Metonymy is a figure of speech in which the name of a thing is substituted for the name of something else with which it is intimately associated. [1]Metonymy is also the rhetorical strategy of describing something indirectly by refferring to things contiguous to it, in either time or space. The substitution is based on association by contiguity.[2]For instance, “crown” is used as a metonym(an instance of metonymy) for royalty. [3]

Metonymy derives from the Greekμετωνυμία, metōnymía, "a change of name", from μετά, metá, "after, beyond" and -ωνυμία, -ōnymía, a suffix used to name figures of speech, from ὄνῠμα, ónyma or ὄνομα, ónoma, "name." [4]


1 Definition of Metonymy
2Types of Metonymy
  • 2.1 Referential Metonymy
  • 2.2 Predicative Metonymy
3 Application of Metonymy
4 Synecdoche
5 References
6 External Links

Types of Metonymy

Basically speaking, metonymy is divided into two categories: referential metonymy and predicative metonymy.[5]

Referential Metonymy
In referential metonymy, the metonymic noun phrase has an intended referent related to but different from its literal meaning.[6] Referential metonymy is widely used in English. Here is an example:
“The ham sandwich is waiting for his check.”[7]
It is not literally the ham sandwich doing the waiting but rather the person who ordered it. Therefore, the actual and intended referent of “the ham sandwich” is related to the person, not the food.

Predicative Metonymy
Predicative metonymy is a type of metonymy in which the referent of the noun phrase remains unchanged and the argument place of the predicate is shifted instead.[8]In other words, in predicative metonymy, the actual and intended referent of the noun phrase is just the literal one and it is more accurate to say that the predicate is coerced. For instance,
“Which airlines fly from Boston to Denver?”[9]

The only possible explanation seems to be that it is a set of airlines that offer flights from Boston to Denver. The actual and intended referent of “airlines” goes straightforward to flights rather than anything else. Meanwhile, the predicate “fly” used to be related to flights is shifted to “airlines”.

Application of Metonymy

Generally speaking, metonymy has 9 widely accepted usages which makes expressions vivid ,succinct and interesting.[10]

They share the same roof.
Roof, as a part of a house, is the covering on top of a building which protects people and their possessions from the weather. Here, it is used to substitute the word "house ". Thus,"share the same roof" means " live in the same house".

A thousand mustache can live together, but not four breasts.
“mustache” is the characteristic of men while “breast” is that of women. By this way, what the sentence delivers is a thousand men can easily get along well with each other while two women fail.

The wolf and the pig mingled together in his face.[11]
Though the wolf and the pig are animals, they represent different characteristics. The wolf prepared to attack the preys at any time is always associated with brutalness while the pig is often related to greediness considering its big size and longing for food.

Anton Rubinstein was renowned for his rendition of Tchaikovsky.[12]
“Tchaikovsky” in the sentence above no longer refers to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky who is a prominent Russian composer of the Romantic era. In fact, it is equivalent to the musical pieces he has composed.

But, as it is clear from the city’s guide-book, Chester still has my survivals of its past , both in the form of picturesque traditions and picturesque bricks and stone.[13]
“bricks” and “stone” are raw materials used to lay the foundation of the building. In the sentence above, "bricks" and "stone" represent the end-product, namely the building.

The rather arresting pectacle of little old Japan adrift amid beige concrete skyscrapers is the very symbol if the incessant struggle between the kimono and the miniskirt. [14]
Kimono is a type of traditional Japanese clothes while miniskirt is what young western girls prefer to wear. Thereby, "the kimono" and "the miniskirt" respectively refer to traditional Japanese culture and modern western civilization.

It was not only writers, you know, it was a thoroughly representative gathering—science, politics, business, art, the world. [15]
“science” ,“politics”, “business”, “art” and “the world” carry abstract meanings, each respectively standing for specific field. In the sentence, each word is specified, representing people who work in the certain field.

“Well, Mr. Weller,”, says the gentleman, “you’re a very good whip , and can do what you like with your horses. ” [16]
It is known to all that Mr. Weller cannot be an object—a whip. He can only use the whip to command his horses. In this way, the object, namely the whip replaces the user—Mr. Weller.

(1) Scotland Yard was called in by the Xuereb family soon after the couple disappeared and 120 officers with 80 vehicles were put on the case under the command of Commander William Hucklesby, head of the antiterrorist squad.[17]
“Scotland Yard” refers to the Metropolitan Police Service of London, UK, while its meaning extends in the sentence above, representing police officers working in the institution.
(2) We will never forget 9.11.
"9.11" is not an ordinary day any more. It reminds people of the terrorist attacks on 9.11, 2001 when al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four commercial passenger jet airlines and intentionally crashed two of the airliners into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, killing everyone on board and most of those working in the buildings. Thus, "9.11" has become intimately associated with terrorist attacks.


Synecdoche is a figure of speech by which a part is put for the whole (as fifty sails for fifty ships)or the whole for a part (as society for high society).[18] Synecdoche is usually understood as a specific kind of metonymy,however, there still exists the difference between the two figures of speech used in rhetoric.
Synecdoche is a specific term employed when a part of the thing is put into use to mean the whole thing itself.[19] "All hands on deck" is an example, where 'hands' not only mean a part of the body, but also represent the men attached to them."Get your butt over here." is another instance, where "butt" also represents the man attached to it.
Metonymy is similar, but uses something more generally or loosely associated with a concept to stand in for it.[20] when British people refer to the crown, they are really discussing the powers, authority and responsibilities of the monarchy, which is symbolized by the crown. The difference between metonymy and synecdoche is that in metonymy the employed word is linked to the concept one is really talking about, but is not actually a part of it whereas in synecdoche the employed word entails the part-whole relation with the concept one is actually referring to.[21]


[2]Wardhaugh,Ronald.1977. Introduction to Linguistics. McGraw-Hill Book.
[4]Welsh, Alfred Hux; James Mickleborough Greenwood (1893).Studies in English Grammer. A Comprehensive Course for Grammar Schools. New York City:Silver Burdett. pp.222.[5][6][7][8][9][10]Panther, Klaus-Uwe & Günter Radden (eds). Metonymy in Language and Thought. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 1999.[11]Panther, Klaus-Uwe & Günter Radden (eds). Metonymy in Language and Thought. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 1999.[12]Panther, Klaus-Uwe & Günter Radden (eds). Metonymy in Language and Thought. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 1999.[13]Panther, Klaus-Uwe & Günter Radden (eds). Metonymy in Language and Thought. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 1999.[14]Panther, Klaus-Uwe & Günter Radden (eds). Metonymy in Language and Thought. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 1999.[15]Panther, Klaus-Uwe & Thornburg, Linda (eds).Metonymy and Pragmatic Inferencing, John Benjamins Publishing Company. 2003.[16]Panther, Klaus-Uwe & Thornburg, Linda (eds).Metonymy and Pragmatic Inferencing, John Benjamins Publishing Company. 2003.
[17]Wardhaugh,Ronald.1977. Introduction to Linguistics. McGraw-Hill Book.

External Links