What Are the Different Types of Tropes?

Mark Wollacott

There are six common types of trope including irony, allegory and metaphor. There are also innumerable other kinds of tropes used in rhetoric from allusion to zeugma. A trope is any situation where a speaker, writer or poet plays with words. More specifically, it is where words are replaced with other words, but the meanings are kept the same. Tropes are also words that are kept the same with the meaning changing.

Hamlet uses an antanaclasis trope when he says, "tender yourself more dearly...or...you'll tender me a fool."
Hamlet uses an antanaclasis trope when he says, "tender yourself more dearly...or...you'll tender me a fool."

Metaphor is a common trope used in poetry, fiction and speeches. It is the direct substitution of one term, idea or object with another. While the surface detail of the metaphor changes, the inner meaning remains consistent. Metaphor tropes are often specific to cultures and may not be understood completely by outsiders.

"Life is like a box of chocolates," is a metaphor, which is a type of trope.
"Life is like a box of chocolates," is a metaphor, which is a type of trope.

Allegory is an extended metaphor, which spans an entire poem, story or work of art. The surface detail tells one story, but a deeper meaning can be gleaned when studied closely. A prime example of the allegory trope is “Animal Farm” by George Orwell. On the surface, it is a story of a farm where the animals rebel and then trouble ensues. The allegory is that the farm is a direct substitution for Tsarist Russia and the animals are the Bolsheviks who overthrow it.

George Orwell provided a great example of allegory with his book "Animal Farm".
George Orwell provided a great example of allegory with his book "Animal Farm".

Irony is similar to sarcasm in the fact that the surface detail says one thing, but a different meaning is implied. The irony trope is different from a ‘sense of irony’ where a person appreciates ironic events. There are three main types of irony: dramatic irony, spoken irony and situational irony.

Metonymy occurs when something is described using the name of something distinct, but related. For example, using the word ‘drink’ to mean alcohol, or ‘Westminster’ to mean the UK government and ‘the White House’ to mean the President of America's administration are types of metonymy. Like with metaphors, metonymy tropes are often culturally-specific and may not be understood by others.

Synecdoche is related to metonymy and is when the the whole is represented by a part of it. For example, the ‘Oval Office’ is used to mean the White House. Other examples include using ‘wheels’ to mean car and ‘engine’ to mean ‘train.’

Antanaclasis tropes occur when a word is repeated several times, but the meaning of the word subtly changes each time. William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” provides one such example with the line: “tender yourself more dearly…or…you’ll tender me a fool.” Antanaclasis tropes are types of puns often used in slogans and headlines.

Refering to the president or the administration as "the White House" is an example of metonymy.
Refering to the president or the administration as "the White House" is an example of metonymy.

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Discussion Comments


@SZapper - Metonymy does seem to be quite popular, especially on news shows. I think synecdoche is another one of those television tropes that almost gets overused.

I sometimes think movies go a little overboard with all the synecdoche. I know they probably do it to make the characters speech sound natural. But come on, why must they always say "wheels?" Can't they just call it a car? I don't know many people in real life that use that particular form of synecdoche too often.


I've never heard of metonymy before, but I think it is the trope that hear most often in every day life. I definitely hear people use the tropes mentioned in the article all the time. Another metonymy trope I hear a lot is people saying "Hollywood" when really they mean the film industry.

I can see how this type of trope is culturally specific though. Even if you knew what the American film industry was, if you didn't know what Hollywood was this tropes definition would make absolutely no sense to you!


@Mammmood - That’s hilarious. Yeah, tropes are not for little kids. They live in a world of literalism.

There are some things you might understand as a kid, I suppose. I used to read C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Of course this story is Christian allegory.

I didn't know that at the time. Someone explained it to me later on. Either way, it was still good fun reading that adventure story.


I have a funny story to share about the trope example given in the article for metonymy, specifically the example about “drinking” meaning alcohol consumption.

When I was but a little child, I didn’t understand some of the subtler uses of the English language as explained here in this article. I had heard, however, constant TV announcements encouraging us never to “drink and drive.”

I didn’t know that the word “drink” in that context meant alcohol consumption. One day my mother took me to a fast food place, to get me a hamburger, fries and a Coke. We got it to go and I was eating in the car.

You can probably guess the rest of the story. When we got to a stop light, I remembered the admonition about drinking and driving. So I made sure to put my Coke down and not drink it!


@jennythelib - The Wikipeda article on allegory has a whole list of modern works that are at least sometimes considered to be allegories. they are not really as straightforward as the old morality plays, of course. Many people, for instance, have read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as being an allegory supporting bimetallism! (In the book, Dorothy's slippers are silver, but ruby was chosen for the movie to better show off Technicolor.)

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is often seen as a Cold War allegory of detente, mistrust, etc., for instance; The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe looks a lot like a Christian allegory. Even Harry Potter has interesting tropes; maybe not a full-on allegory, but definitely rich in good vs. evil and so on.

Not al allegories play well. Avatar came off as a bit heavy-handed, I think, in its allegorical portrayal of the extermination of Native Americans.


Are there any other modern allegories besides Animal Farm? I know that allegories were more common in the MIddle Ages, especially with morality plays and so on. The characters would have obvious names, like Everyman, Charity, Vice, Patience, etc., and Everyman would make some kind of journal through perils of evil all the way to goodness.

But modern tastes don't run that way. And I've heard that George Orwell has repeatedly denied that Animal Farm is an allegory of any kind! Are there any other novels, plays, etc. in the modern era that could be considered an allegory?

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