Recognizing Rhetorical Figures in the Italian Language

 In Blog, Featured, Learn Italian words

Rhetorical figures are essential instruments in the Italian language that provide more vivid, interesting, and memorable communication. Used both in literary language and in everyday speech, often in crystalized forms, they instantly give the listener or reader the impression of great proficiency and mastery of the linguistic material. Whether you are learning Italian for personal, academic, or professional purposes, and especially if you have reached a level where you can master plain, standard communication and need something more expressive to spice up your Italian, adding rhetorical figures to your toolset will help improve your fluency and expressiveness.

Defining rhetorical figures

Rhetorical figures, figure retoriche in Italian, are language devices that enhance and decorate language, hence improving communication’s expressiveness and efficiency. They enable one to clearly and attractively communicate emotions and difficult concepts. Applied in a variety of settings—poetry, novels, commercials, and speeches—these devices grab listeners’ attention and simplify messages for memory. Knowing and applying rhetorical figures properly can help you to communicate and understand better, thereby enhancing the natural and powerful tone of your Italian. Let’s now review together some of the most commonly used rhetorical figures, with examples, explanations… and an infographic!

1. Similitudine (Simile)

A simile establishes a logical resemblance between two occurrences or concepts by linking them through the conjunction come (“like”, “as”) or the verb sembra (“seem”).

E.g. Marco canta come un usignolo (“Marco sings as a nightingale”)

2. Metafora (Metaphor)

Conversely to the simile, the metaphor does not employ particular conjunctions or verbs but rather immediately links two parts via the verb essere (“to be”).

E.g. Enrico, mangi troppo poco: sei uno scheletro! (“Enrico, you are a skeleton and eat so little!”)

3. Personificazione (Personification)

This is a very old rhetorical device in which one gives objects, natural events, concepts, etc. personal, human traits.

E.g. Il sole si nasconde dietro le nuvole (“The sun hides behind the clouds”, in which the sun is said to have the capacity to hide).

4. Metonimia (Metonymy)

This is predicated on the meaning one word carries being transferred to another. The two words have to have a logical relationship, such geographical, temporal, causal, or material, and belong to the same semantic category.

E.g. Ieri ho scritto quasi cento pagine per la mia tesi (“Yesterday I wrote about a hundred pages for my thesis”, where we use “pages” to symbolize the writing activity).

5. Iperbole (Hyperbole)

This rhetorical figure involves exaggerating the portrayal of reality using expressive language that accentuates, either in excess or in deficiency.

E.g. Il prezzo della benzina è schizzato alle stelle (“The price of gasoline has risen to the stars”).

6. Litote (Litotes)

This rhetorical device negates an idea, therefore implying the validation of its opposite. It is frequently used to soften what is spoken less offensive or unpleasant.

E.g. Ieri sera non sei stato molto educato (“Last night you weren’t very nice” is a possible way to say that someone was impolite without directly accusing them of being rude).

7. Sinestesia (Synesthesia)

Synesthesia is accomplished by pairing two words from separate semantic fields and sensory areas.

E.g. Da lontano sentii una voce cupa (“From a distance, I heard a black voice” blends an auditory impression with a visual element).

Among the most often used rhetorical devices in the Italian language are these few ones. Knowing and applying them can help you to communicate much more effectively and attractingly. We would be happy to see you at Kappa Language School for our Italian lessons if you would need further knowledge on the subject.

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