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Stylistic Feature of the Week – synecdoche

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Synecdoche – tough to pronounce (sin-ec-dotch? sine-c-dose?), easy to include in your Paper 1 and Paper 2 response.

I absolutely love synecdoche because it is common in writing, sounds great and will always enable you to elevate your exam responses (Criterion B in Paper 1, Criterion C in Paper 2. Oh, and Written Task 2 for HL students) when written about correctly (don’t worry, there is a sample paragraph below!).

My students have always referenced synecdoche in their analysis, and their overall results have definitely benefited from referencing this more complex stylistic feature. 

So, what is synecdoche?

First of all, synecdoche is pronounced suh-nek-duh-kee (I knew you were wondering) and it means:

When a part of something is used to represent the whole thing, or vice versa (when a whole is used to represent a part).

For example:

When a car is called a “motor”, this is synecdoche because the car’s motor (a part of the car) is used to reference the whole thing, as in:

I bought a new motor yesterday

Another example of synecdoche is when a country’s name (a large thing) is used to reference a sporting team (a smaller thing), i.e.:

England won the World Cup final. (Hey, I can dream can’t I?)

Here, the entire country is used to reference the eleven players who won the World Cup final.

In a Paper 1 response on a text about the impact of cars in the twenty-first century, I could write:

The author employs synecdoche when making a point about the impact of cars on twenty-first century society. When the author writes “my motor is a part of my family” synecdoche is used to emphasise two things: both the mechanical power of the car – the use of “motor” refers specifically to the part of the car which actually drives the car – and ironically how this machine has become integral to the author’s life. The synecdoche “motor” is seen as an informal way of describing a car, and so the author is suggesting the informal relationship he has with his car.”

Synecdoche is used by writers for the following reasons:

  • synecdoche allows a writer to be more concise. Synecdoche can help a writer say a lot with just one word.
  • ideas which are fairly straightforward can be given deeper meaning. “motor” has a lot more symbolic significance than “car”, with the word “motor” holding a lot more symbolic importance as it refers to the mechanics of the vehicle and the overall sense of power

So, look out for synecdoche the next time you are reading a Paper 1 text, or your Paper 2 texts. Try and incorporate the feature in your analysis and “wow” the examiner!


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