Rhetorical figures are intentional deviations from the conventional sequence of words in a literary work, whose purpose is to create a sensorial meaning or rhetorical effect.
Some rhetorical figures can be associated with figurative language, as it usually encompasses a non-literal usage of words, meant to evoke a variety of emotions from readers.
Rhetorical figures appear oftentimes in literature, though they are also very common in everyday conversations.
In that sense, Spanish literature is very rich in figuras retóricas (rhetorical figures) that embellish it, but they could be certainly tricky to identify for inexperienced readers.
Though there are hundreds of rhetorical figures in literature, in this first part of my post, I will explain the most common ones in Spanish: hyperbole, metaphor, simile, paradox, personification, and synesthesia. Then, we will be sharing some examples belonging to famous Spanish-speaking authors.
La hipérbole is a rhetorical figure used to describe a person, an object or an event by grandifying or exaggerating their characteristics. It helps make any description more vivid.
“Los veinte años que llevó de no dormir se le corrompieron de golpe al tomar el primer sueño del que ya no iba a despertar.”
Twenty years of no sleeping were spoiled all of a sudden after getting the first sleep from which he would no longer wake up.
(Fragment of “Moriencia”, by Augusto Roa Bastos).
Metaphor and simile
Comparison is the basis for many rhetorical figures. This is the case of la metáfora (metaphor) and el símil (simile), but they are used differently.
La metáfora is a figurative comparison in which the usage of direct comparison words such as como (like, as) is not present. It is used to compare a real thing with an evoked or imagined one having similar characteristics.
On the other hand, el símil is a direct comparison between one thing and another, typically preceded by como. Let’s see an example of both:
“Unas veces me siento
como un acantilado
y en otras como un cielo
azul pero lejano.”
Sometimes I feel
like a cliff
and sometimes like a sky
blue but distant.
“A veces uno es
manantial entre rocas
y otras veces un árbol
con las últimas hojas.”
Sometimes one is
spring between rocks
and sometimes a tree
with the last leaves.
(Fragments of “Estados de Ánimo”, by Mario Benedetti).
Una paradoja is a logically self-contradictory statement meant to elicit an emotional response from the reader.
“Yo te amo para comenzar a amarte, para recomenzar el infinito y para no dejar de amarte nunca: por eso no te amo todavía.”
I love you to start loving you, to restart the infinite and to never stop loving you: that is why I don’t love you yet.
(Fragment of “XLIV” from “Antología”, by Pablo Neruda).
La personificación is used to confer a human behavior, quality or characteristic to non-human characters like animals, nature or inanimate objects.
“El lunes te agarró la muerte, Paula. Vino y te señaló, pero se encontró frente a frente con tu madre y tu abuela y por esta vez retrocedió.”
Death grabbed you on Monday, Paula. It came and pointed at you, but it came across your mother and your grandmother and for this time it backed up”.
(Fragment of “Paula”, by Isabel Allende).
La sinestesia is used to describe a physical sensation in terms normally reserved for another kind of sense.
“… y además hay el gusto del pulóver, ese gusto azul de la lana que le debe estar manchando la cara ahora que la humedad del aliento se mezcla cada vez más con la lana”.
Moreover, there is the taste of the sweater, this blue taste of the wool that must be staining his face now that the humidity of his breath is mixing more and more each time with the wool.
(Fragment of “No se culpe a nadie”, by Julio Cortázar)
In Part 2, we will examine many other rhetorical figures and the way they are used in Spanish. Stay tuned!