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Grammar Basics: Oxymorons

Grammar Basics: Oxymorons

Author: Rebecca Oberg

This learning packet should review:

-Definition of oxymoron
-Examples of oxymorons
-Etymology of the word oxymoron
-Various types of oxymorons
-Differences between an oxymoron and a paradox
-Further resources for the study of oxymorons (resources for checking, memory tips, mnemonic devices, etc.)

Through this learning packet, students will encounter a wide array of information about oxymorons, including the definition, examples, etymology, and information about the various types of oxymorons. Related terms will be discussed as needed. These goals will be accomplished through the use of informative text, an engaging slide show presentation, and a helpful video clip. For more information about oxymorons overall as well as a list of further resources, visit

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Oxymorons: Defined, Described, and Exemplified!

This is a slide show presentation which offers a definition, etymology, and explanation of oxymorons, in addition to providing several examples.

Source: See slide show for citations

Oxymorons: An Overview of the Concept

In this video clip, a knowledgeable and entertaining presenter offers a definition and several helpful examples.

Source: YouTube

Oxymorons and Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet: A Match Made in Heaven

.......Paradoxes and oxymorons appear frequently in Romeo and Juliet. Perhaps the most famous oxymoron in the play is the one occurring in the last two words of this line: “Good-night, good-night! parting is such sweet sorrow (2. 2. 201). An oxymoron consists of two contradictory words occurring one after the other.  In Act III, Scene II, when Juliet criticizes Romeo for killing Tybalt while praising him as her beloved, she manages to squeeze in six oxymorons: 

Beautiful tyrant (oxymoron) Line 80
Fiend angelical (oxymoron)  Line 80
Dove-feather'd raven (oxymoron) Line 81
Wolvish-ravening lamb (oxymoron) Line 81
Damned saint (oxymoron)  Line 84
Honourable villain (oxymoron) Line 84

Oxymorons: Additional Information

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Types of Oxymorons

The most common form of oxymoron involves an adjective-noun combination of two words. For example, the following line from Tennyson's Idylls of the King contains two oxymorons:

"And faith unfaithful kept him falsely true."

Other oxymorons of this kind include the following:

  • Almost exactly
  • Amazing dullness
  • Burning cold
  • Cold sun
  • Criminal justice
  • Dark light
  • Dark sunshine
  • Exact estimate
  • Failed success
  • General specific
  • Happy depression
  • Less is more
  • Living dead
  • Noisy silence
  • New Classic
  • Open secret
  • Positive let down
  • Safe risks
  • Smart failure
  • Virtual reality
  • Etc...

Less often seen are noun-verb combinations of two words, such as the line

"The silence whistles"

from Nathan Alterman's Summer Night.


Inadvertent oxymorons

Oxymorons are sometimes inadvertently created by errors or sloppiness in conversation; common examples include extremely average, objective opinion, original copy, and definite possibility. In some cases an inadvertent oxymoron ends up being widely adopted as the name for some concept and ceases to be recognised as an oxymoron. Cases where this has occurred include bittersweet, virtual reality, constant variable, and living dead.

Oxymorons as puns

Many oxymorons have been popularised in vernacular speech. Unlike literary oxymorons, many of these are not intended to construct a paradox; they are simply puns. Examples include controlled chaos, open secret, organized mess, alone in a crowd, and accidentally on purpose.

There are also examples in which terms that are superficially contradictory are juxtaposed in such a way that there is no contradiction. Examples include same difference, jumbo shrimp, pretty ugly, and hot ice (where hot means stolen and ice means diamonds). Whether these may legitimately be called oxymorons is debatable.

What's the difference between an oxymoron and a paradox?

1.Paradox is a statement or a group of statements. Oxymoron is a combination of two contradictory terms.
2.Paradox consists of a whole sentence or a paragraph. Oxymoron on the other hand comes with only two words that contradicts itself.
3.Paradox is an action that is contradictory and oxymoron is a description of a phrase.

For a more detailed explanation of the differences between oxymoron and paradox as well as examples, visit: