument,” whereas a metaphor would be,
“He was a tiger in that argument.” Metaphors are thus subtler and can be stronger
in a rhetorical sense, because they equate the two things in comparison rather than
just present them as similar. Similes, however, allow for truly bizarre comparisons
that make the reader stretch to understand the connection between them.

Common Examples of Simile

There are many clichéd similes in the English language that we use regularly. Here
are some examples:
 Strong as an ox
 Fit as a fiddle
 Bright as the sun
 Sweating like a pig
 White as a sheet
 His heart was as cold as ice
 Sleeping like a log
 Fast as lightning
 Dance like no one is watching

Significance of Simile in Literature
Simile can be an excellent way for an author either to make an unusual thing seem
more familiar (i.e., “The planet Zenoth was as cold as ice”) or a familiar thing
seem more unique (i.e., “Her smile was jagged like a broken zipper”). In this way,
similes can help the reader imagine the fictive world of a piece of literature. Good
similes can also make readers think about things in a new way, and can sometimes
create a lasting effect. Scottish poet Robert Burns’s declaration that his “luve’s like
a red, red rose” forever linked the concepts of love and red roses in our minds.

Simile can also sometimes be used to show a comparison, though with the
conclusion that these two things really are unalike or even at odds with each other.
This can either be a negative simile, which might come in the form of “A is not
like B” (see Example #1 below) or an ironic simile, which communicates the
opposite of what is expected at the beginning of the statement. For example, the
famous feminist quote popularized by Gloria Steinem, “A woman needs a man like
a fish needs a bicycle,” ultimately concludes that a woman has no need for a man.

Simile can help to make new connections for the reader. One of literature’s
purposes is to help better explain the world around us, and the technique of simile
is one of those ways in which we are able to see things in a new way. All types of
analogies are cognitive processes of transferring meaning from one thing to
another, and thus the use of simile in literature has real synaptic effects. For this
reason, and for aesthetic purposes, simile has been a popular literary technique for
many hundreds of years.

Examples of Simile in Literature

Example #1
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.

(“Sonnet 130” by William Shakespeare)

This excerpt from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 130” is an example of a negative simile.
Shakespeare goes against the expectation praising his mistress’s beauty and instead
says what she is not like. Her lips are not as red as coral, her skin is not pure as
snow, and so on. This striking simile example plays with both the tradition of
sonnets as well as the usual function of similes.
Example #2
Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is
particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a
coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our
ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the
Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that
Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

(A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens)

This excerpt from Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol also plays with the
tradition of similes. Dickens knowingly uses the clichéd simile “dead as a
doornail” (perhaps more clichéd now than even in his day). He then investigates
the simile, humorously pointing out that there is nothing “particularly dead about a
doornail” and that a coffin nail would have provided a better simile. But, as he
concludes, some similes display “the wisdom of our ancestors,” which is to say,
not much wisdom at all.
Example #3
What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?
(“Harlem” by Langston Hughes)

Langston Hughes uses five examples of simile in this short poem, “Harlem.” Each
simile is one possibility that Hughes imagines for “a dream deferred.”
The imagery was so striking in this poem that playwright Lorraine Hansberry
named her famous play A Raisin in the Sun after the first simile in the poem. All of
the similes in this poem share a sense of decay and burden, just like a dream that
does not come to fruition.
Example #4
The Radley Place fascinated Dill. In spite of our warnings and explanations it drew
him as the moon draws water, but drew him no nearer than the light-pole on the
corner, a safe distance from the Radley gate.

(To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee)

The classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee centers around
the tragedy of Boo Radley, a man falsely accused for a crime. This evocative
simile at the beginning of the novel somewhat foreshadows the main characters’
relation to Boo: the children Scout and Jem are fascinated by him as well as
terrified of him. This fascination and terror draws their friend Dill “as the moon
draws water,” an allusion to the way the presence of the moon changes the tides.
Example #5
I wait, washed, brushed, fed, like a prize pig.

(The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood)

This simple example of simile in Margaret Atwood’s dystopic novel The
Handmaid’s Tale is not so simple when looked at more closely. The protagonist of
the novel is Offred, a woman whose sole purpose is to reproduce with the higher
social classes. Women in this new society have had their rights entirely taken
away, even to the point of their humanity. Therefore, Offred’s comparison between
herself and a prize pig shows that she is treated no differently than—and no better
than—an animal.

Test Your Knowledge of Simile

1. Choose the correct simile definition:
A. A comparison where one thing is stated to be another.
B. A comparison between two unlike things, usually using the connecting words
“like” or “as.”
C. A contrast between two things, showing how they are unalike.

Answer to Question #1 Show

2. Which of the following excerpts from Colum McCann’s Let the Great World
Spin contains a simile?

There are moments we return to, now and always. Family is like water – it has a
memory of what it once filled, always trying to get back to the original stream.


Some people think love is the end of the road, and if you’re lucky enough to find it,
you stay there. Other people say it just becomes a cliff you drive off…


Try to describe the taste of a peach. Try to describe it. Feel the rush of sweetness…

Answer to Question #2 Show

3. Does the following excerpt from Shakespeare’s Macbeth contain a simile, a

metaphor, or both?

LADY MACBETH: Look like th’ innocent flower, / But be the serpent under ‘t.

A. Simile
B. Metaphor
C. Both

Answer to Question #3 Show

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Definition of Assonance
Assonance is the repetition of a vowel sound or diphthong in non-rhyming words.
To qualify as assonance, the words must be close enough for the repetition of the
sound to be noticeable. Assonance is a common literary technique used in poetry
and prose, and is widely found in English verse.

Difference Between Assonance, Consonance,

and Alliteration, and Slant Rhyme
The techniques of assonance, alliteration, consonance, sibilance, and
slant rhyme are all closely related and include the repetition of certain sounds in
quick succession.
 Consonance: Literary consonance is the repetition of the same consonant
sounds. Like assonance, the repetition must be close enough to register in the
ear of the listener. The repetition can happen anywhere in the words. Since the
definition of assonance only includes vowel sounds, assonance and
consonance can be understood to describe the same phenomena, yet with
opposite meanings (an easy way to remember which one is which is that the
word “assonance” starts with a vowel and the word “consonance” starts with a
consonant). One such example of consonance is the “l” sound from Mary
Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese”: “You only have to let the soft animal of your
body / love what it loves.”
 Alliteration: Alliteration is a special case of consonance and refers to the
repetition of consonant sounds or blends at the beginning of words or in the
stressed syllables of a line. Since consonance may happen anywhere in a word,
the concepts are related but not identical. Historically, alliteration may also use
different consonant sounds with similar properties, like the sounds “z” and “s”.
Lord Byron uses alliteration in his poem “She Walks in Beauty,” as shown
here: “She walks in beauty, like the night / Of cloudless climes
and starry skies.”
 Sibilance: Sibilance is another special case of consonance wherein the
consonant sound that is repeated is “s” or “sh”, which are called sibilant
sounds. This example from Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf contains
sibilance: “There was Shield Sheafson, scourge of many tribes.”
 Slant rhyme or half rhyme: Slant rhyme includes the repetition of sounds
that are similar but not quite rhyming. Usually the consonant sounds are
repeated while the vowel sounds are different, or the vowel sounds are the
same while the consonants are different. Thus, slant rhyme can use either
consonance or assonance, or it can be a combination of the two. There are
many other names for this type of rhyme, including lazy rhyme, near rhyme,
approximate rhyme, suspended rhyme, imperfect rhyme, inexact rhyme, off
rhyme, or analyzed rhyme. It is especially common in hip-hop lyrics. The
following example is from a song called “Little Mercy” by hip-hop group
Doomtree: “We broke our backs stacking bricks / We never broke our
promises.” In this instance, there are several repeated sounds: the “b” in broke,
backs, and bricks; the “k” in broke, backs, stacking, and bricks; the “a” in
backs and stacking; and the “i” in bricks and promises.

Common Examples of Assonance

Several proverbs in English contain examples of assonance. The assonance in these
phrases helps to make them more memorable in a subtler way than through
rhyming words. A few of these proverbs are highlighted below:

 The early bird catches the worm.

 Honesty is the best policy.
 Let the cat out of the bag.
 A stitch in time saves nine.
 The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

Significance of Assonance in English

While many may think that rhyme is one of the fundamental aspects of poetry, it
was not at all common in Old English verse. The lexicon of Old English did not
include many rhyming words. Instead, the chief poetic techniques of Old English
storytellers were rhythm and meter, and consonance and assonance. Rhyme only
became popular in English poetry later, after the Germanic language took on many
new words from Romance languages. This is because Romance languages like
French, Italian, and Spanish have many more words with similar endings. Indeed,
rhyme was quite popular in the troubadour tradition, which began in France in the
late 11th century and spread to Spain and Italy. Rhyme remained common in
English verse for several hundred years, but has once again fallen out of favor.
Meanwhile, contemporary poets still use assonance, consonance, and alliteration to
provide more subtle phonemic unity.

Examples of Assonance From Literature

Example #1
I never heard before of a ship so well furbished
with battle tackle…
…no wise man in hall or weathered veteran…
…asleep from their feasting…
…they wept to heaven…

(Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney)

The epic poem Beowulf is one of the largest and oldest surviving texts from Old
English. Seamus Heaney published a translation of the poem in 1999, and in his
introduction made special note of the cadence and sound of Old English. He writes
that he tried to keep his translation loyal to the importance and frequent usage of
alliteration in the original. In the examples above, Heaney employs assonance to
mimic the original phonemic unity in Old English.
Example #2
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
But you shall shine more bright in these contents…

(Sonnet 55 by Shakespeare)

This excerpt from Shakepeare’s Sonnet 55 contains two different assonance

examples; the first is the short “i” sound in “princes” and “outlive” and the second
is the long “i” sound in “shine” and “bright.”

Example #3
These things are with us every day
even on beachheads and biers. They
do have meaning. They’re strong as rocks.

(“Today” by Frank O’Hara)

Frank O’Hara’s poem “Today” has several instances of assonance and consonance.
In this excerpt, the assonance between the words “strong” and “rocks” helps to
connect the two concepts.

Example #4
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear

(“After Apple-Picking” by Robert Frost)

Robert Frost’s poem contains assonance in the title with the repetition of the short
“a” sound in “after” and “apple.” The excerpt here also contains several short “e”
sounds in quick succession, giving these two lines an extra sense of unity.

Example #5
But some punks want to jump up
With a sharp tongue and their fronts up
Like we got here by dumb luck
But they just want to become us.

(“Bangarang” by Doomtree)

This is another example from the hip-hop group Doomtree. Their song
“Bangarang” contains many usages of assonance, but these four lines are
particularly full of the technique. Out of these thirty-two words, more than a third
of them (twelve) contain the same short “u” sound, with the addition of some
consonance of “m” and “n”. This technique propels the rhythm forward in this
section of the song.

Test Your Knowledge of Assonance

1. Which of the following is the best assonance definition?
A. A string of repeated sounds.
B. The repetition of a vowel sound in non-rhyming words.
C. The repetition of the same consonant sounds.
D. The repetition of sounds at the beginning of several words in a line.

Answer to Question #1 Hide

Answer: B is the correct definition of assonance. C refers to consonance and D refers

to alliteration, while A is not specific enough.

2. Which of the following examples contains assonance in the red letters?

A. “Blue with all malice, like a madman’s flash…” (“Arms and the Boy” by
Wilfred Owen)
B. “Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before…”
(“The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe)
C. “You stand at the blackboard, daddy” (“Daddy” by Sylvia Plath)
D. “Screech, scream, holler, and yell— / Buzz a buzzer, clang a bell,
/ Sneeze—hiccup—whistle—shout” (“Noise Day” by Shel Silverstein)

Answer to Question #2 Hide

Answer: The red letters in A are an example of consonance, the red letters in B are an
example of alliteration, and the red letters in D are an example of sibilance.
Therefore, C is the correct answer, and the red letters in the example show assonance.

3. Why were assonance, consonance, and alliteration an important part of Old

English poetry?
A. There weren’t many rhyming words in Old English and thus the poets used the
techniques of assonance, consonance, and alliteration to provide phonemic unity
and rhythm.
B. Poets in Old English didn’t like rhyming words and actively avoided them until
forced to include them later on.
C. Rhyming words were more important that assonance, consonance, and
alliteration, but Old English poets couldn’t think of enough of them.
D. Old English was a Romance language, and thus there were not many words that
ended in the same way, making it difficult to find rhymes to use.
Answer to Question #3 Hide

Answer: A is the correct answer. B, C, and D are false.

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Definition of Rhythm
In literature, rhythm is the pattern of stressed and unstressed beats. Rhythm is most
commonly found in poetry, though it is also present in some works
of drama and prose. The rhythm of a poem can be analyzed through the number of
lines in a verse, the number of syllables in the line, and the arrangement of
syllables based on whether they are long or short, accented or unaccented.
Rhythm is also closely associated with meter, which identifies units of stressed and
unstressed syllables. When an author combines metrical units into a pattern, he or
she creates rhythm.

Types of Meter
The definition of rhythm necessitates the presence of beats, or metrical units. There
are five key metrical units in the English language, as described below:

 Iamb—An iamb is comprised of one unstressed syllable followed by one

stressed syllable. There is a popular rhythm called iambic pentameter that
Shakespeare often used, which is a line that consists of five iambs, otherwise
known as ten syllables in a alternating pattern of unstressed and stressed beats.
Examples of iambs: beGIN, aGAIN, aLIVE
 Trochee—The opposite of an iamb, a trochee is one stressed syllable followed
by one unstressed syllable. Examples of trochees: ALtar, BRIDESmaid,
 Spondee—A spondee is a pattern of two subsequent stressed syllables.
Examples of spondees in English are usually compound words or two one-
 Dactyl—A dactyl is comprised of one stressed syllable followed by two
unstressed syllables. A poem written with many dactyls has a very musical
quality to it, such as in a limerick (There ONCE was a MAN from
NanTUCKet). Examples of dactyls: ANimal, TERRible, DIFFerent
 Anapest—An anapest is the opposite of a dactyl in that it has two unstressed
syllables followed by one stressed syllable. Examples of anapests: souvenIR, a
la CARTE, debonAIR. (Note that all of these examples have a clear French
influence, in which anapests are much more common than in Germanic

Common Examples of Rhythm

There is rhythm in spoken language, just as in written language. Consider the
following common phrases. All of them can be analyzed by stressed and unstressed
syllables, like in literature:

 Good EVening, DEAR. (Iamb)

 HOW’S it GOing? (Trochee)
 CHECK, PLEASE. (Spondee)
 BEAUtiful WEAther we’re HAving now. (Dactyl)
 To inFINity and beYOND. (Anapest)

Significance of Rhythm in Literature

Rhythm is so important to human nature that it has been theorized that there is a
link between rhythm and the human heartbeat, rhythm and evolution, and rhythm
and emotion. While none of these theories is certain, rhythm is certainly found in
all human cultures around the world and there is clear evidence of rhythm in early
human existence. The majority of both music and oral poetry maintain a beat. For
early oral literature, the presence of rhythm was a necessary aspect for the
memorization of the lines and passing these poems on. Rhythm, therefore, was
very significant in early literature. Much poetry now is written without strict
rhythm, yet many lines can be analyzed due to their rhythms regardless of whether
the poet used that rhythm throughout the entire poem.

Examples of Rhythm in Literature

Example #1
So. The SPEAR-danes in DAYS gone BY
And the KINGS who RULED them had COUrage and GREATness.
We have HEARD of those PRINces’ herOic camPAIGNS.

(Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney)

Seamus Heaney paid much attention to the rhythm of the original Old English
when creating his translation of Beowulf. This rhythm example comes from the
very opening of the poem, and already it establishes a very sing-song like pattern.
All three lines open with an anapest (“So the SPEAR,” “And the KINGS,” and
“We have HEARD”). The lines generally have two unstressed syllables between
stressed syllables, creating a waltz-like rhythm.
Example #2
Shall I comPARE thee TO a SUMmer’s DAY?
Thou ART more LOVEly AND more TEMPerATE:
Rough WINDS do SHAKE the DARling BUDS of MAY,
And SUMmer’s LEASE hath ALL too SHORT a DATE:

So LONG as MEN can BREATHE, or EYES can SEE,
So LONG lives THIS, and THIS gives LIFE to THEE.

(“Sonnet 18” by William Shakespeare)

William Shakespeare wrote many sonnets, and generally used iambic pentameter
in his lines. Arguably his most famous sonnet, “Sonnet 18,” indeed follows this
rhythm. As explained above, iambic pentameter has ten syllables per line, starting
with an unstressed syllable and alternating every other syllable with stress. This
means that the lines end on a stressed syllable. This rhythm thus also makes
the rhyme scheme more obvious, as Shakespeare’s sonnets followed an ABAB
CDCD EFEF GG rhyme pattern. For example, in this excerpt Shakespeare rhymes
“day” with “May” and “temperate” with “date,” and in the couplet he rhymes “see”
and “thee.” The rhythm helps exaggerate the rhyme.
Example #3
He WILL not SEE me STOPping HERE
To WATCH his WOODS fill UP with SNOW.

(“Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost)

This is an example of iambic tetrameter, which means that there are four iambs per
line. The rhythm in this poem can be equated to the sound of the man travelling by
horse through the woods. Indeed, Frost is even more faithful to his chosen rhythm
than the previous Shakespeare example; the rigidity of Frost’s rhythm is
reminiscent of footsteps and creates a somewhat soporific effect on the reader.

Example #4
It was MAny and MAny a YEAR ag0,
In a KINGdom BY the SEA,
That a MAIden THERE lived WHOM you may KNOW
By the NAME of ANnabel LEE;
And this MAIden she LIVED with NO other THOUGHT
Than to LOVE and be LOVED by ME.

(“Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allen Poe)

The rhythm in Edgar Allen Poe’s poem “Annabel Lee” has a singing quality to it,
like in Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf. Poe creates this by alternating
between anapests and iambs. Every line starts with an anapest (“In a KING…,”
“By the NAME,” and “Than to LOVE,” for example) and continues with either
another anapest or an iamb. Rather than the up-down rhythm of iambic pentameter,
the rhythm in this poem creates a more melodic quality.
Example #5
SUNdays TOO my FAther GOT up EARly
from LAbor in the WEEKday WEAther made

(“Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden)

This is an interesting example of rhythm in that the rhythm varies greatly from line
to line. The first line is a very straightforward example of trochaic pentameter.
After that line, however, there are many shifts in rhythm. The shifts are even more
interesting because the first line seems to set up a very standard rhythm. Yet then
we see iambs and an example of a spondee, in “cracked hands,” and even sets of
three stressed syllables in a row, such as “blueblack cold” and “banked fires blaze”
(this more uncommon type of meter is called molossus). The end of this excerpt
then returns to a trochaic meter with “No one ever thanked him.” The trochaic lines
seem plodding in their straightforward meter and indeed refer to the father’s
relentless work, whereas the spondee and molossus examples correspond to the
intensity of his work and indeed the most vivid imagery. Hayden uses rhythm
brilliantly to suggest the different aspects of the father’s work.

Test Your Knowledge of Rhythm

1. Which of the following statements is the best rhythm definition, as it applies
to literature?
A. Rhythm refers to lines that alternate with one stressed syllable always followed
by one unstressed syllable.
B. Rhythm is the pattern of accented and unaccented syllables.
C. Rhythm exists only in poetry and corresponds to the emotion of the poem.

Answer to Question #1 Show

Consider the following line from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 130”:

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun.

Which of the types of meter is present in this line?

A. Iamb
B. Trochee
C. Spondee

Answer to Question #2 Show

3. Consider the following quote from Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Lolita:

If a roadside sign said VISIT OUR GIFT SHOP—we had to visit it, had to buy the
Indian curios, dolls, copper jewelry, cactus candy. The words “novelties and
souvenirs” simply entranced her by their trochaic lilt.

Are the words “novelties and souvenirs” really examples of trochees, as

Nabokov implies?
A. Yes. The phrase, taken as a full line, represents trochaic meter: NOvel|TIES and
B. No. Both words are examples of anapests.
C. No. “Novelties” is an example of a dactyl, while “souvenirs” is an example of

Answer to Question #3 Show

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Definition of Rhyme
Rhyme is a popular literary device in which the repetition of the same or similar
sounds occurs in two or more words, usually at the end of lines in poems or songs.
In a rhyme in English, the vowel sounds in the stressed syllables are matching,
while the preceding consonant sound does not match. The consonants after the
stressed syllables must match as well. For example, the words “gaining” and
“straining” are rhyming words in English because they start with different
consonant sounds, but the first stressed vowel is identical, as is the rest of the

Types of Rhyme
There are many different ways to classify rhyme. Many people recognize “perfect
rhymes” as the only real type of rhyme. For example, “mind” and “kind” are
perfect rhymes, whereas “mind” and “line” are an imperfect match in sounds. Even
within the classification of “perfect” rhymes, there are a few different types:

 Single: This is a rhyme in which the stress is on the final syllable of the words
(“mind” and “behind”).
 Double: This perfect rhyme has the stress on the penultimate, or second-to-
last, syllable (“toasting” and “roasting”).
 Dactylic: This rhyme, relatively uncommon in English, has the stress on the
antepenultimate, or third-from-last, syllable (“terrible” and “wearable”).

Here are some other types of general rhymes that are not perfect:

 Imperfect or near rhyme: In this type of rhyme, the same sounds occur in
two words but in unstressed syllables (“thing” and “missing”).
 Identical rhymes: Homonyms in English don’t satisfy the rules of perfect
rhymes because while the vowels are matching, the preceding consonants also
match and therefore the rhyme is considered inferior. For example, “way,”
“weigh,” and “whey” are identical rhymes and are not considered to be good
rhymes. However, in French, this type of rhyming is actually quite popular and
has its own classification, rime riche.
 Eye rhyme: This is common in English because so many of our words are
spelled in the same way, yet have different pronunciations. For example,
“good” and food” look like they should rhyme, but their vowel sounds are

Common Examples of Rhyme

There are plenty of common phrases we say in English that contain rhymes. Here
are some examples:

 See you later, alligator.

 In a while, crocodile.
 You’re a poet and you didn’t know it.

There are also many conjugate words that we use in English that are rhymes, such
as the following:

 Hokey-pokey
 Namby-pamby
 Itsy-bitsy
 Teenie-weenie
 Silly-billy

Children’s songs and poems often contain rhymes, as they make lines easier to
remember and pleasant to listen to. The famous children’s author Dr. Seuss made
much use of rhyme in his books, such as the following lines:

 You have brains in your head; you have feet in your shoes. You can steer
yourself any direction you choose.
 And will you succeed? Yes you will indeed! (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed).
 Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get
better. It’s not.

Significance of Rhyme in Literature

Rhyme has played a huge part in literature over many millennia of human
existence. The earliest known example is from a Chinese text written in the
10th century BC. Indeed, rhyme has been found in many cultures and many eras.
Rhyme also plays different parts in different cultures, holding almost mystical
meaning in some cultures. Several religious texts display examples of rhyme,
including the Qur’an and the Bible. Interestingly, though, rhyme schemes go in and
out of favor. The types of poetry that were once popular in the English language,
especially, are no longer very common. For example, in Shakespeare’s day
the sonnet form, with its rhyming quatrains and final rhyming couplet was popular
(indeed, Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets himself). However, it is very unusual for
contemporary poets to adhere to such strict rhyme schemes.

Rhyme is often easy for native speakers in a language to hear. It is used as a

literacy skill with young children for them to hear phonemes. Authors often use
rhyme to make their lines more memorable and to signal the ends of lines.

Examples of Rhyme in Literature

Example #1
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:

(“Sonnet 18” by William Shakespeare)

William Shakespeare includes many rhyme examples in his plays. All of his
sonnets followed the very strict sonnet form of containing three rhyming quatrains
and one final rhyming couplet. The above excerpt comes from arguably his most
famous sonnet, “Sonnet 18.” The opening line is familiar to many English
speakers. It is just one of hundreds of examples of rhyme in his works. One
interesting note is that due to the way that the sound of English has changed over
the past four to five hundred years, some of Shakespeare’s rhymes no longer are
perfect rhymes, such as the rhyme between “temperate” and “date.” However, it is
easy to hear countless examples of rhymes in his works, such as the words “day”
and “May” in this excerpt.

Example #2
Keeping time, time, time,
As he knells, knells, knells,
In a happy Runic rhyme,
To the rolling of the bells–
Of the bells, bells, bells–
To the tolling of the bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells–
Bells, bells, bells–
To the moaning and the groaning of the bells.

(“The Bells” by Edgar Allen Poe)

Edgar Allen employed rhyme in many of his poems. In “The Bells,” Poe uses
rhyme not only to end lines, but also in the middle of lines, such as his rhyme of
“rolling” and “tolling,” in the middle of two adjacent lines. He also uses the rhyme
of “moaning” and “groaning” in the same line. This example of rhyme adds to
the rhythm of the poem in that it impels the reader forward, just as the tolling of
the bells compels the listener to act.
Example #3
Fate hired me once to play a villain’s part.
I did it badly, wasting valued blood;
Now when the call is given to the good
It is that knave who answers in my heart.

(“Between the Acts” by Stanley Kunitz)

Stanley Kunitz had an interesting career in poetry. He was born in 1905 and died in
2006; his poetry changed with the times, paralleling the popularity of strict forms
in his early work while his later work was only written in free verse. This short
poem, “Between the Acts” was published in 1943 and is still indicative of the first
half of his career in which rhyme played a large part. However, he was already
turning toward more free verse and less rhyme at this time. In this poem Kunitz
rhymes “part” with “heart,” but also uses the near-rhyme “blood” and “good,”
which can also be considered an eye rhyme.
Example #4
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

(“Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost)

Robert Frost is similar to Stanley Kunitz in that he used examples of rhyme in

some of his poetry while in others he forewent rhyme altogether. Many of his most
famous poems, such as “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening,” “Fire and
Ice,” and “The Road Not Taken” all contain rhyme. However, other famous poems
such as “Mending Wall” and “Birches” do not contain rhyme. In this excerpt, Frost
rhymes the words “know,” “though,” and “snow.”

Test Your Knowledge of Rhyme

1. What is the best rhyme definition from the following statements?
A. The repetition of the same or similar sounds in two or more words, often at the
end of lines.
B. The repetition of the same consonant sound at the beginning of words.
C. The repetition of the same word at the end of a clause or line.

Answer to Question #1 Show

2. Which of the following lines from Robert Frost’s poem “After Apple
Picking” does not rhyme with the others?
A. Magnified apples appear and disappear,
B. Stem end and blossom end,
C. And every fleck of russet showing clear.

Answer to Question #2 Show

3. What kind of perfect rhyme is demonstrated by the words “mystical” and

A. Single
B. Double
C. Dactylic

Answer to Question #3 Show

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Definition of Synecdoche
Synecdoche is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase that refers to a part of
something is substituted to stand in for the whole, or vice versa. For example, the
phrase “all hands on deck” is a demand for all of the crew to help, yet the word
“hands”—just a part of the crew—stands in for the whole crew.

Synecdoche is a subset of metonymy. We explore the similarities and differences

between the two in more detail below. Synecdoche and metonymy are also
considered forms of metaphor in that all three literary devices involve a
substitution of one term for another that requires a conceptual link. Synecdoche
can sometimes be described as a form of personification in the cases when it
substitutes a human element for a non-human organization, such as referring to a
weapon falling into “the wrong hands.” In this case, the human element of “hands”
stands in for an opposing group.
The word synecdoche comes from the Ancient Greek word synekdoche, which
means “simultaneous understanding.”

Difference Between Synecdoche and

The definition of synecdoche requires the substituted term to be either a part of the
whole or a whole standing in for a part. Metonymy, on the other hand, can refer to
the substitution of a term that is connected in any way to the original concept. For
example, using “the crown” to refer to a member of royalty is metonymy because
the concept of the crown is related to royalty. However, a crown is neither part of
the royal person, nor is the royal person part of the crown.

Common Examples of Synecdoche

There are many common expressions that are examples of synecdoche. Here is a
list of some of these examples:

 Boots on the ground—refers to soldiers

 New wheels—refers to a new car
 Ask for her hand—refers to asking a woman to marry
 Suits—can refer to businesspeople
 Plastic—can refer to credit cards
 The White House—can refer to statements made by individuals within the
United States government

Significance of Synecdoche in Literature

Some literary theorists have posited that synecdoche is not merely ornamental, but
instead one of the chief ways to describe and discover truths via literature. Along
with metonymy, metaphor, and irony, synecdoche displays and creates new
connections in the way that humans understand concepts. Whether or not authors
use synecdoche intentionally, any connection between previously unassociated
concepts creates new cognitive links. By exploring the usage of synecdoche in
literature, we are able to better understand the human mind.

Examples of Synecdoche in Literature

Example #1
GHOST: Now, Hamlet, hear.
‘Tis given out that, sleeping in my orchard,
A serpent stung me. So the whole ear of Denmark
Is by a forgèd process of my death
Rankly abused. But know, thou noble youth,
The serpent that did sting thy father’s life
Now wears his crown.

(Hamlet by William Shakespeare)

In this excerpt from Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet, the ghost of Hamlet’s father
implies that he was killed by Claudius instead of being stung by a snake. The
synecdoche example in this excerpt is the usage of the word “ear.” The ghost refers
to “the whole ear of Denmark.” This means that the whole population of Denmark
has heard a particular story about his death. This is not the only time that
Shakespeare used “ear” to refer to a greater group of people. Mark Antony’s
famous quote from Julius Caesar also uses this synecdoche: “Friends, countrymen,
lend me your ears.”
Example #2
I had not intended to love him; the reader knows I had wrought hard to extirpate
from my soul the germs of love there detected; and now, at the first renewed view
of him, they spontaneously arrived, green and strong! He made me love him
without looking at me.

(Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë)

In this excerpt from Charlotte Brontë’s novel Jane Eyre, Jane talks about “the
germs of love.” The germs here refer to the early stages of love, and Brontë
continues this metaphorical usage saying that the germs return “green and strong.”
Example #3
“About Gatsby! No, I haven’t. I said I’d been making a small investigation of his
“And you found he was an Oxford man,” said Jordan helpfully.
“An Oxford man!” He was incredulous. “Like hell he is! He wears a pink suit.”
“Nevertheless he’s an Oxford man.”
“Oxford, New Mexico,” snorted Tom contemptuously, “or something like that.”

(The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald)

In this excerpt from The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald uses the synecdoche of being an
“Oxford man.” An Oxford man is a man who has attended the legendary English
university. Oxford stands in for much meaning, including a certain level of class,
wealth, and learning that is necessary to be an elite member of society. The
character Tom Buchanan is suspicious that Jay Gatsby could possibly be an
“Oxford man,” thinking him to not contain these qualities.
Example #4
The Eyes around – had wrung them dry –
And Breaths were gathering firm
For that last Onset – when the King
Be witnessed – in the Room –

(“I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –” by Emily Dickinson)

In this famous short poem by Emily Dickinson, the second stanza contains an
example of synecdoche. The speaker in the poem is at the point of death, and in the
second stanza makes note of “The Eyes around.” The eyes in this case refer to the
audience that has gathered by the speaker’s deathbed. The speaker doesn’t refer to
the people themselves, but instead to their eyes—which are now dry from having
exhausted their tears—and breaths.
Example #5
This is flesh I’m talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to
rest and to dance; backs that need support; shoulders that need arms, strong arms
I’m telling you.

(Beloved by Toni Morrison)

These lines from Toni Morrison’s Beloved come from a sermon by the character
Baby Suggs. In it, Baby Suggs is preaching to her people about the value of their
lives. She does so by referring to the parts of the their bodies as having needs of
their own. This affirms the importance of the community to which she is preaching
and the individuals that make it up. Baby Suggs refers to the needs of the “flesh,”
“feet,” “backs,” and “shoulders.” Though it may seem that breaking the people
down into their parts would dehumanize them, instead the sermon shows just how
human they are. Their bodies are not just for work, but instead for love, rest, dance,
and support.

Test Your Knowledge of Synecdoche

1. Choose the best synecdoche definition from the following statements:
A. A substitution of one term for another.
B. A substitution of one related term for another.
C. A substitution of a term that is part of a whole for the whole, or vice versa.

Answer to Question #1 Show

2. Is the following excerpt from Shakespeare’s Hamlet an example of

synecdoche or of metonymy?

Let not the royal bed of Denmark be

A couch for luxury and damnèd incest.

A. Metonymy
B. Synecdoche
C. Both
D. Neither

Answer to Question #2 Show

3. Consider the following excerpt from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott


I graduated from New Haven in 1915, just a quarter of a century after my father,
and a little later I participated in that delayed Teutonic migration known as the
Great War. I enjoyed the counter-raid so thoroughly that I came back restless.
Instead of being the warm centre of the world, the Middle West now seemed like
the ragged edge of the universe—so I decided to go East and learn the bond

Which of the following terms acts as an example of synecdoche for the Great
A. Delayed Teutonic migration
B. Counter-raid
C. Bond business

Answer to Question #3 Show

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