In order to recognize sentences with paradoxical elements, listeners or readers can build a strong concept of what constitutes paradox, and look for specific logical setups in sentences or phrases. A paradox is a contradiction in terms. Sentences with these logical contradictions play various roles in communication and the arts. By examining how paradox is used in language and what it represents, individuals can build their skills in identifying sentences with paradox.
One way to learn how to identify sentences with paradox is to look at examples of these types of sentences. A paradoxical sentence can be extremely short, or much longer. A classic example of the short form paradox can be seen in a statement like, “less is more.” Although English speakers usually understand the subjective meaning of this phrase, it presents a classic paradox on its face, because “less” by its literal definition, cannot be “more,” and is technically its polar opposite.
Longer sentences with paradox are often part of literary or dramatic quotes. Many different examples can show readers how paradox operates within literature. One classic example has survived for decades, even becoming a popular term in modern English: “Orwellian.”
The use of the word “Orwellian” represents a reference to the writer George Orwell, who used paradox extensively to illustrate the corruptive power of deceptive language in a regime, notably, in his popular books 1984 and Animal Farm. For example, an Orwellian paradox quote found in Animal Farm goes like this: “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” The paradox here may or may not be evident to readers; if all animals are essentially equal, there should be no following comparison, and the phrase “more equal than others” is itself somewhat paradoxical. Paradoxes like this are a literary device, and cause the reader to stop and ponder the author's meaning.
Another way to recognize sentences with paradox is to understand various classes of phrases that usually contain paradox. One of these is the oxymoron. An oxymoron is, by definition, a phrase or sentence with paradox. Examples include phrases like “jumbo shrimp” or “expedited delay.” These may come into existence entirely by accident, or they may be deliberately created to express irony.
Those who want to understand how paradox works can also break sentences down into logical clauses. A longer paradoxical sentence will often include two clauses separated by a colon, semicolon, or other punctuation. When these clauses contradict each other, the sentence will often form a paradox.