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Antithesis Examples, Definition, and Meaning

antithesis examples

Antithesis is a fantastic literary device that can add some much needed depth to your writing. If you want your prose to resonate with readers, this is one way to do it. 

Antithesis is all about highlighting contrasts powerfully. Whether you’re writing internal thought, dialogue, or narrative voice, mastering antithesis can take your writing to the next level.

What is Antithesis?

“You’re hot then you’re cold,

You’re yes then you’re no,

You’re in then you’re out,

You’re up then you’re down.”

No, I’m not singing you this song (maybe a little off key) because I’m a huge Katy Perry fan, but I am singing it to you because it’s the perfect example of antithesis.

That’s all well and good, Shane, you cry, but what in the name of Shakespere’s favorite quill is antithesis? And do you have any antithesis examples, other than from Katy Perry tunes?

Great questions.

Luckily for you, I have answers.

Let’s get technical for a second and look at the dictionary definition of antithesis. Antithesis is “The direct opposite” and, “The rhetorical contrast of ideas by means of parallel arrangements of words, clauses, or sentences.”

If we break this down, we can say antithesis requires two things: direct contrasting opposites and parallel sentence structures.

Direct Contrasting Opposites

Glance at the Katy Perry song I so lovingly sang you (no comments about shattered glass and squealing cats, thank you very much), and you’ll see each line of the chorus contains a direct contrasting opposite:

  • Hot/Cold
  • Yes/No
  • In/Out
  • Up/Down

Each of these paired terms are in direct contrast with one another.

Parallel Sentence Structures

Take another glance, and you’ll spot the parallel sentence structure of each line (also known as parallelism), which gives writing an almost musical effect.

  • You’re _____ then you’re _____

The repetition (parallelism) of this sentence structure makes it catchy and easy to remember.

what is antithesis

Why You Should Use Antithesis in Your Writing

You’ll find antithesis used in song lyrics, particularly choruses, all the time. That’s because the use of direct opposites and parallel sentence structures makes the words catchy, memorable, and powerful.

But antithesis isn’t useful for songwriters alone. Oh, no, my writerly friend. Us fiction writers can use it to supercharge our writing too.

Remember what I said? Antithesis makes writing catchy, memorable, and powerful.

And who doesn’t want their writing to be all those things?

You can use antithesis to:

  • Highlight the stark difference between two opposing ideas
  • Create strong imagery through direct contrast
  • Reinforce a point in a way readers will remember
  • Shine a spotlight on two contrasting emotions to create resonance

Now you know what antithesis is, and why you should use it in your writing, let’s look at some other literary devices that are often confused with antithesis because they’re similar, yet subtly different.

Antithesis, Juxtaposition, Oxymoron: What’s the Difference?

You’re killing it with these questions, and that’s another excellent one.

On the face of it, it’s hard to spot the differences between these three literary devices because they’re so subtle, but they are different.

Here’s why.

Antithesis vs Juxtaposition

Antithesis and juxtaposition are both used to create contrast, so it’s easy to get them mixed up.

Here’s how I remember the difference between them.

An antithesis is made up of direct contrasting opposites and is presented as a parallelism. A juxtaposition can show contrast through differences and similarities, does not require a contrast of direct opposites, and is not presented as a parallelism.

For example:

“In the early morning, the city awakens with the hum of cars and the murmur of people, while the forest stirs with the rustle of leaves and the songs of birds.”

This juxtaposition places the city and the forest side by side, not to contrast their differences but to highlight their similarities. Both environments wake to sounds and movements, creating a parallel that draws attention to their shared qualities of liveliness and renewal at the start of the day.

The city awakens to the sounds of humankind, and the forest awakens to the sounds of nature. Humming cars and the songs of birds are not direct opposites, but they are different enough to create a contrast.

See how these wake up comparisons work for a juxtaposition, but not an antithesis?

Antithesis vs Oxymoron

An oxymoron is a figure of speech where two contradictory terms are placed side by side to create a paradoxical effect. You can use them to add complexity and depth to your writing.

Examples include:

  • Deafening silence (creating loudness from quietude)
  • Bittersweet (two opposing flavors)
  • Act naturally (actors contrive a performance, which is not their natural state)

These short turns of phrase don’t have the musical quality of an antithesis and, like juxtapositions, don’t require a contrast of exact opposites.

Now we’re clear on the differences between these oft-confused terms, let’s take a peek at some real-world examples of antithesis in action.

Antithesis Examples

Examples of Antithesis in Books

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

It would be remiss of me not to start with the most famous example of antithesis in literature because if we want catchy and memorable, this is where we’re going to find it.

The opening paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities is:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”

Direct Opposites

  • Best/Worst
  • Wisdom/Foolishness
  • Belief/Incredulity
  • Light/Darkness
  • Hope/Despair
  • Everything/Nothing
  • Heaven/The other way


  • It was the _____ of times, it was the _____ of times
  • It was the age of _____, it was the age of _____
  • It was the epoch of _____, it was the epoch of _____

Dickens was a master of antithesis and created one of the most memorable book openings of all time using this literary device.

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespere

From one classic to another, let’s take a look at this example from Shakespere’s infamous tragedy, Romeo and Juliet, which reads:

“O brawling love! O loving hate!”

This line from Act 1, Scene 1 is another example of antithesis used to perfection.

Let’s break it down.

Direct Opposites

  • Brawling/Loving
  • Love/Hate


  • O _____ing _____! O _____ing _____!

There are many reasons why lines from classic literature are so catchy, and antithesis is one of them.

Antithesis Examples in Poetry

The Clod and the Pebble by William Blake

The first example of antithesis in poetry comes from The Clod and the Pebble by William Blake. The first stanza ends with the line:

“And builds a Heaven in Hell’s despair.”

And the last stanza of the same poem ends with the line:

“And builds a Hell in Heaven’s despite.”

Direct Opposites

  • Heaven/Hell
  • Hell/Heaven


  • And builds a _____ in _____ despair.
  • And builds a _____ in _____ despite.

Fire and Ice by Robert Frost

Robert Frost uses antithesis in his poem, Fire and Ice, when he writes:

“Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice.”

Direct Opposites

  • Fire/Ice


  • Some say the world will end in _____,
  • Some say in _____.

The repetition of the phrase, “Some say,” creates the parallelism.

Antithesis Sentence Examples

Now you’re becoming an expert on antithesis, you can start to write your own sentences using this literary device.

Here are two examples:

“He was as humble as a servant yet as proud as a king.”

Direct Opposites

  • Humble/Proud
  • Servant/King


  • He was as _____ as a _____ yet as _____ as a _____.”

“Her smile contained a world of joy and a world of sorrow.”

Direct Opposites

  • Joy/Sorrow


  • A world of _____ and a world of _____

3 Tips For Using Antithesis in Your Writing

If you want to make your writing memorable by using antithesis, here are my top three tips for nailing it.

Tip #1: Less is More

Just like any literary device—whether it’s metaphors and similes, asyndeton and polysyndeton, or personification and onomatopoeia—less is more.

We use every literary device to create an effect, but the more frequently you use literary devices in the same piece of work, the less dramatic that effect becomes. And, if you use the same literary device too frequently, it will become yawn inducing, repetitive, and could lead to readers putting your book down.

Nobody wants that, so use antithesis sparingly.

Tip #2: Study Contrasts in Literature

To use antithesis well, start studying contrasts.

Read your favorite novels and pay attention to the way your favorite authors create juxtapositions in their writing.

It goes without saying, I’m not talking about plagiarism here, but I do suggest you take inspiration from your go to novels, and model any techniques that resonate with you. This is where the art of reading like a writer comes in.

Tip #3: Read Poetry for Inspiration

Remember, a key component of antithesis is parallelisms, and parallelisms give your writing a musical quality.

To get a feel for how this looks on the page, and how it feels to read, study poetry.

Poetry (of the rhyming variety) has that same lyrical quality as parallelisms, and learning from the greats can really help you hone this technique.

Antithesis Literary Device Conclusion

Antithesis is a powerful literary tool you can use to craft engaging, memorable prose. By juxtaposing direct opposites in parallel structures, you’ll create striking contrasts that highlight key themes, emotions, and character traits.

As we’ve seen in classics like A Tale of Two Cities and Romeo and Juliet, antithesis can make writing more impactful, resonant, and memorable.

To effectively incorporate antithesis into your writing, remember to use it sparingly to maintain its dramatic effect. Study contrasts in literature to understand how masterful authors create powerful juxtapositions, and immerse yourself in poetry to appreciate the musical quality parallelisms bring to the text.

By following these tips, you can harness the full potential of antithesis to elevate your storytelling and leave a lasting impression on your readers.

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