Antithesis contrasts two ideas, usually opposites. Good/evil, light/dark, cruel/kind etc. This can occur in a sentence or line of poetry, or it can be a contrast between themes or ideas that are threaded throughout an entire novel. You can also say one character is the antithesis of another.

Oxymorons are a special type of antithesis where the words that are opposite to each other are directly next to each other, e.g. bitter sweet.

Hell is the antithesis [exact opposite] of heaven; disorder is the antithesis of order. Sometimes writers use antithesis in a parallel (or balanced) grammatical structure, as in the following, where more than one idea is set in antithesis:

Some famous examples:
To err is human; to forgive, divine. -Alexander Pope

That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind. -Neil Armstrong 

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. -Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities 

Antithesis is very useful for making fine distinctions, clarifying differences which might be otherwise overlooked: 

I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.

– Jack London [also uses extended metaphor, moving from small, ‘ashes’ to large ‘meteor’, which links to the ideas in Dylan Thomas’ famous poem ‘Do Not Go Gentle’]

Man proposes, God disposes. [also uses polyptoton – disposes, proposes – this means: whatever brilliant ideas humans create, it’s God who has the final say]

Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice. [also uses zeugma: give every man, [give] few. This means: listen to everyone, but don’t tell people what to do, or what you’re thinking]

sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind
empty vessels make the most noise
fools rush in where angels fear to tread
I’m running to stay still
to be lonely in a crowd is worse than being alone
keep your friends close and your enemies closer
Expect the unexpected.

you look; but you do not see
listen, but do not hear
touch, but feel nothing

Success makes men proud; failure makes them wise

the last shall be first and the first shall be last (this is chiasmus) Matthew 20:16
the meek shall inherit the earth  Matthew 5:5
Many are called, but few are chosen. Matthew 22:14

life is is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. (Shakespeare)


What is greater than God, more evil than the devil, the poor have it in abundance,
the rich not at all?