Metonymy Vs Synecdoche

Metonymy and synecdoche are the two tools among figurative language that have a profound impact on the literature. Their functions are sometime similar as they contribute to the depth and meaning of communication. They however have different ways of regulation. 

What is Metonymy?

One of the most common kinds of figurative speech is called metonymy. It is when an object or idea is designated not by its name but with the closest thing related to it. 

It pairs a like word for one thing with a like word for another, related thing. Metonymy allows to bring together several entities, which work as synonyms or are bound together by closeness or a relationship.

What is Synecdoche?

Synecdoche is a figure of speech wherein the part of something represents the whole, but being whole can stand for a part. 

It is one of the easiest forms of metonymy and it occurs because of the common whole- belonging relationship between the expressed thing and the replaced object. Through synecdoche, writers can give an image of a sign of a thing or phenomenon.

Importance of Metonymy

Metonymy serves several important functions in language and literature:

Conciseness: Metonymy enables authors to describe notions or our internal relationships in a simple and brief form by employing a particular word or phrase to represent a whole expression.

Emphasis: Through metonymy readers can get concentrated on the specific notions or things and therefore isolate the exceptions or the important circumstances just for the interest of the main idea.

Emotional Impact: The simulation effect of metonymy causes the emotional reaction of the audience, and the resonance with the audience is deeper because of direct link between the metonymic reference and the audience experiences and associations.

Importance of Synecdoche

Synecdoche plays a crucial role in language and literature:

Specificity: There are many instances when a writer chooses to talk about only a part of a thing or about a concept and this helps in creation of vivid imagery that results in details description that reflects the central idea.

Emphasis: This figure of speech, used to designate a part for the whole, enhances the portion to be of great consequence and meaning. It makes the reader to pay attention to the central figure.

Poetic Imagery: Elsewhere in the body of the poem, synecdoche is used to make vivid mental impressions as a consequence of the selection of a fragmental feature which reveals more about the entire story.

Examples of Metonymy in literature


“Julius Caesar” by William Shakespeare

“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones.”

Here, “ears” takes a metonymic role to represent attention towards something. When Antony says, ‘lend me your ears’, it is not so much a kind of literal request to ears of audience, but an demand of the attention of the people and their readiness to listen. 

Shakespeare employs the metonymy for Antony’s speech, and thus highlights the significance and attention of the audience in what the speaker is communicating.


“The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway

“I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory and the sacrifices were like the stockyards at Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury it. There were many words that you could not stand to hear and finally only the names of places had dignity. Certain numbers were the same way and certain dates and these with the names of the places were all you could say and have them mean anything. Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and the dates.”

In the passage, the writer uses “Chicago stockyards” as a synonym for the wasteful nature of war. Animal stockyards where animals are being heavily butchered show the useless death nobody regrets.

Hence, the author maneuvers the readers towards the question, “What’s the significance of war that leads to such losses?” 

Furthermore, the narrator resorts to naming places, figures, numbers and dates as a means of personification or metonymy to evoke the full reality of war that extends beyond the realm of abstract notions like glory and honor.


“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

Here, the metonymy “skin” represents someone’s inner-world. Atticus is not thinking to push Scout into someone else’ skin; he however recommends that she needs to make effort to wear another person’s shoes and make an effort to understand what they are thinking. 

The author compares racism to a snake- a symbol of something threatening that could cause harm to people. In other words, he uses the metonymy to reinforce the value of compassion and understanding in human relations, and introduces Atticus’s intellectual presence of a person who is fair.

Examples of Synecdoche in literature


“Hamlet” by William Shakespeare

“To be, or not to be, that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them?”

Here “arms” means the weapons or fighting itself, which represents synecdoche. Hamlet does not mean the literal reading of taking up actual weapons against the “troubled sea”; instead, he is brooding whether one should accept or oppose the hardships of life or to endure them peacefully. 

The use of synecdoche in the aforesaid example emphasizes the metaphorical battle that Hamlet is considering and adds depth to his internal struggle.


“The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck

“And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed. The great owners ignored the three cries of history. The land fell into fewer hands, the number of the dispossessed increased, and every effort of the great owners was directed at repression. The money was spent for arms, for gas to protect the great holdings, and spies were sent to catch the murmuring of revolt so that it might be stamped out. The changing economy was ignored, plans for the change ignored; and only means to destroy revolt were considered, while the causes of revolt went on.”

In the passage, “hands” metaphorically stands for the owner class, including a huge number of rich landowners who possessed most of the land. 

When the writer uses the term “fewer hands” to state the concentration of landholding, he brings back into focus the equality curtailment and power imbalance that was in the Great Depression days. 

The other symbols, such as “arms” and “gas” further represent the use of weapons and tear gas by the authorities to suppress the revolt of the displaced farmers. These synecdoche’s underline how these lords treat the land as if it were a subordinate that had to obey their commands and never question their motives.


“Hope is the thing with feathers” by Emily Dickinson

“Hope is the thing with feathers – That perches in the soul – And sings the tune without the words – And never stops – at all -“

In this poem, Dickinson used “a bird” with feathers, as a synecdoche, representing eventually a symbol of a hope or happiness. 

Dickinson, by contrasting hope with rumpling and wringing mankind’s soul, implies that hope provides an active and constitutive element within an individual. 

The imagery through synecdoche not only creates a clear and solid image, but the notion of hope is brought out by the poet as a survivor that prevails. 

Tiny bird, that seemingly cannot stop and sing, conveys to us the symbolism of hope through frequent singing program, though without words.

They give richness and symbolism of words and painting them vibrantly. However, the part-whole shifts, or their mutual symbolism, does not make prose more palatable to readers; on the contrary, it rather makes it better developed and interesting for its readers.

Metonymy Vs Synecdoche
Metonymy Vs Synecdoche

Many literary devices have the opportunity to create a stronger connection and set a mood while appealing to the subconscious grounded in metonymy and synecdoche. 

Unlike metonymy, which implies, just as two related things, synecdoche uses a piece to speak for the whole, or a situation where there is the reverse. In our opinion, both are tools of communication and they make the communication more effectively. They do this using short and meaningful sentences, the right keywords and the powerful imagery. 

The audience can personally relate to the metonymy and synecdoche that writers incorporate into their own writings. Such artistry and impact of written word would be highly appealing to the audience.

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