Lexico-syntactic expressive means and stylistic devices. Figures of combination

Figures of identity


Simile is expressive, imaginative comparison of two unlike objects, belonging to two different classes. This stylistic device consists of three components: the compared object (the tenor), the object with which the first object is compared (the vehicle) and the linking element most often a conjunction as, like, as though, as if, , , , , , etc.

E.g.Paula is like a flower.

ij , .

Simile both in English and in Ukrainian can also be expressed by adjectives and adverbs in comparative degree, by adverbial word combinations containing prepositional attributes and adverbial clauses:


Roy behaved worse than a cutthroat.


Robin looked at Sybil as a mouse may look at a cat.

, (.).

With the quickness of a cat, Samuel climbed up the tree.

The English linking element like (a formal indicator of comparison) in some cases may serve as a semi affix, e.g.: dog-like devotion ( ), with the cat-like tread (-, ), a lamb-like girl (, ), etc., which liken the created simile to compound epithet.

Simile may be implied, having no formal indication of comparison or may be realized in the form of detached predicative constructions that suggest the idea of comparison:


The ball appeared to the batter to be a slow planet looming towards the earth (B. Malamud).

His strongly tout, full-width grin made his large teeth resemble dazzling miniature piano keyboarding the green light (J. Jones).

, ... (. ).

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In the Ukrainian language there are two more types of simile that have no structural and semantic analogues in English.

The first one is simile expressed by a noun in instrumental case ( ):



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Simile of this type from the semantic and structural point of view stands close to metaphor and from the cognitive point of view is based on the mythological believes of our forefathers in the mysterious possibility of human being and animals to metamorphose into different objects of animate and inanimate world: - , , ; , ; , , , , ; ; .

E.g. ,

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The language of Ukrainian folklore contains the great variety of poetic resources that reflect such and similar associations. Among them simile based on the metaphor-metamorphosis is the oldest and the most productive means of creating animistic images.

A lot of comparative constructions represented by a noun in instrumental case due to the long and frequent usage have become stable phraseological units, as in , , .

The second type of simile is so called negative simile, which is expressed by a comparison with negative particle , and conjunction ...:


..., , .

Such similes always refer to the human beings.

As for the stylistic and expressive potential simile can be original and trite. Original simile is the most effective means of making speech expressive. The more unexpected the confrontation between the compared objects is (the more striking is the difference between their characteristics) the richer is the simile. It is the process of evoking ideas, feelings, perceptions and various other connections in a vivid and effective way.

E.g.: He had a face like a plateful of mortal sins (B.Behan)

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Trite similes are fixed idiomatic expressions. Although fixed similes have lost their imagery power they still retain their expressive value. They are part and parcel of the stylistic system of a certain language; they are culturally specific language units that reflect the peculiarities of figurative comparison of different things and phenomena inherent in a certain nation. Impressed in folklore, literary texts and everyday speech, trite similes bear the features of national consciousness and world perception that have been developing for centuries.


E.g. as sharp as a razor, to quiver like an aspen leaf, as welcome as a storm snow in harvest, a s welcome as a flower in May, as bold as brass, as fresh as a bean, as a daisy, as true as steel, as true as a needle to the pole, as drunk as a lord, , ; , ; , ; , ; , ; , ; , ; , ; , etc.

Figures of contrast


Oxymoron is a combination of words which are semantically different. As a result of such combination the object under description obtains characteristics contrary to its nature. For example the famous and much often quoted Shakespearian definition of love, being syntactically perfectly correct attributive combinations, presents a strong semantic discrepancy between its members: O brawling love! O loving hate! O heavy lightness! Serious vanity! Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health! These lines that represent the strong confrontations of notions impress the reader (hearer) by the great power of tension and vibration between the components of the poetic image. Thus, the cited chain of oxymorons represents one of the brightest examples of deep penetration into the complexity of the notion of love ever known in European Renaissance literature.

Oxymoron as a combination of semantically different notions helps to emphasize contradictory qualities simultaneously existing in the described phenomenon as a dialectal unity. As a rule one of the two members of oxymoron illuminates the feature which is universally observed and acknowledged, while the other one offers a purely subjective, individual perception of the object. Oxymoron makes the reader or hearer to reinterpret the sense of the utterance which is at the same time striking, unpredictable and truthful, revealing the essence of the object in question and pointing out its complicated nature.

The main structural pattern of oxymoron is Adjective + Noun, Adverb + Adjective or Verb + Adverb, so it easy to believe that the subjective part of the oxymoron is embodied in the epithet-attribute. Thus the oxymoron is very often associated with epithet, because the latter also proceeds from the foregrounding of emotive meaning.


E.g. hot snow, pleasantly ugly, to cry silently, to shout mutely, , , etc.

And faith unfaithful kept him falsely true (A. Tennyson).

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But there are some other structural types of this stylistic device represented by predicative relations or free syntactic patterns:


Silence was louder than thunder (J. Updike).

Sara was a menace and a tonic, my best enemy; Rosy was a disease, my worst friend (J. Cary).

Oxymoron is the sort of playful and witty effect of language usage, it seldom becomes trite. A few frequently used oxymorons, all of them showing a high degree of the speakers emotional involvement in the situation, as in damn nice, awfully pretty, , , are the rare examples of speech oxymoron.

Oxymoron is a figure of poetic language, a device much loved by poets and writers in all periods of the development of national literature, because it enables them to express complex ideas in a very compressed form:


And painful pleasure turns to pleasing pain (E. Spenser).

Where grey-bearded mirth and smiling toil retired

The toiling pleasure sickens into pain (O. Goldsmith).


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Oxymoron is a powerful means of humour and satire:


... (.).

There were some bookcases of superbly unreadable books (E. Waugh).

Authors sometimes use oxymoron in titles in order to catch readers attention and to emphasize the complexity of the described notion: (.), (.), (.), (.), (.).

Antithesis and Paradox

Antithesis is another figure of contrast that stands close to oxymoron. The major difference between them is structural: oxymoron is realized through a single word combination or a sentence, while antithesis is a confrontation of at least two separate phrases or sentences semantically opposite:

oxymoron wise foolishness

antithesis the age of wisdom, the age of foolishness.

The essence of antithesis lies in the intentional emphasizing of two contradictory but logically and emotionally closely connected notions, phenomena, objects, situations, events, ideas, images. Antithesis makes the readers or hearers impression stronger and the utterance more convincing and may be used alongside with the comparison.


E.g. I had walked into that reading-room a happy, healthy man. I crawled out a decrepit wreck (J.K. Jerome).

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Syntactic structures that express the meaning of antithesis are quite various:

- a single extended sentence;

- a composite sentence;

- a paragraph or even chain of paragraphs.

The main lexical means of antithesis formation are antonyms which represent complex and contradictory nature of the world (heaven hell, sky earth, light dark, up down, good evil, joy sorrow, etc).

Antithesis is one of the oldest stylistic devices. Antithetic worldview penetrated the structure of myths, folklore and ancient literature of different nations. The stylistic device of antithesis nowadays is men-of-letters favourite tools to express complex logical and emotional notions, moral concepts and even common truth:


Some people have much to live on, and little to live for (O. Wild).

It is safer to be married to the man you can be happy with that to the man you cannot be happy without (Y. Esar).


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The principle of antithetic organization of a literary text is aimed at a description of changeable surrounding, minute and eternity, reason and sensibility, motion and stagnation, harmony and chaos, at breaking the constrains of everyday thinking and at exploration of new space of human cognition.


Paradox is one more type of utterance based on semantic and syntactic opposition. Paradox is a statement that appears to be self-contradictory but contains something of a truth:


E.g.: The child is father to the man.

Cowards die many times before their death.

Paradox and antithesis are the oldest of the stylistic devices known from the time of ancient rhetorics. Their main communicative function was (and remains) to strike the readers or hearers, to influence their believes, to convince them by the power of the arguments the utterance contains and to force them to see the world differently. The following lines of Shakespearian immortal play are the bright example of paradox in Renaissance poetry:


The earth thats natures mother is her tomb,

What is her burring grave that is her womb? (W. Shakespeare. Romeo and Juliet).

XX-th century poetry and emotive prose (the epoch of postmodernism) feature paradox and antithesis as the leading instruments of creating imagery and conceptual space of the text. Paradox in modern literature is the most powerful way to describe the many-dimensional and many-sided world by the least number of language resources:


E.g.: Life is a stage, dev-ill, d-evil, -dia-(e)vil

Playing tricks with you

Leading up the stairs


down (D. Levertov).


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Figures of inequality

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