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Oxymorons - English Comp, Grammar

Oxymorons - English Comp, Grammar

Author: Nikki Hansen

To explain the definition and use of an oxymoron as well as how to identify one.

Have you ever wondered what the deal is with sayings like "jumbo shrimp" or "bad luck?" This packet explores the world of oxymorons - the literary device that claims these strange phrases. In this packet you will learn what an oxymoron is and how you can use/identify one (or more than one). There is a short video exercise to test your skills at identifying oxymorons!

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Words to Know

What is an oxymoron?

  • Aside from being a fun word to say, an oxymoron is a figure of speech that combines two words/terms that usually wouldn't go together.

  • We see these and hear these terms around us every day. If you are an athlete you may recognize the brand “Icy-Hot.” If you are a fan of zombie films then the term “living-dead” should stick out to you. These are considered oxymorons!   

How can I recognize an oxymoron?

  • Remember that you are looking for two words that are opposite of each other or that sound or look funny together.  (Hot ice, spotted tiger, cold flame, bad luck, bittersweet, freezer burn)
  • Oxymorons are contradictions! Try repeating this a few times: An oxymoron is a combination of contradictory words.

Source: wiki, nikki


Here are some examples of common oxymorons:

  • jumbo shrimp

  • old news

  • civil war

  • same difference

  • pure evil 

  • good grief

  • now then

  • bittersweet

  • pretty ugly

  • soft rock

  • virtual reality   

Sometimes we create oxymorons when we speak to one another.  The other day I told my mom that there was a definite possibility I am coming home for the holidays.  By putting definite and possibility together, I created an oxymoron...and I didn't even mean to!

Can you think of an oxymoron?

Source: wiki, nikki

More on Oxymorons

Typically, oxymorons are a combination of an adjective and a noun that you wouldn't think of as going together (like our examples above).  There are less common oxymorons based on noun-verb combinations such as "the silence whistles." 

Oxymorons aren't always two word combinations.  This poem is a great example of creating oxymorons through sentences and phrases:

One was blind and the other couldn't see,
So they chose a dummy for a referee.
A blind man went to see fair play,
A dumb man went to shout "hooray!"
A paralysed donkey passing by,
Kicked the blind man in the eye,
Knocked him through a nine inch wall,
Into a dry ditch and drowned them all,
A deaf policeman heard the noise,
And came to arrest the two dead boys,
If you don't believe this lie is true,
Ask the blind man; he saw it too!

How can I use an oxymoron in school?

Oxymorons are great literary devices for poetry or other creative writing endeavors.

Where can I find more? 

You can find lists and lists of oxymorons by clicking here, here and here. =)


Video Exercise, oxymoron

Look at a list of word combinations, and try to decide which ones are the oxymorons. I go through and highlight the words that are so that you can check your answers against mine - and I provide a brief commentary :)