Synekdoche – Rhetorical Styles

What is a Synekdoche? (Definition)

Image result for rhetoricThe Synekdoche belongs to the tropics . The actually intended word is replaced by another word. The substitution can be a generic term or sub-concept of the actual word.


  • “For the garden party, I expect two bratwursts per nose .” – This refers to a guest, ie a human being; the common conceptual field is the human body.
  • “Listen to the chirping: Nature awakens!” – These are the first birds that can be heard in the spring, so only a part of the comprehensive nature.

A synekdoche can therefore be a narrower term that means a comprehensive one (nose = human) or vice versa (nature = birds). It is always a change in the scope of the term (singulation or summary).

What are tropics?

Tropics is the generic term for a number of stylistic devices . In a trope (also: Tropus) is always an improper and pictorial expression. The meaning is not directly formulated, but replaced by another linguistic phrase. This comes either from the immediate vicinity or from another area of ​​imagination. It is used to make what is said more vivid and lively or to decorate a speech.

The term derives from the Greek tropos = turn . Even in Greek antiquity, tropics were popular as a means of rhetoric or stylistics. They were separated from each other and individually defined. The tropics include allegory , antonomatism, emphasis, euphemism , hyperbole , irony , catachesis (dead metaphor), Litotes , Metalepse, metaphor , metonymy , periphrase, personification , riddles, sarcasm, and synekdoche.

The term “synekdoche” is derived from the Greek synekdoché = to understand, to take along (one expression by another).

Variants of Synekdoche

The best known forms of Synekdoche are Pars pro toto and Totum pro parte . Closely related to this is Singularis pro plurali .

1st part stands for whole (Pars pro toto)

The replacement word almost always has a closer meaning to the source word. This is called Pars pro toto , a part that actually means the whole thing.


  • “Only seven heads came to the lecture.” – heads = persons
  • “He has to feed four hungry mouths .” – Mouths = children
  • “They live under one roof .” – roof = house

2. whole stands for part (Totum per parte)

Sometimes, however, synekdoche may also have a larger term for a smaller one from the same field. This is much less common. Therefore, the term Totum per parte is less known and is used less frequently.


  • “I do not want to use chemistry for cleaning.” – Chemistry = cleaning agent with toxic chemicals
  • “Before the announcement, we light the Christmas tree .” – Christmas tree = Christmas tree candles

3. singular stands for plural (singularis per plurali)

In poetry or advertisement often the replacement of the multiple by the simple appears. Thus, the effect of the statement is reinforced or underlined their general validity.


  • “Noble be man , helpful and good.” (Goethe) – Man = the totality of all human beings
  • “Meica makes the sausage .” (Meica Fleischwarenfabrik) – Sausages = sausages that are relevant to the market

Other subspecies of the Synekdoche can be:

  • Plural stands for singular (Pluralis pro singulari) : ” We Wilhelm , by the grace of God German Emperor, King of Prussia”
  • Genus stands for Species (Genus pro specie) : ” Mortals and Gods”
  • Species stands for species (species pro genere) : »Our daily bread (= essential food )«
  • The following stands for the preceding : » Wine replaces Most «
  • The foregoing stands for the following : » Hops and malt stand for beer «
  • A certain number stands for a particularly large number : “I have a thousand things to do.”
  • Material for final product : »He plays with the iron (= weapon).«

Differentiation to other stylistic devicesImage result for literature

Synekdoche and metaphor

The danger of confusing the Synekdoche with the metaphor is small. The metaphor replaces the actually intended term with one from another conceptual field .


  • “Deserts ship ” for camels – from the field of nautical
  • » Flood of Regulations« for a comprehensive set of rules – from the field of natural phenomena

Synekdoche and metonymy

The Synekdoche is closely related to the metonymy . The transitions are flowing. It is true for both that the actual term comes from the same context as the replacement. If it is about the upper and lower concept, there is a Synekdoche. If the source and replacement words are in a different real relationship to each other, the stylistic device is a metonymy. The relationship can be temporal, spatial or causal, for example.


  • “The Gothic created buildings for the glory of God.” – Gothic means the people of that era
  • ” Berlin does not comment on the topic.” – Berlin means the members of the government.
  • »He likes to quote from his Schiller .« – Schiller means the work (= consequence) of the poet (= cause)

Sometimes synekdochen are also regarded as special forms of metonymy.

Antonomasie as a special case of Synekdoche

In the case of the Antonomasie, the proper name of a historical or known person becomes the generic name; the name stands for people with the same characteristics as the original typical representative.


  • “Demosthenes” = great speakers
  • “Croesus” = rich and generous man
  • “Rockefeller” = billionaire
  • “Hercules” = strong man
  • “Salomon” = wise judge