This post is part of a series on rhetoric and rhetorical devices. For other posts in the series, please click this link. For a comprehensive, step-by-step overview of how to write a speech outline, please see this post.
Origin: From the Greek ἀντί (anti) meaning “against” and θέσις (thesis) meaning “position”.
In plain English: Contrasting two different (often opposite) ideas in the same sentence or in two consecutive sentences.
- The contrast between the two ideas is starker than it would be in ordinary speech.
- The message or focus is usually on the second idea.
- Antithesis always contains two different ideas.
- The grammatical structure of antithesis should be balanced. Speakers should express contrasting ideas in a parallel manner.
- Aristotle said that antithesis makes it easier for the audience to understand the message.
“Speech is silver but silence is golden.”
“Man proposes; God disposes.”
“To err is human; to forgive, divine.”
— Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism (1771)
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!”
— Martin Luther King, 28 August 1968
We find ourselves rich in goods, but ragged in spirit; reaching with magnificent precision for the moon, but falling into raucous discord on earth. We are caught in war, wanting peace. We are torn by division, wanting unity.
— Richard Nixon, 20 January 1969
“That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
— Neil Armstrong, 21 July 1969
And finally, we must have a sense of responsibility for the future. We are not destined to be adversaries. But it is not guaranteed that we will be allies. For us, there is no fate waiting to be revealed, only a future waiting to be created — by the actions we take, the choices we make, and the genuine views we have of one another and of our own future.
— Bill Clinton, 5 June 2000 (Speech to the Russian Duma)