An Introduction to Antithesis

Antithesis (derives from Greek anti “against” and thesis “a setting, position” literary means “setting opposite”), is a kind of parallelismOpens in new window or a parallel structure where two contrasting ideas are presented in opposition to one another, in words, sentences, or parts of a sentence, which makes the principal idea more striking.

    Thus in words:
  • “He is gone from painful labour to quiet rest; from sorrow to joy; from transitory time to immortality.
    In sentences:
  • “Art thou rich? rob not the poor. Art thou wise? Beguile not the simple. Art thou strong? tread not the weak under thy feet.”
    And in parts of a sentence:
  • “the wise shall inherit glory; but shame shall be the portion of fools.”

Antithesis possess all the advantages of climaxOpens in new window or amplificationOpens in new window, with which different things of the same kind impress the mind when placed in juxtaposition; and it adds to these the pleasures derivable from unexpected difference and surprise.

By using a parallel structure for presenting a contrast, antithesis produces vibrancy, clarity, balance, and emphasis, all of which contribute to memorability. In fact, speaking of emphasis, Antithesis is a concrete form of EmphasisOpens in new window, and sometimes the theme, or principal idea, remains implicit. Example: “Soap cannot tolerate dirt” — (H. Michaux, Face aux verrous)

Examples of Antithesis

Antithesis can convey a sense of complexity by presenting opposite or nearly opposite truths. By placing the contrasting ideas in the same grammatical position in the sentences using parallelism, the contrast is more emphatically pointed out to the reader. Observe this attribute in the examples below:

  • “Contrasted faults through all his manners reign;
    Though poor, luxurious; though submissive, vain;
    Though grave, yet trifling; zealous, yet untrue;
    And e’en in penance, planning sins anew.”
  • Goldsmith.
  • “Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice”
  • Williams Shakespeare, Hamlet
  • “We observe today not a victory of party but a celebration of freedom, symbolizing an end as well as a beginning, signifying renewal as well as change.”
  • John F. Kennedy
  • “If a society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”
  • John F. Kennedy
  • “It has been my experience that folks who have no vices have very few virtues.”
  • Abraham Lincoln
Further Readings:
Silva Rhetoricae: Antithesis Opens in new window
Robert A Harris: Writing with Clarity and Style: A Guide to Rhetorical Devices for Contemporary WritingOpens in new window