English Grammar
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How to Write Clear, Readable, Effective Sentences that Readers Love!
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How to Write Clear, Readable, Effective Sentences that Readers Love!

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Figures of Speech —
the Allegory

the AllegoryThe allegory purposely and properly extends the metaphor. It may take the form of a fable; a parable, as in the Bible; or a whole book, or even a morality play. An allegory always has a "hidden meaning," a deep spiritual or moral truth. The reader begins to see the hidden meaning when he begins to recognize the metaphorical character of the story as a whole.

A short allegory is called a fable.

The allegory is not frequently used these days because of its mechanical tendencies. The epic poem by Dante, Inferno (Italian for "Hell"), published in the 14th century, is an example of allegory in literature. It depicts Dante's journey through Hell, Heaven, and Purgatory to represent the journey of one's soul to God.

George Orwell's Animal Farm is another example of allegory. The story centers around a farm governed by animals which represent the communist regime of Stalin in Russia before the Second World War.

4) Personification

Personification is closely akin to the metaphor, but it goes further than an ordinary metaphor. It gives the likeness and attributes of life to inanimate things. Personification is the most natural figure of speech. Children use it to personify their dolls, and their pets.. Personification is most common in fables, especially animal stories, and is the basis of allegory. Personification makes the most abstract conceptions teem with life. Because of the animating powers of personification, they are very effective in most types of writing.

EX.— The run down house appeared depressed.
EX.— The ocean danced in the moonlight.
EX.— The words appeared to leap off of the paper as she read the story.
EX.— The waffle jumped up out of the toaster
EX.— The thunder clapped angrily in the distance.
EX.— The avalanche devoured everything in its path.
EX.— The door protested as it opened slowly.
EX.— The fire ran wild.
EX.— Snow had wrapped a white blanket over the city.
EX.— The carved pumpkin smiled at me.
EX.— The stars winked at me.
EX.—The thirsty soil drank in the rain.

5) Apostrophe.

Apostrophe (meaning "turning away") is similar to personification because it attributes life to lifeless things; but it goes one step further by addressing—directly and passionately—the absent as if present, the dead as if alive. Many poets use Apostrophe in poetry because of its potent demand upon the imagination. It is also quite common in prose. Apostrophe is often combined with metaphor and personification.

"Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are.
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky."

"Blue Moon, you saw me standing alone
Without a dream in my heart
Without a love of my own."
(Lorenz Hart, "Blue Moon")

"Science! True daughter of Old Time thou art!"
(Edgar Allan Poe, "To Science")

6) Allusion

Allusion lets you refer to a purportedly familiar name or fact in history or literature. Such reference differs from the use of an illustration in that it is less formal. M. H. Abrams defined allusion as "a brief reference, explicit or indirect, to a person, place or event, or to another literary work or passage" Poetry abounds in allusions. Shakespeare uses allusion very frequently.

Martin Luther King, Jr., alluded to the Gettysburg Address in starting his "I Have a Dream" speech by saying "Five score years ago..."; his hearers were immediately reminded of Abraham Lincoln's "Four score and seven years ago", which opened the Gettysburg Address. King's allusion effectively called up parallels in two historic moments.

7) Metonymy

Metonymy is a common and useful figure of speech because it directs attention to some one important detail. It is picturesque. Sometimes you can use it to soften what would otherwise be too harsh. This figure of speech is economical, for it lets you use one word where you would need several words to create a meaning.

EX.— The kettle boils (that is, the water in the kettle boils).

EX.— He chose a gun instead of a cap and gown (that is, he became a soldier instead of a student).
EX.— Have you read Shakespeare (that is, his works)?
EX.— Only the knife (that is, a surgical operation) can save him.
EX.— He addressed the chair (that is, the presiding officer).

8) Synecdoche

Synecdoche is a figure of speech in which you name a part for a whole, or a whole for a part.

EX.— The speaker beheld a sea of faces.
EX.— The world knows his worth.
EX.— He won her hand in marriage.
EX.— We have coffee at six o'clock.
EX.— Give us this day our daily bread.

9) Antithesis

Antithesis is a figure of speech comprised of opposing or contrasted words or sentiments. Writers arrange them in parallel construction in the same sentence. Antithesis is a figure of speech based on unlikeness, and therefore always expresses contrast. You should always contrast verbs with other verbs, adjectives with adjectives, nouns with nouns, and so on.

EX.— "One small step for a man, one giant leap for all mankind."
EX.— Money is the root of all evils: poverty is the fruit of all goodness.
EX.— It is better to lose health like a spendthrift than to waste it like a miser.
EX.— Deeds show what we are; words, what we should be.

Often there is a double or even triple contrast in the same sentence.

EX.— Silence is deep as Eternity; speech is shallow as Time.

Here silence and speech, deep and shallow, Eternity and Time are contrasted.

10) Climax

Climax is a figure, usually contained in a periodic sentence, in which each word, phrase, or clause is more forceful than the one immediately preceding it. It illustrates the principle of development to full maturity. It is very effective if not overused.

EX.— He sacrificed his business, his home, and his honor for political gain.

EX.— Since concord was lost, friendship was lost; fidelity was lost; liberty was lost—all was lost.

11) Anticlimax

Anticlimax, the opposite of climax, is useful in humorous writing because it produces great surprise. It is considered an error in discourse unless purposely intended to produce a ridiculous effect.

EX.— He lost his wife, his child, his household goods, and his dog at one fell swoop.

12) Repetition

Repetition of the same word, for the purpose of emphasis or other rhetorical effect, is a figure of speech. Otherwise it is an error.

13) Parallelism

Parallelism is repearting the same idea in similar but slightly different language. It was a common device in Hebrew poetry.
14) Hyperbole

Hyperbole is a legitimate exaggeration for the sake of emphasis; not to mislead.

EX.— I am so hungry I could eat a horse.
EX.— They ran like greased lightning.
EX.— He is older than the hills.
EX.— Her brain is the size of a pea.
EX.— This car goes faster than the speed of light.

Tips on Using Figures of Speech

Always make sure figures of speech do not interfere with other more important words in your sentences. The purpose of using a figure of speech is to add vivdness and clearness to your writing, not hamper or hinder it. Once you have cultivated your imagination and learn to observe comparisons, you will notice that with careful observation figures of speech suggest themselves to you naturally.

For instance, if you want to describe a car speeding out of control toward you at night, you can create a vivid impression by it to some monster, like a dragon, whose fiery eyes glare at you through the darkness. If a simile sounds to awkward or slightly ridiculous, all you need to do is to drop the formal comparison and use an implied comparison, or metaphor.

Violations of Figures of Speech

Carelessness in our choice of words impairs the effectiveness of what we have to say. In our effort to make our diction exact, appropriate, and expressive we should do our utmost to avoid the following violations of effectiveness: (1) needless repetition, (2) exaggeration, (3) trite expressions, (4) hackneyed quotations, (5) overuse of figurative language, and (6) "fine writing."

1) Needless repetition.

Conciseness, the use of one expressive word in place of several words, makes our writing more effective. We should avoid tautology, which consists in repeating needless meaning in other words; and redundancy, which consists in using excess words.

Such expressions as in plain sight and clearly visible, his own individuality and personality, and azure blue illustrate what we mean by tautology.

Phrases such as advance forward, return back, join together, repeat again, finally at last, and rest up are examples of redundancy.

Good writing dictates that we must express ourselves concisely and clearly to benefit our readers.

2) Exaggeration

The careless use of excess words, as well as needless exaggeration of all other types, reduces rather than improves our effectiveness of our writing. Many of us overuse the words very and most, as well as many modifying words such as adorable, awful, deadly, elegant, exquisite, fascinating, ghastly, gorgeous, grand, great, horrible, lovely, magnificent, splendid, stupendous, superb, terrible, weird, beautifully, gorgeously, horribly, magnificently, powerfully, splendidly, terribly, and wonderfully. We should use these words only sparingly when they express exactly what we mean.

Our writing sounds weak and awkwards when we use such expressions as "I was literally scared to death," "I have a million things to do today!" or "I was so embarrassed, I thought I might die." Such expressions usually savor of insincerity, and they lack in accuracy and force. Basically, they are ineffective.

3) Trite expressions

Within the boundaries of correct English usage we should aim to develop individuality in our writing style. We cannot do so if we lazily allow ourselves to continue to use trite expressions, such as along this line, last but not least, green with envy, silence reigned supreme, back to the drawing board, and since the dawn of man. If we think clearly and choose words with exactness and force, we will have clear, meaningul writing.

4) Hackneyed quotations

Quotations and proverbs that have become timeworn by overuse impair the effectiveness of our writing. We should avoid such threadbare expressions as the following:

EX.— method in his madness
EX.— he that runs may read
EX.— What's in a name?
EX.— sermons in stones
EX.— the straight and narrow way
EX.— far from the madding crowd
EX.— the last rose of summer
EX.— There's no place like home
EX.— Absence makes the heart grow fonder
EX.— plain living and high thinking
EX.— Better late than never

5) Overuse of figurative language.

Figures of speech are valuable to add effectiveness of what we have to say. They should never be far-fetched, forced, or inappropriate. Use them instinctively, rather than as a result of invention. They should not call attention to themselves as a literary device, but should naturally and unobtrusively contribute their share to the force, vividness, and attractiveness of our expression. They are a means, not an end in themselves. Do not abuse such figures as hyperbole, apostrophe, epigram, irony, and euphemism. Be on our guard against overworked figurative expressions such as the grim reaper, the table groaned, brave as a lion, ran like a frightened deer, as sick as a dog, and as black as ink. We should make our own figures rather than accept them ready-made.

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