What is Synecdoche? Definition, Examples of Synecdoche in Literature

Synecdoche definition: Synecdoche is a figure of speech that uses a part to represent the whole.

What is Synecdoche?

What does synecdoche mean? Synecdoche is figurative, not literal, speech. That is, its meaning is not to be taken for at surface value.

Synecdoche is a type of figurative language that uses a part of something to mean the whole thing.

Examples illustrate this best.

Synecdoche Examples

  • Synecdoche literary definition Those wheels are awesome!
    • This example substitutes the part (wheels) for the whole (car).
    • The wheels refers to the entire car. It is not the wheels that are awesome. It is the car that is awesome.
  • We need more hands.
    • This example substitutes the part (hands) for the whole (people).
    • The hands refer to the people themselves. It is not just the hands that are needed; it is the people.

What is the Difference Between Synecdoche and Metonymy?

Synecdoche example Metonymy is similar to synecdoche, but the two are not the same.

Metonymy is a figure of speech that associates something similar to the thing it is referencing.

An example will best illustrate this.

  • The suits entered the conference room.
    • This example substitutes the something related (suits) for the actual thing (men).
    • The suits refers to the men themselves. However, the suits are not a part of the men. Rather, they are related to the men.

The Function of Synecdoche

Examples of Synecdoche Synecdoche is a type of symbolism. One thing represents something else. Using synecdoche draws attention to the part instead of the whole.

Perhaps it is the part itself that is more vital. In the “hands” example above, it is the hands that are needed because they will be doing the work. Yes, the entire person is needed, but “hands” emphasizes the part that completes the work.

Furthermore, synecdoche can be used as a rhetorical device. Synecdoche is used to sound more colloquial and to mirror everyday language. This helps a speaker connect with his audience to achieve his purpose.

Example of Synecdoche in Literature

Difference between metonymy and Synecdoche Synecdoche is used throughout all literature. Because it is a type of figurative language (symbolism, more specifically), writers use it in poetry, prose, drama, and non-fiction.

Synecdoche is often used to mimic spoken language.

A well-known example of synecdoche’s use in literature is from William Shakespeare’s play The Tragedy of Julius Caesar.

Marc Antony to the people in Act 3, Scene 2 of the play:

“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;

I come to bury Caesar, not praise him.”

The underlined portion of the text is the example of synecdoche. Here, the word “ears” is a part replacing the whole person, or the person’s attention.

Marc Antony does not literally want the ears of the people. He is using “ears” figuratively to refer to the whole person, stating that he wants their attention.


Define synecdoche: the definition of synecdoche is a figure of speech in which the part is made to represent the whole or vice versa.

In summary,

  • Synecdoche is a type of figurative language.
  • Its meaning is meant to be taken figuratively, not literally.
  • Synecdoche is a literary device that replaces the part for the whole.
  • It should not be confused with metonymy which uses something closely related to the actual thing it references.