Rhetorical Device: Synecdoche

Synecdoche is an important rhetorical device used in all forms of communication including public speaking. It is considered to be a sub-type of metonymy.

A synechdoche can be used to replace a word or phrase with something that is a part of that concept. For example, referring to a car as "wheels" or saying "glasses" to refer to what are more correctly called spectacles.

This type of figurative language can be used to add depth and emotion to an orator's words or to create a vivid image in the mind of the listener. By using synecdoche in public speaking, speakers can make their points more vivid and memorable, allowing them to effectively convey their message.


Synecdoche can be divided into several categories including:

Using a part to represent a whole

  • wheels - to represent a car
  • boots - to represent soldiers
  • heads - to represent people

Using a whole to represent a part

  • America - to represent the USA
  • the world - to talk about your own daily encounters or experiences
WWS rhetorical device explainer card on synecdoche

Using a class to represent a whole

  • the brand Band Aid to mean all adhesive bandages
  • the brand Kleenex to mean all facial tissues
  • the element Carbon as a shorthand for all greenhouse gasses which include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs).

Naming an object by its material

  • silverware - to represent all cutlery (regardless of whether it contains any silver).
  • irons - to represent manacles and chains used to bind a prisoner.
  • plastic - to refer to a credit or debit card

Using the name of a container to refer to its contents

  • keg - to represent beer
  • barrel - to represent oil

Examples from literature and speeches

In this example the word "bread" stands in for "an entire meal". Compare this to the page on metonymy where the same word stands in for 'livelihood'.
Give us this day our daily bread Bible, "Matthew 6:11"

When I ended our military mission in Afghanistan almost a year ago, I made the decision that after 20 years of war, the United States no longer needed thousands of boots on the ground in Afghanistan to protect America from terrorists who seek to do us harm.
And I made a promise to the American people that we’d continue to conduct effective counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan and beyond.
We’ve done just that. Joe Biden, "On the Death of Ayman al-Zawahiri" (1 August 2022)

And the United States -- the United States, big as it is, strong as it is -- we can't do this job alone. The best brains, the fullest resources of other free nations, which have as great a stake in freedom as we have, must be mobilized to participate with us in this task to the extent they are able. Richard Nixon, "1960 Republican National Convention Acceptance Address" (28 July 1960)

Further reading

  • LitCharts: Synecdoche Visit
  • Silva Rhetoricæ: The Forest of Rhetoric Visit
  • Wikipedia: Synecdoche Visit
  • Literary Ocean: SynecdocheVisit
  • SmartBlogger: 37 Synecdoche Examples (+ An Easy-to-Understand Definition) Visit