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What is Synecdoche? Synecdoche v/s Metonymy.

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Synecdoche – the concept looks complex & foreign to you. But, trust me, you have used Synecdoche a bazillion times in your time. Does this sound familiar to you? – “Nice glasses man!”

So, we know the term and an example of it. To dig further into the concept, let us start with Synecdoche pronunciation, it is pronounced as si-nek-duh-kee. Now, what does it mean?

It’s a figure of speech that is used to depict a part of something whole, or it may be used to represent a part by whole. 


Examples will explain the concept well.

The word bread is used in reference to money or food such as,

Rohit is the only breadwinner in the family. 

Here, this sentence says Rohit is running his family with his earnings. So, bread in breadwinner is referred to as money.

Hence, in the above-mentioned example bread which is a part of earning represents the money (whole). 

Similarly, In English, we have Metonymy which is also a figure of speech and often confused with synecdoche. 

Synecdoche and Metonymy both are used to represent something but have a slight difference. 

An example of Metonymy is:

The suits entered the conference room. 

Here, suits are representing businessmen or just men. Now, suits are not a part of a man, it is something related to man. 

Difference Between Synecdoche and Metonymy

Synecdoche definition says it is a literary device used to represent a small part of something whole or vice-versa. 

Synecdoche example:

Hey! You got some nice wheels. 

Here, wheels are representing a car where wheels are just a part of a car. 


In grammar, metonymy is also a figure of speech that represents something with a thing related to it. 

For example:

They served with loyalty to the crown.

Here, the crown represents the king or queen. Now, a crown isn’t necessarily a part of a king or queen, but it relates to royalty.

Though some Synecdoche can be used as Metonymy.

For example:

Let me give you a hand.

Here, it’s easy to get confused about whether it’s synecdoche or metonymy. As, the hand is a part of a human body so it can be a synecdoche, but in this sentence it represents help. And the hand representing help which becomes a feature of it makes it metonymy.

Forms of Synecdoche

When we talk about synecdoche figures of speech, there are different ways it can be used always representing a part of a whole. 

A part to represent whole

Synecdoche is a figure of speech that may use a part of something to represent the whole. And this form of synecdoche is quite common in use. 


The boots were marching in the field. 

Here, boots that are a part of their uniform represent soldiers.


They hired hands for the new factory work. 

Here, hired hands represent workers.

A Whole to Represent a Part

A synecdoche can be defined as a literary device where a whole is used to represent a part.

For example:

The police caught the thieves red-handed.

Here, the police represent some officers of the department. 

The economic times printed a new story of a leading businessman.

Here, The economic times represent the journalist who wrote that piece of the story.

A Specific Class to Represent a Whole

A synecdoche is a literary device may use a word or phrase as a class to represent something that actually means.

For example:

The doctor prescribed me to drink a glass of milk daily.

Here, milk is commonly referred to as cow’s milk, but another source of milk also exists, such as goat. 

Hey! Can you pass me a coke?

Here, some people use coke to describe any cola drinks. 

Material Representing an Object

Synecdoche’s definition says it may be used to represent something through the material it is made of or was made of in the past.

For example:

I must say you have beautiful silverware in your kitchen.

Here, silverware represents the everyday cutlery, even though it’s not actually made of silver.

We had taken a walk in the woods.

Here, woods represent the forest. A forest consists of woods, right? 

I didn’t eat today as I forgot my plastic at home in a hurry.

Here, plastic is used in reference to credit cards.

Synecdoche Examples

  • Raina was helping a gray beard to cross the street. (gray beard an old man)


  • The word ‘sails’ refers to a whole ship.
  • The words ‘band-aids’ refers to all adhesive bandages.
  • The word ‘restaurant’ refers to food, staff, chef, and everyone.
  • The word ‘society’ refers to a specific part of society.

Significance of Synecdoche in Literature

The past usage of synecdoche in literature depicts the importance it holds in the language. According to some literary theorists, it displays and creates new connections in the way that humans understand. It means they intensify human understanding in any concept. 

Other than that, it captures the essence by reducing the requirement of listing various aspects of an idea. And it allows the speaker to emphasize a certain part of a whole by highlighting their importance through its ways of representation. 

Clearly, the usage of it in poems and music draws the attention of the reader to think and relate with the writer’s thought.

Synecdoche Examples in Literature

  1. Sonnet 116 (By William Shakespeare)

“O no! It is an ever-fixed mark

That looks on tempests and is never shaken.”

The phrase “ever-fixed mark” refers to a lighthouse.

  1. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (By Samuel Taylor Coleridge)

“The western wave was all a-flame.

The day was well and nigh done!

Almost upon the western wave

Rested the broad bright Sun”

The “western wave” refers to the sea by the name of one of its parts, a wave.

Function of Synecdoche

A synecdoche sentence used by the writers helps them to implement common ideas and objects deeper meaning. Furthermore, using synecdoche helps them to draw the reader’s attention with the concise and exact use of words. 

It is believed that it adds color to the words, making them vivid. As writers creatively describe simple ordinary things with the use of this literary device. Thus, a writer or a speaker connects well with the audience to achieve their purpose.


A figure of speech, synecdoche defines the usage of a part to describe a whole or vice versa. 

  • It’s a type of figurative language and the meaning should be taken figuratively, not literally.
  • Synecdoche and metonymy are two different concepts with the same purpose of describing something with other words to simplify and beautify the concept.

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Jui Shirvalkar-Chandurkar

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