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What Is a Synecdoche and What Are Its Uses?


Being a writer requires you to be as multi-faceted as possible. This means you should know the key terms and writing devices at your disposal. One such writing device is the synecdoche. What is a synecdoche, and how could you use it effectively? This article aims to define synecdoche and how you could use it in your own writing.

What is a synecdoche?

In layman’s terms, a synecdoche is a figure of speech wherein the part of something is used to refer to the whole of that same thing, or in some examples, the whole of the part.

For example, the term to “offer someone’s hand in marriage” does not mean that you offer only the hand. You are implying that you are offering the whole person to get married.

How do you use a synecdoche?

While a synecdoche is easy to define, this does not mean that there is only one way to use it. There are various kinds of synecdoche, and each type is used quite differently. Here are some synecdoche examples.


This type of synecdoche uses a part of an object or a person to represent the whole. Here are some great examples of microcosm synecdoche that you could use in your writing.

• Hungry mouths to feed

This synecdoche implies that there are a number of people that need food. The word “mouth” is usually associated with eating, so its use in this phrase is perfect.


There are a lot of hungry mouths to feed. Are you sure we have enough food?

• Getting eyeballs

This synecdoche is used for sentences where something needs to be seen by a large number of people. Eyeballs are associated with the act of seeing, which makes getting eyeballs a great synecdoche.


We just released our new commercial, so getting eyeballs on it is our top priority.

• Hired hands

This synecdoche refers to workers that are hired to do a specific task. Hands are associated with the act of working, thus the term “hired hands”.


The harvest season is here, so we need to have a lot of hired hands at the ready. I want all this wheat taken care of within the day.

• Do a headcount

The word “head” is used to signify a person. This is usually used for situations where a group needs to find out the exact number of people in the group.


The new students are here, so let’s do a headcount. We don’t want to lose track of them, do we?

Using a specific material to represent an object

Another kind of microcosm synecdoche is the type that uses a specific material to represent an object. Here are some great examples.

This synecdoche refers to paying for something with either a credit card or cash. Plastic represents the credit card and paper represents cash.


That will be $99.99. How will you be paying? Plastic or paper?

Silverware represents cutlery as a whole.


The guests will be arriving in a bit, so you should make sure the silverware is as clean as possible.

This synecdoche represents newspapers in general. There is no specific newspaper publication, instead “the papers” implies all newspaper publications.


Have you read the papers? There seem to be a lot of riots going on.

“Ivories” refers to the keys on a piano or organ. This is because the keys on these instruments are made of ivory.


The kid is a natural. Look at him working on those ivories. Just beautiful.


While a microcosm uses the part of something to represent the whole, a macrocosm uses the whole of something to represent a part.

· The movies

The word “movies” is meant to represent a specific film that is playing at a specific theater.


I’m bored. Let’s go to the movies, I’m sure that’s a lot of fun.

· Call the police

This implies calling a policeman for help. This does not imply calling the whole police force.


I think there is a brawl in the alley! Quick, call the police!

· With friends

This does not really imply that you are in a group of friends. You could be with just one friend, yet the synecdoche could still be used.


Don’t worry, Auntie. I am with friends right now, so don’t wait for me.

· Ivy League

The term “Ivy League” does not really imply a specific school. It is a collective term for schools that are considered the best in the nation.


If you want to be considered for a great job, you should graduate from an Ivy League school.

When a container represents its contents

Another type of macrocosmic synecdoche uses the container to represent what it contains.

· The bottle

When people use “the bottle” as a synecdoche, they are not really referring to the container, but to the liquid inside.


He was feeling a bit sad, so he went back to the bottle. Poor man….

· A glass

The container is not really being referred to in this context. “A glass” actually means the contents of the container.


I was shocked at their prices. $100 a glass! That’s way too much!


As a writer, you should be aware of all the writing devices at your disposal. The synecdoche is a great example. What is a synecdoche, though? How should you use it in your own work? With this article, you will be familiar with the synecdoche, and how to use it in your own writing.

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