Metonymy is used to create vivid imagery, add layers of meaning to a text, and convey ideas in a concise way. It’s commonly used in literature, newspaper headlines, and everyday speech.
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What is metonymy?
In literature, writers use metonymy to express an idea or thought in an original, poetic way that avoids repetition. For example, a writer might substitute a specific image for an abstract concept, like “cradle” to mean “birth.” This can help to add variety to their writing and make it more engaging.
However, metonymy is also common in everyday language, both written and spoken. In fact we often use metonymy in idiomatic phrases without noticing it. For example, we use metonymy when we ask someone “to lend a hand,” or when we refer to earning money as “putting bread on the table.”
Metonymy vs. synecdoche
While metonymy replaces a general idea or object with a related term, synecdoche uses a part of something to signify the whole (or vice versa, representing the whole with a part). With synecdoche, the relationship between the original word and its stand-in is much more precise: the stand-in is part of the word or idea it represents.
For example, referring to your car as “wheels” is synecdoche because wheels are a part of a car. On the other hand, “ride” is metonymy because it is a word associated with cars and driving in general, not a part of a car.
Because metonymy and synecdoche are so closely related, some sources consider synecdoche a subcategory of metonymy. However, there is no general consensus about this.
Worksheet: Metonymy vs. synecdoche
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Frequently asked questions about metonymy
What is an example of metonymy?
An example of metonymy is the phrase “the pen is mightier than the sword.”
Here, “the pen” is used to refer to writing, while “the sword” is used to refer to warfare and violence. In other words, it means that the written word is more effective than physical force.
What is the difference between metonymy and metaphor?
Metonymy and metaphor are both types of figurative language that relate one thing to another. However, they are not the same and should not be confused.
- Metonymy involves replacing a word or phrase with another one with which it is closely related (e.g., “ride” instead of “car”).
- Metaphor involves making a comparison between two seemingly unrelated things (e.g., “my life is a train wreck”).
In other words, metonymy is based on the association between two things, while metaphor is based on a comparison between two unlike things.