What Is a Trope? | Definition & Examples

Rhetoric updated on  December 6, 2023 4 min read
In rhetoric, a trope is a word or phrase that implies something different to its ordinary meaning. Instead of its literal meaning, a trope generates a figurative meaning. This is usually done to add flair to written or spoken language.

Trope example
“The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together.”

In this quote from All's Well that Ends Well, Shakespeare does not literally mean that life is a web. Instead, he uses a trope called a metaphor to suggest that life resembles a web: it is complicated and the good and the bad are entangled.

Tropes are common in literature, but also in everyday speech, advertising, and politics. If you want to explore creative writing, use QuillBot's paraphrasing tool!

Trope meaning

A trope is a type of figure of speech or rhetorical device that represents a deviation from the common use of a word or phrase. There are several different types of tropes, such as metaphors, similes, and paradoxes, and their role is to help us say new things without having to invent new words. Writers use tropes to create imagery and add layers of meaning to keep their readers engaged.

This definition of trope is the oldest one (its meaning originates from the Greek word “tropos,” meaning “turn” or “manner”). However, the word “trope” is also used to denote a storytelling convention, recurring theme, or motif in creative works.

Specific tropes are characteristic of certain genres. For example, decaying houses, nightmares, and bad weather conditions are common tropes in Gothic literature. Tropes can usefully provide a familiar framework for storytelling. However, when tropes are overused, they become clichés.

The word trope is an example of a phenomenon called semantic change, whereby the meaning of a word changes over time. However, the two definitions of trope are not unrelated: the frequent use of a trope as a figure of speech eventually becomes a distinct feature of a particular genre.

Trope examples

There are several different types of tropes. The four main tropes are:


A metaphor is an implicit comparison between two unrelated things. Metaphors state that one thing is another to illustrate hidden similarities between them, to explain a complex idea, or for the sake of symbolism. Although they are mostly associated with literature, metaphors are also used in everyday speech.

Trope examples: Metaphor
Slowly but steadily, she climbed the ladder of success.
John is an open book; it’s impossible for him to hide his true feelings.
What a mess! This place is a zoo.


Metonymy occurs when a word or phrase is replaced with something associated with it. For example, we use metonymy in everyday conversations when we refer to the entire American movie industry as “Hollywood” or to the monarchy as “the crown.”

Trope examples: Metonymy
Lend me your ears (your attention) for a moment.
The article portrayed them as the up-and-coming start-up ready to conquer Silicon Valley (the American tech industry).
The pen (diplomacy) is mightier than the sword (warfare).


Synecdoche is a type of trope in which a part is used to represent the whole (e.g., “wheels” for car) or the whole is used to represent a part (“society” for high society).

Trope examples: Synecdoche
You have to drive because I can’t drive a stick (manual transmission).
They can’t afford another child; they already have too many mouths to feed (people).
All hired hands (laborers) were paid at the end of the harvest season.


Irony occurs when the surface meaning of a statement or situation is different to the intended, underlying meaning (e.g., when someone says one thing but means another).

Trope examples: Irony
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

This famous opening from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is an ironic statement that sets the tone for the entire novel. The words “universally acknowledged” and “must be” present the matter of marriage as a pressing issue for single wealthy men. However, this is more a societal expectation rather than the truth. Moreover, as we see in the story, it’s mostly women who are trying to get married, or mothers trying to marry off their daughters to wealthy men.

Do you want to know more about common mistakes, commonly confused words, rhetorical devices, or other language topics? Check out some of our other language articles full of examples and quizzes.

Common mistakes

Commonly confused words


Whoa or woah

Advisor vs adviser


Theirs or their's

Accept vs except


Ours or our's

Affect vs effect

Verbal irony

Forty or fourty

Among vs between


Sence or sense

Anymore vs any more


Frequently asked questions about tropes

What’s the difference between schemes and tropes?

Schemes and tropes are both rhetorical devices, but they have different functions.

While schemes are related to word order, syntax, letters, and sounds, tropes are related to the meaning of words.

  • Onomatopoeia is an example of a scheme that deals with sounds. Words like “boom” and “howl” are schemes in which the sound of a word emulates the sound of the thing that the word describes.
  • Oxymoron is a trope that consists of a self-contradictory combination of words, such as “friendly fight” or “falsely true.”

What is the difference between synecdoche and metonymy?

Synecdoche and metonymy are both types of tropes used in rhetoric. Although both involve replacing one word with another, they are not the same thing.

While synecdoche involves replacing a specific part of something with the whole, metonymy involves replacing a word or phrase with a related one. For example, “stars and stripes” is a synecdoche for the American flag because these are part of the flag. On the other hand, “the crown” is a metonymy for the monarchy.

What is a synonym of trope?

You can find some synonyms and near synonyms for the two meanings of “trope” below:



Kassiani has an academic background in Communication, Bioeconomy and Circular Economy. As a former journalist she enjoys turning complex information into easily accessible articles to help others.

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