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Synecdoche in Literature: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:00 Definition of Synecdoche
  • 0:15 Examples in Speech
  • 1:10 Examples in Dialogue
  • 2:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: J.R. Hudspeth

Jackie has taught college English and Critical Thinking and has a Master's degree in English Rhetoric and Composition

Learn more about synecdoche. How is it defined? How have legendary authors used it in their writing? Read on to explore how synecdoche functions in literature.

Definition of Synecdoche

Synecdoche is a figure of speech where part of something is used to represent the whole thing. We often use synecdoche in casual language, and writers often use it to create realistic dialogue for their characters that sound more natural and realistic.

Examples in Speech

Let's look at the following sentence:

Joan saved up $5,000 to get some new wheels.

In this case, Joan did not literally buy only wheels for $5,000; Joan actually bought a whole car. However, we often use part of the car, wheels, to stand in for the whole thing, the word 'car.' This is an example of synecdoche.

Let's look at another example to get a better sense of how synecdoche works. Look at the following sentence:

The hard hats continued to work on the side of the building until lunchtime came at one in the afternoon.

Again, this sentence does not literally mean that hard hats have come alive and started working on a building! Instead, the term 'hard hats' is used as a form of synecdoche in which the hard hats are just a part of gear that the construction workers are wearing, but they stand in for the whole construction worker.

Examples in Dialogue

Writers often use synecdoche to be eye-catching and to write dialogue in a more realistic manner. Oftentimes, we use synecdoche in our everyday speech, and writers want to mimic this type of speech in their own characters so that those characters sound natural.

For example, a farm worker in Gary Paulsen's The Haymeadow, describes himself as a 'hand' in the following spoken dialogue: 'I didn't hire on to shoe horses. I hired on to hand, and that's it. Being a hand doesn't mean shoeing a whole herd of horses come summer every year.'

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