Synecdoche – how to understand it

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Synecdoche – definition

synecdoche Synecdoche is a figure of speech in which a part of something is substituted for the whole thing.

redbtn The part chosen is usually important or essential, and thus the whole (although implied) is easily recognised or understood.


In the expression ‘United won the match’, the term ‘United’ stands for ‘Manchester United Football Club’ [or Leeds, or some other team].

In the expression ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ the term ‘bread’ stands for the meals eaten each day.


redbtn Synecdoche [pronounced sin-eck-doh-key, by the way] is part of everyday speech. It is usually used quite unconsciously.

redbtn It is often used in imaginative writing such as fiction and poetry to clarify and enhance an image.

redbtn NB! If you can’t remember the difference between synecdoche and metonymy – don’t worry. You’re not alone.

redbtn In the expression ‘All hands on deck!’, the term ‘hands’ stands for ‘mariners’.

redbtn The term ‘hand’ has been chosen to represent the whole expression ‘able-bodied seaman’ [or in PC (politically correct) terms ‘sea-person’] because that is the most important feature required for work on deck.

redbtn In the expression ‘United won the match’, the term ‘United’ (in the case of Manchester United Football Club) might not appear to be the most important or essential item to represent the whole.

redbtn However, Manchester has two football teams — the other being Manchester City Football Club. A supporter of MUFC would therefore be selecting the one important lingustic feature which distinguished his team from the other fotball club.

redbtn The parts of the name ‘Manchester’ and ‘Football Club’ would be implied by the speaker, and understood by the listener.

redbtn Similarly, a supporter of Manchester City Football Club would say ‘City won the match’.

Self-assessment quiz follows …

© Roy Johnson 2004

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