Synecdoche: Definition, Types and examples



Synecdoche is a figure of speech in which one thing is substituted for another, intimately associated with it. The synecdoche (literary means the understanding of one thing for another), like metonymy, consists of the substitution of one name for another. In this figure, one thing is meant, while some other thing, associated with it, is said. The relation, that the thing named bears to the thing meant, is actually more intimate in a synecdoche than in a metonymy.

For example, when it is said, ‘all hands are at work, here all men are actually meant, and it is evident that the relationship between ‘hands’ and ‘men’ is inseparable, in fact, intimate here.

Features of Synecdoche:

The essential features of the synecdoche are :
(i) One thing is named and another thing is meant.
(ii) There is a relation between the thing named and the thing meant.
(iii) The relation is intimatė.

Types of Synecdoche

In Synecdoche, there are different modes by which one thing is designated by means of another. These modes form the varieties of the synecdoche, which may be listed thus:

(i) A part for the whole.
Here a part is said to mean or designate the whole thing or body.


  • There are five hundred hands in our factory (a hand is a part of the whole body of a man.)
  • And cried, a sail ! a sail (sail here refers to the ship; sail is the part of the whole, ship).
  • “All states can reach it, and all hands (men) conceive.”
  • William has three wheels. ( wheel stands for the ‘car’)

(ii) The whole for the part.
A whole thing is said, but a part of it is meant


  • The police were at my neighbor’s house last night. ( The word “police” can be used to represent individual officers versus the entire police force).
  • I went out to dinner with my friends. ( The word “friends” can be used to refer only to certain individuals rather than everyone a person one considers friends).
  • Today Brazil will play with Australia. ( Brazil for the Brazil football team and Australia stands for the Australian football team).

(iii) The species for the genus.
Sometimes, the species may be used to denote the genus.


  • Silver and gold (riches) I have none (“silver and gold’ are the species of the genus “riches).
  • Thou must earn thy bread (food) by the sweat of thy brow (food is the genus of which bread is the species).
  • Man does not live by bread (food) alone,

Also read; Asyndeton and Polysyndeton: Definition, Examples and their Importance

(iv) The genus for the species.
The opposite process-putting the genus for the species—also constitutes a variety of the synecdoche.


  • The lazy creature (person) ever sleeps (the ‘creature’ is the genus, while the man is the species).
  • Wilfred Owen died in action (Refers to battle, which is the species of the genus, action).
  • “Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird.”-Keats [The species ‘nightingale’ is substituted by the genus

(v) The concrete for the abstract.
In this case, an abstract quality is meant by means of something


  • There is a good deal of fox in his character. (Here the abstract quality ‘cunning ‘ is meant by the use of  the concrete ‘fox’)
  • “The father yearns, in the true prince’s breast.” -John Dryden
    (The concrete human being father is used to substitute the abstract quality ‘fatherly feeling’).

(vi) The absract for the concrete.
Here the abstract quality is employed to denote the concrete element, the living being, or inanimate object, possessing the same.


  • There were gathered together, grace and female loveliness, wit and learning (gracious and lovely women and men of wit and learning: the abstract qualities mean the persons having them). -Thomas Macaulay
  • Tyranny is dead! Run hence, proclaim, cry it about the streets (tyranny—for tyrant; the abstract quality ‘tyranny’ stands for the person who has it).-  Shakespeare
  • Weariness can snore upon the flint, when restive” ( The abstract quality ‘Weariness’ stands for weary people and restive (abstract quality) stands for the concrete restive people.


(vii) The material for the thing made.
Here the thing made of a particular material is meant, though that very material is mentioned.


  • Rima was dressed in silk (Silk stands for silk clothes; silk is the material of which the dress is made).
  • The prisoner was bound in iron (iron fetters ; iron is the material of which the fetter is made).
  • The canvas (picture, painted on the canvas ) looked livelier than the person himself. (Canvas stands for picture, painted on the canvas )

(viii) An exemplary individual for the class.
Sometimes, an individual, who holds a high position in his or her class country, or society is mentioned to mean the whole class.


  • “Let him be Caesar (a great hero; Caesar stands for the class of heroes) – William Shakespeare
    “Some Cromwell guiltless of his country’s blood” (Cromwell for a great politician ; Cromwell stands for the class of politicians). —Thomas Gray

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