If you’re reading this article, chances are you don’t know an antithesis. But I’m willing to bet on the fact that you have seen antitheses before- you’ve probably used them before but didn’t identify them as antithesis.
So, what is an antithesis?
Antithesis: Definition and Examples
An antithesis is a figure of speech that uses two strongly contrasting or opposite terms. The most common definition of antithesis is “opposition or direct contrast.”
Here’s an actual example of antithesis: “Just as virtue exalteth a nation, so vice saith- ’tis cheaper to import than produce.” – George R. Gleig
Contrast is the key feature of antithesis, making it a very powerful tool in any author’s arsenal. Literary giants like William Shakespeare and Jane Austen used this rhetorical device to create some of their most memorable lines.
No matter what your next essay or speech is about, it’s a good idea to explore antithesis examples and find some fresh ideas for your writing.
In the famous David vs. Goliath tale from the Old Testament, David uses conflict as a metaphor to describe his situation: “I come against you in the name of the Lord of Hosts, the God of the armies of Israel whom you have taunted. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands so that all the earth may know there is a God in Israel.” Goliath continues to mock David, not realizing his “taunt” would be his downfall at the hands of this young shepherd.
Antithesis examples can be found everywhere. Some common antithesis examples include:
familiar versus famous
hard work versus reward
happiness versus sadness
light versus dark.
Now that you have a rough idea about antithesis let’s look at some famous antitheses that have been used in literature.
10 examples of antithesis
Fire and Ice by Robert Frost
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.
From Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment.
Love is an ideal thing, marriage a real thing.
Martin Luther King Jr, in his iconic I Have a Dream speech
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
Alexander Pope, in his essay about Criticism
To err is human; to forgive divine.
Abraham Lincoln in The Gettysburg Address
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
Paradise Lost, a poem by John Milton
We shall be free; the almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign secure, and in my choice
To reign is worth ambition though in hell:
Better to reign in hell, than serve in heaven.
Patience is bitter, but it has a sweet fruit.
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
How to Incorporate antithesis in your writing
The best way to understand how to use antithesis examples in your writing is to read. Read through some of the great works you’ve studied in school, and pay particular attention to how these authors use conflict and opposition within their prose.
It’s important to remember that antithesis is not simply about having two ideas but about how those two ideas contrast and create tension. Once you understand the mechanics of how antithesis works, it becomes a lot easier to identify examples of this rhetorical device in other authors’ work. Pay attention to how these authors use language and punctuation in their work. Antithesis is very much about the relationship between ideas and how they contrast and highlight each other. Antithesis works because it creates a tension between two contrasting ideas, which is why it has the power to make writing more memorable.
On that note…
As you read these classic works, be on the lookout for examples of antithesis in the following forms:
(1) Simple word pairings (example: black vs. white), (2) phrases (example: not only…but also), and (3) sentences.
When you’re ready to incorporate antithesis into your writing, remember that less is more. Antithesis works best when it’s subtle and implied rather than overt and repetitive. Another thing to keep in mind is the difference between an antithesis example and an oxymoron or paradox.
The difference between an antithesis, oxymoron, and a paradox
An oxymoron, such as “cruel kindness” or “military intelligence,” is a combination of two words that seem to contradict each other.
A paradox, such as “the old man young boy” or “a foolish wise man,” describes an idea that seems contradictory but may perhaps be true.
Antithesis examples, on the other hand, are a comparison of two ideas that do not directly contradict each other but work together to create tension and highlight some conflict.
Different dynamics of antithesis
English is full of antithetical terms that we use every day without even thinking about it.
It’s a sunny day, and the air is cool, for example, these two descriptions create an image in the reader’s mind of hot and cold, light and dark, warm and chilly—all ideas that work together in making this day seem “normal” even though it seems to contain opposing elements.
Another type of antithesis example is the use of parallel structures in phrases or clauses.
For instance, an author could write that “the vast open plains seemed to stretch on for miles and miles,” using the ideas of vastness and openness as a parallel structure.
The repetition of this idea helps to emphasize how open and endless this landscape seems, as well as how infinitesimal the human presence in such an expanse is.
The idea of vastness is repeated in the phrase “seemed to stretch on for miles and miles,” while openness is repeated in how the plains are described, using words like vast, endless, and open.
The third type of antithesis example is what’s known as situational antithesis—a writer contrasts two different images or ideas not just to highlight their differences but also to establish the setting and circumstances of the scene.
For instance, if an author wants to describe an uptight character who is sitting on a beach getting drunk, they might say something like, “The man was relaxed and carefree in his drunken stupor, soaking up the rays of the sun as though he were a lizard on a rock.”
The ideas of relaxation and carefreeness are contrasted with the idea of drunkenness, creating an image in the reader’s mind not only of how relaxed this man is but also of how out-of-place his relaxed demeanor seems.
Furthermore, the idea of relaxation is contrasted with the idea of drunkenness as a way of establishing that this man is drinking to relax as if he has to become intoxicated to feel at ease.
We hope these examples are enough to guide you through creating your own. If you need more information, read our blog for more articles on antitheses. Alternatively, you can contact our tutors at +1 (903) 951- 5891 for advice on antitheses.
Antithesis has been used for thousands of years by brilliant writers like Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and Martin Luther King Jr. to lend their writing a greater degree of depth and sophistication. Your prose will benefit greatly from including antithesis examples, so be sure to seek them out in your reading!
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