Rhetorical Figures Beginning with “A”
Whether you’re preparing for the SAT essay or an important literature test, it’s important to take some time to study the figures of rhetoric! Some are common, some are obscure, but all of them are interesting (to someone who loves English, at least). Today, we’ll take a look at some rhetorical figures whose names begin with the letter A. Note that this is hardly a complete list. Also note that different Greek, Latin, or English names exist for the same figure. Now let’s learn about some rhetorical figures! Soon you’ll be on your way to impressing your English teachers or the graders of the SAT essay!
abecedarian - An acrostic whose first letters follow the order of the alphabet. For example: Annoying, bold, charismatic, dapper, excellent…
acoloutha - The substitution of one word for another whose meaning is close enough for the words to be used interchangeably. For example: Mark rushed home. Mark ran to the store. Mark ran home. Mark rushed to the store.
accismus - Feigning refusal of a gift that is actually desired. For example, “Oh, there’s no way I would ask that of you. I couldn’t possibly accept that… You shouldn’t have…”
accumulatio - compiling a list of important points (summarizing) and articulating them again in a strong, climactic fashion. For example: “A generation goes and a generation comes, yet the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and rushes back again to the place from which it rises. The wind blows south, then returns to the north, round and round goes the wind, on its rounds it circulates. All streams flow to the sea, yet the sea does not fill up.” - Ecclesiastes, the Old Testament.
acrostic - poem in which the first letters of lines spell out a specific word
acyrologia - using a word incorrectly, especially a word that sounds similar but whose meaning is far from the meaning of the original word. A kind of malapropism. Also called a “Dogberryism,” as the character Dogberry in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing uses so many of them. For example, Dogberry asks: “Dost thou not suspect my place? Dost thou not suspect my years?” He means to say “respect” instead of “suspect.
acyron - using a word opposite from the word which is meant. The contrast is often startling, confusing, and makes the reader think. For example, “Never could I have hoped for such great woe” (Aeneid).
adage - a short, pithy saying of general wisdom. For example, “A penny saved is a penny earned.”
adhortatio - an exhortation of promises, threats, or commands intended to change one’s opinion or desires. Queen Margaret’s speech in Henry VI part 3 in Act 5, Scene 4 contains many good examples:
And what is Edward but ruthless sea?
What Clarence but a quicksand of deceit?
And Richard but a ragged fatal rock?
All these the enemies to our poor bark.
Say you can swim; alas, ’tis but a while!
Tread on the sand; why, there you quickly sink:
Bestride the rock; the tide will wash you off,
Or else you famish; that’s a threefold death.
This speak I, lords, to let you understand,
If case some one of you would fly from us,
That there’s no hoped-for mercy with the brothers
More than with ruthless waves, with sands and rocks.
Why, courage then! what cannot be avoided
‘Twere childish weakness to lament or fear.
adianoeta - an expression that contains a secondary, more subtle meaning than its most obvious meaning. For example, a man looking out at a landscape next to a beautiful woman says “What a beautiful view.”
adynaton - a statement that serves to highlight the impossibility of a situation or thing. For example, “…when pigs fly” or, in Shakespeare, “I will sooner have a beard grow in the palm of my hand than he shall get one of his cheek.”
aetiologia - a figure of reasoning in which one makes a claim and then explains the cause of that claim, usually with a simple relative clause of explanation. For example, in Shakespeare:
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest–
For Brutus is an honourable man;
So are they all, all honourable men–
Come I to speak in Caesar’s funeral.
Another example, from the Bible: “I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ…”
affirmatio - stating or affirming something as if it had been questioned when it really hadn’t.
aganactesis - an exclamation or outburst arising out of deep indignation. For example: “Ugh! What an idiot! I can’t believe he had the nerve to show up late! He only cares about himself! I swear…”
allegory - a metaphor sustained throughout whole sentences or a whole work. For example, George Orwell’s Animal Farm is an allegory about the Stalinist era in Russia
alleotheta - substitution of one case, mood, gender, etc. for another. For example, “Each student should do their best.” Here the singular word “each” is given the plural pronoun “their” instead of the singular “his or her”
alliteration - repetition of consonant sounds. For example, “Seven snakes slithered softly in the snow.”
ampliatio - using a name for someone or something before that name has been earned or after that name no longer applies. For example, calling Simon the leper “Simon the leper” after he’s been healed by Jesus.
anacoenosis - asking for the opinion of the audience or judges, usually implying they have something in common with the speaker. For example, in the Bible:
And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard. What could I have done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? —Isaiah 5:3-4
anacoloutha - substituting one word for another in which the meanings are close enough to work but the words can’t strictly be used interchangeably. For example, “The sun’s glory shone on the land.” Here, “glory” is used for “light,” but you would not use “light” in place of “glory” in other contexts.
anacoluthon - interrupting the logical, grammatical flow of a sentence; beginning a sentence in one way but ending it in a different way than grammar and logic would lead one to expect. Often a characteristic of spoken speech. For example, in Shakespeare’s King Lear: “I will have such revenges on you both, That all the world shall–I will do such things, What they are, yet I know not…”
anadiplosis - the repetition of the last word or phrase from a sentence at the beginning of the next sentence. For example, “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
anamnesis - calling up the memory of past matters, usually thinkers or authors. For example, “And wasn’t it John Keats who taught us beauty is truth and truth, beauty?”
anangeon - making an argument on the basis of inevitability or necessity. For example, “Yes, I was speeding, officer. My wife is pregnant!”
anaphora - repetition of a word of phrase at the beginning of lines or sentences. For example, John of Gaunt in Shakespeare’s Richard II:
This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as [a] moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands;
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings [. . .]
This land of such dear souls, this dear dear land,
Dear for her reputation through the world,
Is now leas’d out — I die pronouncing it —
Like to a tenement or pelting farm.
anapodoton - Suggesting a main clause by a subordinating clause, but the main clause never comes. For example, “If they only knew…” We never hear what results from the “if” statement.
anastrophe - departure from normal word order for emphasis. For example, William Butler Yeats’s “And a small cabin build there” in “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” instead of “And build a small cabin there.”
anesis - adding a sentence that lessens the effect of what’s been said so far. For example: “The play’s incredible. It’s won so many awards. Tonight’s our only chance to see it! Too bad tickets are sold out.”
antanaclasis - Repetition of a word whose meaning changes. For example, Bejamin Franklin: “Your argument is sound… All sound.”
antanagoge - putting a positive spin on something generally assumed to negative, painful, or difficult. For example, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Or, alternatively, “Pain is weakness leaving the body.”
anthimeria - substituting one part of speech for another. For example, “Presidential hopefuls are meeting in Iowa today.” Or, alternatively: “Google it!”
anthropopatheia - ascribing human attributes to God. For example, “God smiled on the land…”
anthypophora - a form of reasoning in which one raises and then answers one’s own questions or objections. For example, in Virginia Woolf: “But, you will object, you have no time to think… That excuse shall not serve you, Madam.”
anticategoria - turning an accusation against an adversary who has just made the accusation. “You’re a liar!” “No, you’re a liar!”
antilogy - a contradiction in terms or ideas. For example, “Act natural.”
antimetabole - repetition of words in successive clauses in reverse grammatical order. For example, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” (John F. Kennedy).
antiprosopopoeia - representing humans as inanimate objects. For example, “She was a doormat, letting him walk all over her.”
antiptosis - substituting one grammatical case for another (apparent in English with pronouns, as when a baby says “Me want food!”)
antirrhesis - refuting someone’s authority or opinions in a reprehensive manner. For example, “What does he know about politics? He’s an idiot who just reads whatever’s on his teleprompter. He’s not smart enough to form opinions of his own…” etc.
antisagoge - making a concession before one’s point, as in “Yes, it’s hard work, but it pays off” or, alternatively, using hypothetical scenarios to illustrate reward and punishment, as in “Do your homework and get good grades, or skip class and fail!”
antithesis - juxtaposing opposing words or ideas. For example, Hamlet’s famous “To be, or not to be, that is the question…”
antonomasia - substituting a descriptive phrase for a proper name or vice versa. For example, “Mother of Dragons” instead of “Daenerys Targaryen.”
apagoresis - a statement designed to inhibit someone from doing something. For example, “If you have more than three unexcused absences, you will fail the class.”
aphaeresis - omission of a syllable at the beginning of a word. For example, “Reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic.”
aphorismus - questioning the meaning of a word. For example, King Richard in Richard II: “How can you say to me I am a king?”
apocope - omitting a letter or syllable at the end of a word. For example, Alexander Pope: “What oft was thought, but ne’er so well expressed.”
apophasis - rejecting a list of reasons why a certain thing should be done and affirming another reason, considered the most valid reason. For example: “Don’t do it for your mom and dad. Don’t do it for your teachers. Don’t do it for your friends. Do it for yourself.”
aporia - deliberating with oneself as though in doubt about a matter.
aposeopesis - breaking off suddenly in the middle of speech, usually due to emotion.
apostrophe - changing the subject of address, usually directly addressing an idea, an abstraction, or an inanimate object. For example, Keats’s “Thou wast not born for death, immortal bird!”
appositio - appending an explanatory or descriptive element. For example, “George Washington, the first American president, warned against foreign entanglements.”
assonance - repetition of similar vowel sounds. “True, the hues of blue are cruel.”
asyndeton - omission of conjunctions between sentences. For example, “I came, I saw, I conquered.”
auxesis - arranging words or phrases in order or force or importance. Alternatively, referring to something in disproportionately large terms.
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Learn more about these rhetorical figures and many, many more on Gideon O. Burton’s splendid BYU web site Silva Rhetoricae: The Forest of Rhetoric.
Also, a great book for those interested in an engaging discussion of common rhetorical figures is Elements of Eloquence, by Mark Forsyth. It’s the perfect introduction for someone who doesn’t know much about rhetoric.
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Cool, right? And these are just some of the rhetorical figures beginning with “A”! Stay tuned to learn more rhetorical figures. Soon, you’ll be impressing your English teachers and improving your powers of analysis on the SAT essay. For more English topics, as well as plenty of SAT and ACT prep tips, check out the rest of our blog. Looking for 1-on-1 ACT or SAT prep tutoring to help you with the college application process? Want to join an SAT or ACT group class? Contact us today! We’re perfect-scoring tutors with years of experience helping students achieve the SAT and ACT scores they need to make their dreams a reality!