Figures of Speech course

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This is the first of a number of pages about Figures of speech. (For a definition, see Figures of speech.) It suggests one form of a systematic programme of learning about figurative language. Many other ways of finding out are possible, and the divisions of the subject in this Guide are not the same as in some textbooks. They have been found to work with some students, however. You may find it suits your style of learning to mix ideas from many different teachers and sources to help you make sense of the ideas.

The first section of this introduction to Figures of Speech gives an outline of the suggested course. I have grouped the basic functions of the different ways of using them into four main areas, as to do so helps me, at any rate, to clarify the thinking behind the figures.

  • Figures of comparison – the largest group of all figurative uses of language.
  • Figures of meaning: in general, these are concerned with structuring the ideas in a text, or influencing how the reader is to understand it.

There follow two ways of patterning a text.

Of these, the first (comparison) and the last (sound patterning) are probably the most important.

Other Miscellaneous Figures which do not fit into the four groups neatly can be found by name; there is also a List of these. There is one warning: do not waste your time with this leaflet unless:

  • you are curious about figures of speech, and want to know more than you do;
  • you need to understand them, because you are studying literature or language;
  • you want to understand why some teacher has marked your writing wrong; or
  • some similar reason – i.e. one that seems good to you.

If you don’t want to learn, you won't learn well. Be warned: to learn this topic well is not always easy, and may take some hard concentration. Indeed, it is a branch of scholarship which some may find very academic, sterile and trivial. It offers great scope to taxonomists – people who arrange things into classes, types or groups. (You may care to read the historical note.) Many of the names for Figures listed will strike most users of English as entirely unnecessary – as they do me. Except when I come across a context in which they are useful. Then I use them.