Chiasmus is a rhetorical device that uses inverted word order and is often used as a literary tool to form parallelism, which can be found in both prose and poetry.

The word comes from the Greek letter chi (“X”), which is shaped like an “X.” (The symbol has been used since ancient times.) In rhetoric, it refers to the repetition of words or phrases in reverse order.

What Is Chiasmus?

Chiasmus is a rhetorical device in which the terms of the first of two parallel clauses are inverted in the second. The most common form is A-B-A’ (where A and A’ represent clauses, while B represents their shared element).

Chiasmus has been used in Western rhetoric at least since Aristotle’s time; it was also popular with ancient Greek poets such as Homer, who used chiasmus to add variety to his poems.

Examples of Chiasmus In Use

Chiasmus can be found across cultures and time periods around the globe.

For example, take this famous quote from Plato: “We cannot easily call things by different names from what they really are.”

If you just swap out “things” for “names” we get an example: “We cannot easily call names by different things than what they really are.” This is an example of chiasmus that could have been written today or thousands of years ago!

Chiasmus balances words or phrases with similar, though not identical, meanings:

But O, what damned minutes tells he o’er

Who dotes, yet doubts; suspects, yet strongly loves.

— Shakespeare, Othello

“Dotes” and “strongly loves” share the same meaning and bracket, as do “doubts” and “suspects”.

Additional examples of chiasmus:

By day the frolic, and the dance by night.

— Samuel Johnson, The Vanity of Human Wishes (1794)

Despised, if ugly; if she’s fair, betrayed.

— Mary Leapor, “Essay on Woman” (1751)

For comparison, the following is considered antimetabole, in which the reversal in structure involves the same words:


Pleasure’s a sin, and sometimes sin’s a pleasure.

— Lord Byron, in Don Juan, (1824)

Chiasmus and antimetabole are both figures of speech that involve reversing the order of words in successive clauses.

This creates a sense of balance and symmetry, and can be used to reinforce antithesis. Chiasmus is particularly common in ancient literature, including the works of Shakespeare and the Bible, as well as in the Quran and the Book of Mormon.

In these texts, chiasmus was used to add structure and emphasis, and to highlight the inherent order and balance in the language.

Today, chiasmus continues to be a popular rhetorical device, used in everything from political speeches to advertising slogans.

Chiasmus, derived from the Greek word for “crossing,” is a rhetorical device in which the order of words is reversed in successive clauses.

This figure of speech creates a balanced and memorable effect, as in the familiar phrase, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

Chiasmus can take many forms, but at its core, it is a reversing of grammatical structures in a parallel manner.

For example, “She goes to the gym to stay fit; to the party, she goes to socialize.” The subject and verb of the first clause (“She goes”) are reversed in the second clause (“to the party, she goes”).

While chiasmus is often used for rhetorical effect, it can also serve a more practical purpose. In ancient texts, chiasmus was often used to add structure and organization to a passage, helping the reader to easily follow the train of thought. In this way, chiasmus could serve as a type of “road map” for the reader.

Despite its practical uses, chiasmus is perhaps most beloved for the artistic and imaginative ways in which it can be employed.

Poets and writers throughout history have used chiasmus to add layers of meaning and beauty to their works.


For instance, in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the line “For stony limits cannot hold love out” employs chiasmus to emphasize the unstoppable nature of love.

In modern times, chiasmus can be found in all sorts of contexts, from political speeches to advertising slogans.

It continues to be a versatile and effective tool for adding emphasis, creating balance, and adding beauty to language.

Chiasmus – The Inverted Structure

Chiasmus is a rhetorical device that uses inverted structure to create parallelism and repetition. This form of repetition is used to emphasize the meaning and importance of ideas. For example:

  • “All that glitters isn’t gold.”
  • “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”
  • “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”

Examples of Chiasmus

Here are some examples of chiasmus:

– “The pen is mightier than the sword.” (Arthur Schopenhauer)

– “To be, or not to be: that is the question: / Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer / The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune / Or to take arms against a sea of troubles // And by opposing end them? To die, to sleep—/ No more; and by a sleep to say we end // The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks / That flesh is heir to—’tis a consummation / Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep—/ To sleep! perchance to dream! Ay there’s the rub; / For in that sleep of death what dreams may come // When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, // Must give us pause: there’s the respect.

Chiasmus is a figure of speech. Specifically, it is a rhetorical device that uses inverted word order for dramatic effect. The word “chiasmus” comes from a Greek phrase meaning “crossing over.”


For example, you might have seen the phrase “ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country” in a political speech.

This quote uses chiasmus because the second half of the sentence is reversed from the first half:

  • First half: Ask not
  • Second half: what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.

There’s no doubt that writing with chiasmus is an effective way to add creative flair to your work.

But what exactly is it?

Simply put, chiasmus involves reversing the order of words or phrases in a sentence. It’s a useful tool for writers who want their prose to stand out from the crowd.

Balance And Symmetry In Chiasmus

In writing, balance and symmetry are important for the same reason that they are important in all artistic endeavors.

The human body is naturally drawn to symmetry because it’s used to help us navigate the world.

It’s particularly useful when we’re trying to get from point A to point B—a skill which is clearly a fundamental part of our survival as a species!

Similarly, there are times when we need something other than just balance before us in order to help us figure out how things work or what something really means.

This can be especially true with writing because sometimes even simple words can mean different things depending on the context, so making sure everything has its place will help ensure your audience gets what they’re supposed to out of what you’ve written down (and thus know how best react).

Chiasmus Is Most Commonly Used For Rhetorical Effect

In writing, chiasmus is most commonly used for rhetorical or poetic effect. It’s not the same as antimetabole — that’s when the second half of a sentence reverses the first half to make a point.

Chiasmus is more like parallelism: The first half of a sentence and its second half are essentially mirror images of each other, with some elements reversed or replaced with their opposites.

In poetry and prose, chiasmus can be used to make a point or provide balance.

For instance, “My love for you burns fiercely like the sun in flames but also cools down like water does after it evaporates from your body when we swim together naked at night” might work better than “My love for you burns fiercely but also cools down.”

Chiasmus is a literary device that involves the repetition of words or phrases in reverse order. As an example, the phrase “He has been to the mountain, and now he’s coming down” uses chiasmus because it has two clauses in which the words “mountain” and “down” are reversed.

This technique can also be used in poetry when you want to create balance and symmetry within your writing.

In fact, chiasmus has such a long history in literature that there are many examples from ancient texts such as The Bible, Homer’s “Odyssey,” Shakespearean plays like “The Tempest” and “Julius Caesar,” as well as modern works like John Steinbeck’s “East of Eden” or even pop songs like Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.”

Chiasmus is a literary device that consists of repetition of words or phrases in reverse order. It is also known as parallelism, symmetry, balance, and contrast.

Chiasmus occurs frequently in the poetry of Shakespeare, including examples from Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra (spelling modernized).

Here are three chiasms from Julius Caesar:

Chiasmus also occurs very frequently in the poetry of Shakespeare. The reviewer Adam Kirsch has opined that “examples of chiasmus abound” even “in prose.” Here are three examples from Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra (spelling modernized). Chiasmus is highlighted in bold typeface.


Chiasmus In Writing

When writing, it is good to understand some of the possibilities available when writing.

Chiasmus is a rhetorical device that has been used for centuries. It involves using a certain type of parallelism, which can be seen in many different types of writing.

The term “chiasmus” comes from Greek words meaning “crossing,” because this type of parallelism literally crosses over from one side to another in its structure and meaning.

In other words, chiasmus involves reversing the order of terms or phrases (such as nouns) within a sentence or clause so that they continue on to form another sentence or clause with identical phrasing and meanings but reversed order with respect to each other (for example: “Love me do” vs “Do love me”).

Chiasmus – Conclusion

We hope this article has given you some insight into the world of chiasmus. It is a beautiful example of how language can be used to create symmetry and balance.

You may find yourself applying these principles when writing your own work in the future!

Although chiasmus is not a commonly used figure of speech, it can be helpful when you want to make a point.

Chiasmus is especially useful in poetry and songwriting. In this article, we’ve looked at examples of chiasmus and how they work.

If you’re interested in learning more about how language works, check out our blog post on rhyme schemes!