Figure Name antithesis
Source Ad Herennium 4.15.21 ("contentio"); Peacham (1577) K1r; Day 1599 92 ("antithesis," "contentio"); Silva Rhetoricae (; JG Smith (1665) ("antithesis"); Ad Herennium 282; Garrett Epp (1994) ("contentio," "antithesis"); Hart (1874) 161-163; Peacham 1593; Vinsauf (1967) ("contentio"); Macbeth (1876); De Mille (1882)("antithesis," "contrast"); Bain (1867) 46 ("antithesis"); Holmes (1806) ("antithesis"); Hill (1883)("antithesis," "contrast"); Waddy (1889); Jamieson (1844) 183; Raub (1888) 214; Bullinger (1898) ("antithesis; or, contrast"); Norwood (1742) ("antithesis"); Kellog (1880) ("antithesis"); Vickers (1989) ("antithesis (or comparatio)")
Earliest Source None
Synonyms contrarium, contentio, comparatio, contrast, contention, epantiosis
Etymology from Gk. anti “against” and thesis “a setting” or tithenai “to set, place”
Type Scheme
Linguistic Domain Morphological

1. Juxtaposition of contrasting words or ideas (often, although not always, in parallel structure). This is closely related to the Topic of Invention: Contraries, and is sometimes known as the similarly named figure of thought, antitheton. (Silva Rhetoricae)

2. Opposition: a figure whereby one letter is put for another. It is also a Rhetorical Exornation when contraries are opposed to contraries in speech or a sentence.; Antithesis, Oppositio, opposition, or[antitheton] oppositum, opposite, set or placed, against; derived from [anti] against, & [thesis] positio, a position, or state of a question, which is derived from [tithemi] pono, to put. Antithesis is sometimes a figure, whereby one letter is put for another; and then it is the same with Antistoichon, which signifies change of letters. Antithesis, is also the illustration of a thing by its opposite, or the placing of contraries one against another, as spokes in a wheel; and is a Rhetorial Exornation when contraries are opposed to contraries in a speech or sentence; or when contrary Epithets are opposed, as also when sentences, or parts of a sentence are opposed to each other. (JG Smith)

3. Occurs when the style is built upon
contraries. (Ad Herennium)

4. A statement built on contraries. (as a figure of diction)

A statement based on antithetical ideas. (as a figure of thought) (Garrett Epp)

5. Antithesis is not founded on resemblance, but on contrast or opposition. It consists in putting two unlike things in juxtaposition, so that each will appear more striking by the contrast. The effect produced is in accordance with a general law of mental action, that all objects of knowledge make a stronger impression on the mind when presented alongside of their opposites. When we wish to give a thought a special emphasis, we often do so by connection the thought with an expression of its opposite, or of something with which it is contrasted. (Hart)

6. Antithesis, a figure which Quntilian calleth contention, and it is a proper coupling together of contraries, and that either in words that be contrarie, or in contrarie sentences. (Peacham)

7. If a mode of expression both easy and adorned is desired, set aside all the techniques of the dignified style and recourse to means that are simple, but of a simplicity that does not shock the ear by its rudeness. Here are the rhetorical colours with which to adorn your style: (Vinsauf)

7. (Contentio) There are other figures to adorn the meaning of words. All of these I include in the following brief treatment: when meaning is adorned, this is the standard procedure. ... ((9) contentio (antithesis)) [by contentio] I institute a comparison in which the positions set forth are antithetical to each other. (Vinsauf)

8. We turn your attention to Antithesis, called Epantiosis, when things very different are compared. Throughout the Book of Proverbs, the practical man's vade-mecum, the Dictionary of Good Sense, fine examples every where occur. Consult the book at random. Antithesis is well figured for sarcasm, epigram, character-painting; its strong-pointed condensations make it suit the climax of oratory; but for the pathetic, for the tragic scenes of the drama, it has too labored an air. (Macbeth)

By antithesis is meant the comparison of different things. This is a figure which possesses great energy and versatility, and owes its powers to the effect of contrast. (De Mille)

9 b) 374. CONTRAST.
(3) Contrast.
This is that kind of argument by which, form the facts in one case, we judge concerning another contrary case. (De Mille)

10. "properly so called, consists in the explicit statement of the contrast implied in the meaning of any term or description…. There are several forms of Antithesis, in which the contrast is only of a secondary kind. (1.) The contrast of the members of a comprehensive class. The process of classification, whereby things are brought together on some point of resemblance, is accompanied with the marking of differences. (2.) ...when things contradictory are brought pointedly together to increase the oratorical effect. (3.) Contradictory or conflicting statements are sometimes made for the purpose of extracting wonder." (Bain)

11. Antithesis doth change a syllable or letter, Or holds up contrasts, as men think it better. (Holmes)

12 a) 1. Antithesis.
(1) The Nature of Antithesis.- Antithesis is a form of expression which impresses an idea upon the mind by bringing opposites into one conception. (Hill)

12 a) (2) The Natural Form of Antithesis.- The form of the antithesis is naturally, but not necessarily, the balanced sentence. This form of sentential structure, renders the opposition more evident to the eye or ear, thus insuring the perception of the antithetical effect. (Hill)

12 a)(3) Laws of Antithesis.- The nature of antithesis renders easily the deduction of two laws: (1) since the balanced form displays the contrast most clearly, interpreting power is economized by uniformity in the length and structure of teh contrasted members; and (2) since the antithetical form becomes monotonous from this uniformity, antithesis should not be very frequent. (Hill)

12 b) 1. The Theory of Contrast.
The mind is affected by a change from one state of consciousness to another. The greatness and suddenness of the change determine the degree in which the mind is affected. Thus we are shocked by a sudden transition from darkness to a bright light, or from hilarious joy to profound grief. This effect upon the mind is owing to the principle of contrast. It is a law of the mind that qualities contrasted are rendered more striking. (Hill)

13. Antithesis is a figure of speech in which things mutually opposed in some particular are set over against each other; it is founded upon the principle that opposites when brought together reflect light upon each other. (Waddy)

14. "As the design of a climax is to improve our conceptions of an object, by placing it at the head of a rising series; so the business of antithesis is to produce a similar effect, by placing one object in opposition to another of the same kind." (Jamieson)

15. "Antithesis is a comparison based upon contrast…. The proper form of Antithesis is the balanced sentence, but there may be antithesis of thought without using the balanced sentence to express it. The figure of Antithesis is one of the most effective in composition, and if obliterated it would carry with it much of the wit of literature." (Raub)

16. A setting of one Phrase in Contrast with another... It is a figure by which two thoughts, ideas, or phrases, are set over one against the other, in order to make the contrast more striking, and thus to emphasize it. (Bullinger, 710)

17. Antith'esis.—"Fire," says the proverb, "is a good servant, but a bad master." We need a similar caution concerning antithesis. It is an agreeable and usually forcible figure. It serves in prose a purpose similar to that of rhythm in poetry. It stimulates imagination, points out the true emphasis, heightens contrasts, and assists the memory.
But it is the most dangerous of all the devices of rhetoric. It first leads us into assertions that are almost true and need to be made broadly for the sake of the antithesis ; then the antithetical habit fastens itself upon us, and after a time we tell absolute untruths because we can put them antithetically and epigrammatically. These stick in the memory of those who hear them, and are repeated without sufficient examination. Thus gross falsehoods are occasionally adopted as sterling rules of conduct, and malicious libels are made more tenacious of life than valuable truths... The unthoughtful reader frequently needs to be reminded that a sentence is not necessarily true because it is antithetical. Somewhere in the great ledger of Morality there is a heavy account against him who first uttered the nominal witticism, "The man that has no vices usually has precious few virtues," as if the absence of vices were not in itself a great virtue—as if the saying were not a pitiful absurdity, with nothing whatever to give it currency but its antithesis and alliteration, the lion's-hide of
wisdom. And yet there are persons innumerable, young men especially, who have excused themselves under it until they have come to believe that by clinging to their small vices they will somehow
unconsciously acquire an equal number of correlative virtues. If a professional man is dissipated in his habits, he is almost certain to receive credit for more ability than he possesses. When his friends speak of his weakness, and the pity of it, their minds naturally revert to the contrast between what he might accomplish and his failure to accomplish anything, and the antithetical habit causes them to make it much stronger than it is. " He would be a brilliant man, if he could only let drink alone "—the truth perhaps being that he has scarcely any gift at all except for dissipation. Fine examples of antithesis may be found in the works of many good authors. (Johnson, 30-32)

18. ANTITHESIS. Antithesis, represents terms contrary to each other, to convey to the minds a more sensible and lively image of our discourse, by such an opposition in the words. (Norwood, 106)

19. An antithesis is a figure of speech in which things mutually opposed in some particular are set over against each other. Antithesis is a striking figure, especially when things diametrically opposed to each other are contrasted by it, and is much used in oratory and in all forcible writing. (Kellog, 125)

20. Antithesis' (or comparatio), where contraries are opposed and distinguished. (Vickers 492)


1. "It has been my experience that folks who have no vices have very few virtues." —Abraham Lincoln (Silva Rhetoricae)

"It can't be wrong if it feels so right" —Debbie Boone

3. " Flattery has pleasant beginnings, but also brings on bitterest endings." (Ad Herennium)

3. "To enemies you show yourself conciliatory,
to friends inexorable." (Ad Herennium)

3. " When all is calm, you are confused ; when all is in confusion, you are calm. In a situation requiring all your coolness, you
are on fire; in one requiring all your ardour, you are cool. When there is need for you to be silent, you are uproarious; when you should speak, you grow mute. Present, you wish to be absent; absent, you are eager to return. In peace, you keep demanding war; in war, you yearn for peace. In the Assembly, you talk of valour; in battle, you cannot for cowardice endure the trumpet's sound." (Ad Herennium)

4. I wasted time, and now doth time waste me. (R2 5.5 qtd. in Garrett Epp)

4. Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more. Had you rather Caesar were living, and die all slaves, than that Caesar were dead, to live all freemen? (JC 3.2 qtd. in Garrett Epp)

2. What's more odious then labour to the idle, fasting to the glutton, want to the covetous, shame to the proud, and good laws to the wicked? (JG Smith)

5. "When our vices leave us, we flatter ourselves that we leave them." (Hart)

5. "The prodigal robe his heir, the miser robe himself." (Hart)

5. "If you wish to make a man rich, study not to increase his stores, but to diminish his desires." (Hart)

5. "If you regulate your desires according to the standard of nature, you will never be poor; if according to the standard of opinion, you will never be rich." (Hart)

5. "Flattery brings friends; truth brings foes." (Hart)

5. "Forewarned, forearmed." (Hart)

5. "Enemies in war; in peace friends." (Hart)

5. "Talent, the sunshine on a cultivated soil, Ripens the fruit by slow degrees for toil; Genius, the sudden Iris of the skies, On cloud itself reflects the wondrous dyes, And to the earth in tears and glory given, Clasps in its airy arch the pomp of heaven!" (Hart)

5. "Man, like the child, accepts the proffered boon, And clasps the bauble, where he asked the moon." -Bulwer (Hart)

6. In contrary words: He is gone but yet by a gainfull remove, from painfull labour to quiet rest, from unquiet desires to happie contentment, from sorrow to joy, and from transitory time to immortalitie. (Peacham)

6. An example of Cicero: And may you then preferre the unknowne before the knowne, the wicked before the just, strangers before neighbours, the covetous before the contented, hirelings before free helpers, the prophane before the religious, the most malicious enemies to this Empire and hnour, before vertuous companions, and faithfull Citizens? (Peacham)

6. So well sighted were the eyes of his minde, that by them he saw life in death, an exaltation in falling, florie in shame, victory in destruction, a kingdome in bondage: and a glorious light in the midst of darknesse. (Peacham)

6. In contrary sentences: Art thou rich? then robbe not the poore: if thou beest strong, tread not the weake under thy feete: if wise, beguile not the simple: if publike by authoritie, oppresse not him that is private. (Peacham)

7. (contentio) He who was rich became poor; he who was happy, wretched; he who enjoyed radiance was thrust back into darkness. (Vinsauf)

7. ((9) contentio (antithesis)) It may be that no mortal thing disturbs them, yet while this stands against them the death of the soul results from one sin as well as from many. (Vinsauf)

8. "Homer was the greater genius, Virgil the better artist in the one we most admire the man, in the other the work. Homer hurries us with a commanding impetuosity; Virgil leads us with an attractive majesty. Homer, like the Nile, pours out his riches with a sudden overflow; Virgil, like a river in its banks, with a constant stream." - Pope (Macbeth)

9 a) The following description of the varied powers of the steam-engine may be taken as a general example of antithesis:
"It can engrave a seal, and crush masses of obdurate metal; draw out, without breaking, a thread as fine as gossamer, and lift a ship-of-war like a bauble in the air. It can embroider muslin, and forge anchors; cut steel into ribbons, and impel loaded vessels against the furry of winds and waves."
In this passage extreme delicacy of action is contrasted with gigantic effort, and our conception of the manifold capacity of the seam-engine is made at once stronger and clearer. (De Mille)

10. "(1.) For example, heat and Light (class of sensations, or of natural agents); Liberty and Plenty (class of worldly blessings); Industry and Frugality (means to wealth); Sublimity and Beauty (artistic effects); Painting and Poetry (fine arts). (2.) So in the speech of Brutus over the body of Lucretia:-- 'Now look ye where she lies, / That beauteous flower, that innocent sweet rose, / Torn up by ruthless violence.'" (Bain)

11. Tye for tie; furnisht for furnished; as we act well or ill, we shall receive happiness or misery. (Holmes)

12 b) If, for example, two pictures, one beautiful, the other ugly, are seen at the same time, both the loveliness of the one and the repulsiveness of the other are magnified by the comparison. (Hill)

13. "Gold can not make a man happy, any more than rags can make him miserable." (Waddy)

14. "Lord Bolingbroke furnishes the following beautiful example: 'If Cato may be censured, severely indeed, but justly, for abandoning the cause of liberty, which he would not, however, survive; what shall we say of those, who embrace it faintly, pursue it irresolutely, grow tired of it when they have much to hope, and give it up when they have nothing to fear?'" (Jamieson)

15. "Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful." (Raub)

16. Isa. 1:21. -Of Jerusalem it is said "Righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers [lodge in it]. (Bullinger, 710)

17. An ill-natured and unp'rincipled journalist once took offense because a certain American author very reasonably refused an unreasonable request, and revenged himself by originating and setting afloat a paragraph that represented Humboldt as saying that that author "had traveled farther and seen less than any man he ever
knew." Humboldt never had said anything of the kind; the malicious journalist simply invented the story; but the antithesis in which the falsehood was presented caused it to sparkle in a column of dull paragraphs ; every country editor copied it without question, every reader of current literature had it fixed firmly in his mind ; and to this day it is generally believed that Humboldt made the ill-natured and untruthful remark attributed to him. (Johnson, 31)

18. Prov. 14.29. He that is slow to wrath, is of great wisdom; but he that is of an hasty mind, exalteth folly. (Norwood, 106)

18. Psal. 126. 5. They that sow in tears, shall reap in joy: where the opposition of terms more sensibly instructs us, that though afflictions are at present matter of trouble yet in the end, they are extremely beneficial. (Norwood, 106)

20. A bliss in proof; and prov'd, a very woe;
Before, a joy propos'd; behind, a dream. --Shakespeare, "Sonnet 129" (Vickers 492)

Kind Of Symmetry
Part Of
Related Figures enantiosis, antitheton, paradox, oxymoron, figures of balance, gorgianic figures, climax
Notes Are antonyms always used? If not, do they tend to sharpen the figure when they are used?--CKL Rules from Hart: 1. The only practical Rule in regard to Antithesis is to give the contrasted ideas a similar verbal construction. Let nouns be contrasted to nouns, adjectives to adjectives, verbs to verbs, and so on, and let the arrangement of the words in the contrasted clauses be also as nearly alike as possible. In composition, the point of an antithesis is made much more marked by making the contrasted clauses closely analogous in construction. 2. Anithesis must be used with caution. If employed too frequently, it gives to the style a laboured and unnatural character, and produces the impression that an author is less concerned with what he says than how he says it. It also makes the matter read like a string of proverbs, which usually have the antithetical form.
Confidence Unconfident
Last Editor Daniel Etigson
Confidence Unconfident
Editorial Notes
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