Literary Devices: Euphemism, Paradox, Oxymoron, and Hyperbole

Contributor: Allison Crews. Lesson ID: 13610

This lesson will explore four useful literary devices. You will define and categorize them, as well as place them in literary context using examples from Shakespeare's works.


Literary Studies, Writing

English / Language Arts
learning style
personality style
Lion, Otter
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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You may have heard the phrases rush hour traffic and jumbo shrimp are oxymorons.

You might have even pronounced hyperbole as "hyper-bowl" (it's hy-PER-buh-lee, if you haven't heard it said out loud before).

Even though these literary terms have odd-sounding names, they aren't as intimidating as you might think. Read on to master these terms!

book master

Literary devices are elements of figurative language that add depth to their work.

In using these elements, works take on layers of meaning and a broader scope of interpretation and analysis.

Lots of students are familiar with metaphor, simile, and alliteration. The four devices in this lesson, however, are a little less well-understood.

man shrugging

First, read the definition of each term:



A euphemism is a mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something distasteful, inappropriate, or unpleasant.

Examples of common euphemisms include saying something like passed away instead of died or saying We have to let you go instead of You're fired!



A paradox is a statement that appears to be contradictory at first but then makes sense upon reflection.

Common examples of paradox include the phrases earn money by spending it and do the thing you think you cannot do.



An oxymoron is the combination of opposite or extremely dissimilar words into a single phrase.

Deafening silence, alone together, and definitely maybe are all examples of common oxymorons.



A hyperbole is an over-the-top exaggeration used for emphasis.

Common examples of hyperbole are I could eat a horse and this bag weighs a ton.

Oxymoron and paradox seem pretty similar by definition.

  • What do you think the difference between the two is?

First, you have to understand the difference between a rhetorical device and a figure of speech.

Rhetorical device means using techniques in writing to lead the audience toward a meaning or desired emotional response through a slightly different or unique perspective.

Figures of speech are words or phrases used in a non-literal sense for emphasis or to add figurative meaning.

One way to think of it is that rhetorical device is the category, and figures of speech are one of the elements in the category.

Another helpful difference is that a paradox seems to contradict itself but can actually be true; an oxymoron is a simple pairing of two words that are opposites.

If you look at the words in the literary device and their very definitions seem to contradict each other, it is likely an oxymoron. If the words themselves are not opposites but using them together creates a contradictory idea or concept, it it likely a paradox.

In the Got It? section, you will practice categorizing examples of these terms.

  • Are you ready to test your skill?

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